October 18, 2005

HE MAY DELAY IT, BUT HE CAN'T STOP IT:

n Belarus, faint hopes for an unlikely event (Steven Lee Myers, 10/17/05, The New York Times)

Few here or abroad believe Belarus's beleaguered opposition can win the election, expected before July. But with the support of the United States and Europe, its effort is shaping up as a new struggle over democracy in what was once the Soviet Union - one likely to inflame tensions not only with Lukashenko's government, but also that of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose government opposes Western efforts to democratize former Soviet states.

"There will be a road to democracy in Belarus," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared earlier this year after meeting with Lukashenko's opponents in neighboring Lithuania, calling his government "the last dictatorship in the center of Europe." [...]

Lukashenko's opponents do have support abroad. The United States has pledged $5 million to support democracy in Belarus, though has not detailed how the money will be spent. The European Union is paying the German radio channel, Deutsche Welle, to broadcast into the country, prompting complaints of Cold War-like tactics from Belarus and Russia.

"The West will not spare any expenses," Lukashenko said this year, in one of his frequent denunciations of European and American support for democracy. A popular uprising like Ukraine's, he said, is "the last thing that we need."

There are indications, however, that external pressure - and the continued isolation of Lukashenko and several other officials, who are prohibited from traveling in Europe - might be having some impact.

Lukashenko last month agreed to allow 800 representatives of the opposition to meet in a cultural center in Minsk - instead of abroad, as they initially had planned. After meeting on Oct. 1 and 2, delegates from across the political spectrum, from communists to liberals, selected Milinkevich as a unified opposition candidate.

Milinkevich, a professor and television commentator, once served as a deputy mayor in Grodno and then headed a nongovernmental organization that Lukashenko's government banned in 2001.

Belarussians, he said, are ready for a change in leadership - something suggested by recent polls.

Belarus is not going to escape History.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2005 9:06 AM
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