Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Minsk Convergence Ground Zero: Summertime And Autumn Democrats Prepare To Desert Early Spring Democrats As Going Gets Rough

Milinkevich stood in virtual darkness on Tuesday night as he urged some 700 demonstrators to remain strong and return for a weekend rally.

"Come here every day to speak of freedom," Milinkevich said.


MINSK, March 22 (RIA Novosti) - "Opposition groups in Belarus are getting ready to hold a major rally Saturday to continue protests against the results of last weekend's presidential elections, an opposition leader said Wednesday.

"March 25 is Freedom Day, and we have to galvanize as many people as possible onto the streets," said Alexander Milinkevich, who garnered an official 6% of Sunday's vote against the 82.6% that saw incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko re-elected for a third five-year term in office.

Freedom Day is an unofficial holiday in Belarus marking the day when the country first declared independence in 1918, until becoming part of the Soviet Union in 1922. The opposition traditionally holds demonstrations on this day.

"We are not going to storm the [presidential] residence on March 25," Milinkevich said on Oktyabrskaya Square in the center of the Belarusian capital, where several hundred protesters had been camping since Monday. "It will be a peaceful demonstration."

He called on Europe to offer stronger and more united support for the opposition.

"Europe's position must be clear and tough," he said." ...

RAI Novosti Russian News and Information Service "Belarus opposition prepares for major demonstration at weekend" March 22, 2006


"The Kremlin may be reclaiming a dominant role in its former Soviet backyard.

In Belarus, Moscow-allied strongman Alexander Lukashenko just won re-election by a landslide — at least by the official count. And President Vladimir Putin’s allies could return to government in Sunday’s Ukrainian parliamentary election, just over a year after the Orange Revolution.

Such developments set back Western hopes of a democratic tidal wave in the former Soviet sphere and could further tarnish Putin’s democratic credentials as he tries to cast himself as a statesman capable of brokering deals with Iran and Hamas.

For Putin, however, asserting dominance over Belarus and Ukraine [and Kazakhstan] appears to be part of his strategy to re-establish Moscow as a global player during his year of the G-8 presidency.

"Russia wants to restore its superpower status, and that includes putting these countries back into its orbit," said Yevgeny Volk, Moscow director of the conservative U.S think tank Heritage Foundation.

"It is seeking to reclaim its influence over the former Soviet Union, and remove that of the United States and European Union," he added.

Russia was furious at what it saw as Western encroachment on its home turf after Ukraine’s November 2004 Orange Revolution — the mass protests over election fraud that brought reformist opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to power over the Kremlin’s favored candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

Months later, the impoverished Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan had its Tulip Revolution, becoming the third former Soviet state within 18 months to see opposition forces topple a Soviet-era leader. Georgia’s Rose Revolution started the process in 2003.

Today, however, Russia is once again on the rise as nervous authoritarian regimes from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan — where rights groups say government troops killed hundreds of civilians in a crackdown on protesters last year — build closer ties to Moscow, partly as a way to cow opposition forces.

Even in Ukraine, disillusionment at political infighting and the economic collapse that followed the Orange Revolution have brought about a political comeback for Yanukovych, whose rigged victory in the 2004 presidential election was annulled by the Supreme Court.

Enjoying strong support in the Russian-speaking east, his party is poised to win the most seats in the new parliament and earn the right to form the government, even if it will probably need to govern in an uneasy coalition with the party of the pro-Western Yushchenko.

"The West’s influence that triumphed in the color revolutions has clearly become a dead end for these nations," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. "In Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, people live worse, not better than before."

By contrast, in Belarus, whose authoritarian president is shunned by Western nations as Europe’s last dictator, cheap supplies of Russian gas provide a vital lifeline to the inefficient, state-dominated economy.

Analyst Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank said on Ekho Moskvy radio that while the Kremlin sometimes had tense relations with Belarus, its greatest interest lay in preserving the status quo in Minsk.

He also said that despite loud Western criticism of the Belarus election, there was no serious attempt to help pro-democratic forces, as happened in Ukraine.

"There was a strong fight for Ukraine, but no one fought for Belarus," Malashenko said.

Analysts agree that Russia’s trump card in the region is its immense energy resources. They ensure that despite pro-Western inclinations, both Georgia and Ukraine remain dangerously dependent on their larger neighbor.

A pipeline explosion that cut off Russian supplies to Georgia this winter left millions shivering in their homes — provoking accusations from the tiny U.S.-allied Caucasus mountain state that Russia was deliberately trying to bring it to its knees. Ukraine meanwhile had to swallow a twofold increase in gas prices after a bitter New-Year dispute that saw Moscow turn off the gas taps.

"Russia is using strong economic levers. With the growth of oil and gas exports it has become much richer than it was in the 1990s and it is translating this economic might into political influence and power," said Volk.

At the center of the Russian policy in the region is a determination to resist the West’s efforts to boost its influence at Russia’s expense, in what Moscow says is falsely portrayed as a bid to promote democracy.

Russia yesterday accused the United States of trying to enforce its vision of democracy on others, angrily rejecting President Bush’s criticism that the Kremlin has rolled back freedoms."

Henry Meyer (Associated Press) "Russia’s Putin Reclaiming Dominant Role in Former Soviet Union" Mosnews March 21, 2006.


"President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin congratulated Alexander Lukashenko on winning the presidential poll. Cultural workers and public figures, labor collectives, ordinary citizens of Belarus, Russia, the CIS member-states and foreign countries congratulate Alexander Lukashenko on his well-deserved victory.

In particular, first president of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, a space pilot of the USSR, Colonel-General Piotr Klimuk, a deputy of the State Duma of Russia, Nobel Prizewinner Zhores Alferov and historian Vladimir Soloviov have already sent Alexander Lukashenko their congratulations.

“I am glad that today the Republic of Belarus successfully overcomes hardships and difficulties and the leadership of the republic in practice shows concern for people and creates favorable conditions for decent life and effective work”, Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Aleskiy II writes in his letter of congratulation." ...

BELTA Belarusian Telegraph Agency March 21, 2006 via


"Why did Alexander Lukashenko win? Because he has guaranteed a swift and silky-smooth transition from a controlled to a market economy, he has avoided the hiccoughs felt in other ex-Soviet states and he has maintained the stability of the economy, of the work market and has guaranteed the lot of the average citizen, from the schoolchild to the pensioner.

If the meddlesome and interfering West bothered to employ analysts who had any idea what they were speaking about and did not work from their offices in comfortable western capitals and if their so-called free press stopped telling lies (a habit that has become worse since the end of the Cold War), we would not hear such ludicrous terms as "Lukashenko the Dictator" and absurd claims that the E.U. will impose sanctions.

Why? Because Lukashenko won? Certainly Moscow will be able to match clout for clout the sanctions imposed by the European Union, that clique of self-righteous former imperialist colonialist states whose recent history is marred by the stain of slavery and the wholesale slaughter of populations in developing countries. Who is the European Union to speak?

As for the USA, did Lukashenko invade a sovereign state, slaughter 100.000 people, wire up prisoners’ genitals with electrodes, urinate on their food and set dogs on them? Or did he mind his own business performing good governance in his own country? Compare this with the "democratic" calls for civil disobedience by the heavily defeated Milinkevich." ...

Pravda RU "So, where is the Revolution" March 21, 2006 via
(With thanks)


... "Villages like Krupitsa [Belarus], by contrast, offer a window into Mr. Lukashenko's popular support.

Everyone cites the evidence. The House of Culture recently underwent a complete renovation, after 20 years without repair. The old kolkhoz, or collective farm, recently merged with a production company to become a joint venture, owned by the state and called Raps, for the rapeseed it grows and the oil made from it. A clinic was built with money raised by performances of a folk music and dance ensemble, Krupitskaya Musika, which Mr. Grom directs.

The group has toured throughout Europe and even went to Japan in 1995, though the foreign trips tapered off after 2000, when Mr. Lukashenko's government became increasingly ostracized by its European neighbors.

"It is not window dressing, like we used to do in the old times," Mr. Grom said of the clinic, a stadium and the Raps headquarters. Most of all, of course, he praises the renaissance of a musical education program that teaches the village's children the traditions of Belarussian folk culture with the instruments that he collects....

Mr. Grom, 55, earns roughly $500 a month, twice the national average. He does not agree with everything Mr. Lukashenko has done, including a system of contracts for state workers, almost everyone in Belarus, that critics say allows the government to punish the disloyal, politically or otherwise. Still, he said, "The people here are happy — we have reached a certain level."

Asked about limits on democratic freedoms, including artistic expression, he said he had experienced none. He had not heard of The Free Theater in Minsk, whose performances have gone underground because its repertory is not deemed sufficiently patriotic by cultural commissars.

"You see the other [post-Soviet Union] republics, where they broke down the old system," he said, referring to the 14 other nations that emerged from the Soviet wreckage. "We feel sorry for them."

On stage in the House of Culture, Yevgeniya Yakovleva, 8, played Rachmaninoff's "Italian Polka" on the dulcimer. Those in the auditorium, perhaps two-thirds full, clapped along with a girl who, in her own small way, represents the future of Belarus.

"We have simply chosen our own way," Mr. Grom said."

Steven Lee Myers "Incumbent Remains Popular in Heartland's Rural Villages" New York Times, March 20, 2006

Abandonned by a compromised, preoccupied, and 'oil and gas addicted' West, Belarusian Opposition Candidate Alexander Milinkevich meets with Belarusian democratic Early Spring soldiers on Minsk's Central Square.

The Real Convergence Ground Zero?

Photo credit: With thanks.


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