There is usually a good deal of method in the seeming madness of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s televised outbursts. But his January 27 live performance could and did raise some doubts as to just how much method was involved this time. Not content to term the opposition’s likely presidential candidates “simply sick people,” Lukashenka assailed the West for “hand-feeding and paying its agents of influence here” and allegedly planning to deploy some 14,000 to 18,000 observers in the upcoming presidential election in Belarus. He described those putative election observers as a “corps of guerrilla fighters [boeviki] who will tend the fields in the daytime but keep their guns under the bed and get those guns out in the evening.”
Lukashenka went on to impute to NATO the idea of “bombing my people from the air with ammunition full of allegedly depleted uranium. Yesterday Yugoslavia, tomorrow Belarus. No, there will be no Yugoslavia here while I am president. It is not going to happen and I am not bluffing, I am not bluffing.” The president specifically ruled out in Belarus a “Kostunica scenario” whereby mass protests would force Lukashenka to yield power to the united opposition’s leader, the way Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was forced to step down in favor of Milan Kostunica. When that happened, Lukashenka was the only official anywhere in Europe openly to praise the personality of Milosevic.
In the same broadcast, Lukashenka claimed on his own authority to have drastically reduced the mandate of the Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Minsk of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE’s mandate to the AMG focuses on improving the electoral legislation of Belarus. But Lukashenka now pronounced the AMG almost redundant because “we have already improved that legislation. That’s it. I am stating for the third time that we won’t touch the electoral legislation before the presidential election…. What, then, is left of your mandate? Monitor, go ahead and monitor, have three of four people here and monitor.”
Adding a threat to his warnings, Lukashenka announced that state authorities “have taken under control the OSCE Group’s budget.” An oft-used Soviet/Russian official idiom, “taking under control” covers a range of actions including observation, surveillance, interception or seizure. Lukashenka justified the threat by arguing that “we pay our dues to the OSCE and they fight Lukashenka with his own money. Did I have to tolerate this? No. That’s why we took the OSCE Group’s budget under control.”
Three recent developments may to some extent account for Lukashenka’s rage. In mid-January, the heavily harassed opposition newspaper Nasha Svaboda published a psychological profile of Lukashenka, authored by a Belarusan psychiatrist on the basis of long-time observation and consultation with professional colleagues. The psychiatrist, Dzmitri Shchyhelski, found symptoms of psychopathy and paranoia in Lukashenka’s personality which may disqualify him from holding office. When the General Prosecutor’s Office threatened action against Nasha Svaboda for libel, the newspaper’s chief editor Pavel Zhuk responded that it would be necessary to subject Lukashenka to an independent medical examination in order to substantiate the libel charge; and that punitive action against the newspaper would demonstrate to the public–said Zhuk–that the article had hit the mark.
In a further snub to Lukashenka, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last week refused to reinstate the observer status of Belarus but welcomed the delegates of the democratic opposition. Lukashenka had apparently been misled by sycophantic advisers into believing that PACE would decide in his favor. A disappointed Lukashenka declared on television that “our parliamentarians should stop crawling and kneeling before the Council of Europe and stop traveling abroad. We shall save thousands of dollars and give people medicines for that money.”
And on January 26 in Vilnius, an international seminar convened to discuss the use of civil disobedience tactics by the opposition in Belarus, drawing on the experience of the nonviolent Baltic movements which ended Soviet rule there. The Belarusan embassy in Vilnius issued an indignant protest–as did Lukashenka on television in Minsk. With the election approaching, the president seems increasingly to feel pushed with his back to the wall. It is a Russian wall that has held well thus far (Belarusan Television, January 24, 27; Belapan, January 17, 25, 28; BNS, January 27-28).
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 [email protected], 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