Several of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s sturdiest crewmen seem poised to jump off his leaky ship. One of them, Ivan Pashkevich, held top posts concerned with domestic politics and ideology in the presidential administration from 1995 to 2000. In that capacity he was a notorious scourge of the national-democratic opposition. As a deputy since last year to the presidentially installed parliament, however, Pashkevich has begun taking his distance from Lukashenka.
On April 27, Pashkevich went public to announce that he had voted against a presidential bill which would severely restrict foreign missions’ and NGOs’ assistance to the opposition. He termed that bill “an attempt by the incumbent power to carry out a political purge in Belarus,” and a move by which “the president and government will once again startle the world–or make themselves ridiculous.”
In a May 2 press interview, Alyaksandr Shpilevsky, vice chairman of the foreign policy commission of the House of Representatives, distanced himself from Lukashenka’s condemnation of the United States’ antimissile defense plan. Shpilevsky implied that it would be futile to challenge the position of the “United States as the leading world power.” By the same token, Shpilevsky urged Moscow to refrain from any “brusque gestures” which might cause a “renewal of the cold war with the United States. That would damage the position not only of Russia itself, but also the situation of all of her allies, including Belarus.”
In the Council of the Republic–the upper house of parliament–the chairman of the regional policy commission and immediate past president of that chamber, Pavel Shipuk, started this round of defections on April 17. In a press interview, he underscored the urgency of a policy shift toward privatization and encouragement of Western investments. Shipuk called attention to “the antiquated condition of fixed assets, the tax pressure blocking any reinvestment, and the primitive method of raising state revenue by fleecing business.” Instead of all that, he said, the state must introduce incentives for foreign investors to privatize and modernize Belarusan firms. Shipuk, moreover, challenged another Lukashenka taboo by calling for privatization of agriculture. “No improvement whatsoever is possible in agriculture unless we solve the issue of ownership,” he concluded (NTV, April 27; Itar-Tass, April 17, May 2).
Whether these actual or incipient defections will make many proselytes among the ruling authorities seems too early to tell. But the considerations which inspired these defections and may inspire others seem clear enough. These include: economic collapse, slowed down though not halted by Russian indirect subsidies; international isolation of the regime; the unrecognized status of its parliament; and the prospect of an unrecognized presidency if Lukashenka gets reelected through fraud in the upcoming presidential balloting. Perhaps–as Shpilevsky seemed to hint–even the decline of Russia’s power relative to that of the United States and NATO may serve to concentrate the minds of some among Lukashenka’s loyalists.
The presidential election is tentatively due in October. The opposition plans to field a common candidate, and some official circles in Moscow are not above encouraging rumors that they might look for an alternative to Lukashenka. Against that backdrop, desertions from the presidential camp–be they motivated by a long-suppressed patriotism or, at least as likely, by sheer opportunism–can only increase. The process itself has started, and only its rate remains to be seen. That rate could increase if Western media would start paying attention (see the Monitor, January 18, February 9, April 6).
The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions