Mąd par ura ("The world in an hour")

Mardzej, 7 ocębrze 2003 o., 14:05

Political unrest in Belarus



Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, it is 14:05. This "The World In An Hour", I am Waldemar Fiorarz.


The leader of the opposition in Belarus, Uladzimir Kotau, is under heavy attack from his political opponents. On a press conference last week, shortly after his victory in the municipal elections in Maladzeczna, he announced radical economic and political reforms in case his party, the PNA, would win the general elections next December. This has caused serious unrest among Belarus' post-snorist leadership, and the riots that preceded the elections in Maladzeczna seem to have set the tone for the upcoming election campaign.

About the situation in Belarus, I will speak with Mrs. Onute Staniszkiene, director of the Institute for International Relations of the Academy of Sciences, who is known as the RTC's chief expert on post-snorist societies.

Q – Professor, you have keenly followed the developments in Belarus. Are you surprised about the recent political unrest in our eastern neighbour?

A – Not at all. As a matter of fact, I'm rather surprised that it hasn't happened much earlier. You see, Mr. Fiorarz, this is more than an ideological difference between two political parties: it is a fundamental difference in self-designation of a whole nation. At one side, you can find those who are proud of belonging to the Great Russian Nation and of sharing its common heritage, while the other half consider themselves Europeans and believe European civilisation ends at the Belarussian-Russian border. This difference has existed throughout the whole history of Belarus, and it is deeply hidden in the collective subconsciousness of the Belarussians. Unfortunately, there is no way of reconciliating these two.

Q – You mean, a reconciliation between the PNA and Uladzimir Kotau on one hand and the post-snorist PBD on the other?

A – Yes. Mr. Kotau's speech was not only about democracy, market economy, open borders, and the usual stuff... What he also said, literally, is this. I quote: "Historically, Belarus has always been more of a European nation than a Slavic one". What he actually meant, implicitly, is that the 70 years of snorism were nothing less than a period of Russian occupation. Now, you might still wonder what all the fuss is about. The thing is, with this sentence Kotau openly confessed himself to the "Europeans", which in the eyes of many is simply "not done". It's a touchy subject, really. Besides, what he does in fact is criminalising his political opponents, including the current Belarussian government.

Q – So that explains the poisonous comment by a PBD spokesman, who called it "ironic that Mr. Kotau has proclaimed his un-Slavicness in a Slavic language."

A – Indeed, and unfortunately, this view is still common in Belarus. In my opinion, Slavicness as a connecting factor between peoples might have worked in the 19th century, but now is hopelessly old-fashioned. We have political realities to cope with. Look at ourselves: the Veneds and the Lithuanians are deeply interconnected; what sense would it make to blow up the RTC, for no other reason than that the Veneds feel closer to the Kemrese or the Portuguese simply because their ancestors once shared a common language? And what is worse: in reality, such pan-Slavic philosophies result merely in the blind following of Russia. Needless to say, with Russia's current situation such a policy could seriously jeopardise the stability of the region.

Q – You consider the PBD a threat to stability?

A – Not as such. Mind you, Belarus differs from other post-snorist states in several ways. Unlike most other countries, Belarus had a strong native snorist movement. Other snorist regimes were brutally imposed, but the Belarussian regime has always enjoyed much popular support. Besides, more than any other country in the region, Belarus has a long history of being a Russian satellite. In other words, no matter who wins the elections in December, snorism will remain a factor in Belarussian politics anyway. Whether that is a bad thing or not depends largely on those who take predominance. You know, not every snorist is an ideological hardliner like Mr. Piatrauski: especially in cycles around president Szuszkewycz, you can also find moderated people. In fact, some of the most avid reformers are post-snorists. Don't forget, that the most competent and experienced people often have a long history of service under SNOR rule.

Q – Professor, what is your opinion about the words of the Russian ambassador in Belarus, Mr. Zotov, who gently reminded the Belarussians of their dependence on Russia?

A – Nothing to worry about as such. I think Mr. Zotov only said explicitly what we have already known for a long time: that Russia will do anything within its possibilities to prevent Belarus from floating away towards the West. But what really matters is: what áre those possibilities? As long as the Russian Federation is not even certain in its own very existence, what can it possibly do to effectively control its neighbours? On the other hand, the fact that Zotov could say something like that in public without being kicked out of the country only proves that to some degree his point is valid.

Q – In the meantime, Mr. Kotau seems to be looking for support from the RTC. Do you think our government will provide that?

A – To be honest, I have no idea what kind of support he expects, apart from our sympathy. Surely Mr. Kotau is clever enough to understand that we cannot give him any guarantees for membership of the Baltic League. At present, with an economy that lies in ruins and a country that is near bankruptcy, Belarus is in no condition to join the League.

Q – You don't think the shock therapy Kotau proposes will help?

A – No no, I'm quite sure it wíll help. After all, it is what will serve Belarus best on the long term. The question is only: can he succeed? Look what happens in Latvia: snorism never enjoyed much sympathy among the Latvians, the economy was in a far better state when Latvia broke away from the snorist bloc, and in general Talmanis' reforms have undoubtedly been successful. And yet, they elected their former dictator Alksnis as their new prime minister, who is now very busy turning back the clock. Let me tell you, Mr. Fiorarz, In Belarus the situation is much worse than in Latvia. It will take at least ten years for the results of such a policy to become visible, and at least two generations for Belarus to become a healthy economy. Now, I really don't expect the population will be thát patient.

Q – There are also those who advocate a third way: the restoration of the RTC as it existed before the First Great War, which would mean the merger of Belarus and the RTC. This view is not only held by certain politicians in Belarus, our own KRN [Confederation for an Independent Republic, ed.] shares it, too.

A – With all due respect to Mr. Kramar [leader of the KRN, ed.], I believe the restoration of the old RTC is not an option anymore. We live in the 21th century, and history moves on, with us of without us. Instead of focusing on the past, we'd better move on with it.

Q – One last question, professor. What do you expect will happen in the next two months, before the elections? And what is your prognosis for the elections?

A – Well, of course I cannot look into the future. I just hope the political unrest won't get out of hand. As for the elections, I think Kotau and the PNA stand a fairly good chance, which would be good both for us and for Belarus. But much can happen in the meantime. Be sure that I will follow the developments in Belarus with much interest.