It looks like the anti-post-Communist Counter-Revolution has slowly petered out in Belarus. Alexandr "Daddy" Lukashenka has things pretty much under control. Sure, there are still riots and demonstrations but the numbers of participants continue to dwindle from the greatest gathering in the nation's history when, in mid-August, about 250,000 marched in Minsk.
Moreover, industrial strikes are no longer a serious factor. Lockouts and strongarming the blue collar workforce did the trick. Virtually all appears calm on that front.
Whatever organized opposition leadership emerged seems neither effective nor efficient at home. Instead, the leaders should be viewed as moral voices without much practical influence in real politics. They may inspire the people marching against the regime, but it is unclear to what extent they control the crowds. Also, the regime works overtime to compromise the opposition leadership, in particular anyone connected to NGOs receiving funding from abroad. Such activists immediately become Polish or Lithuanian "agents" or stooges of George Soros, whether they are or not.
Abroad, mostly in Poland and Lithuania, there are a few émigré groups calling for more resistance and more foreign help, albeit with meager results. At the grassroots level, a youthful cyber oppositionist in Poland, bankrolled by the Polish taxpayer, can easily convince himself that he is virtually in Minsk, where he makes a difference, but that impression is only good enough to improve his own mood. His activism only feeds false hope at home. Yet, if his commitment is strong enough to persevere, he may live to fight another day.
Overall, the Belarusian opposition's desire for freedom is no match Lukashenka's will to power.
"Daddy" has fired the heads of the national security council and the secret police, replacing them with tougher operators. This is smart. The dictator wants to be perceived as having punished officials responsible for violence; but he merely switched servants, and not liberalized.
In reality, the riot police (OMON) continues to disperse the crowds brutally. The secret service (KGB) keeps snatching people off the streets ruthlessly. Thank God that the violence is largely limited to beatings and torture, and not outright killings. Of course, there is no consideration given for either sex or age. A foreign passport guarantees no immunity.
According to a confirmed report, upon taking two Polish nationals into custody, a policewoman beat them with a baseball bat into a pulp. Their mistake was not so much to have arrived in Minsk to demonstrate their solidarity with the opposition, but to allow themselves to be caught. The youthful victims can only take comfort in the fact that Poland's intelligence services have pledged to expose the perpetrators and publicize their names. So far they have only established the baseball bat wielding virago's first name: Karina.
Meanwhile, not waiting for outside help, the Belarusian cyber-oppositionists have hacked the Ministry of the Interior records and stolen personal files of the OMON riot policemen responsible for much brutality in Minsk. The hackers promptly published the data on the internet.
Good news: the police thugs are no longer anonymous and, thus, one hopes this will serve as a deterrent to temper their brutality. Bad news: the crowd control cops are now exposed along with their families. They will therefore most likely become more radicalized and violent since they are in great fear for their loved ones, and defection is not an option since the counter-revolutionary wave has been seriously ebbing and the Lukashenka government waxing supreme.
The street protests have thus been largely contained, if not extinguished altogether yet. The action seems to have shifted to diplomacy: regular and military. "Daddy" Lukashenka appears to have secured Vladimir Putin's full blessing for his continued rule and for the strategy of crushing the opposition. Moscow cyclically issues communiques in support of Minsk. Further, Russia held joint maneuvers with Belarusian troops in Belarus in late August.
NATO responded with Nobel Partners 2020 in Georgia with U.S., French, British, and Polish units participating in early September. Soon after, similar exercises occurred in Ukraine. Putin and Lukashenka were less than pleased.
Consequently, Minsk wants to close the border with Poland and Lithuania. He pulled its top diplomats from Warsaw and Vilnius, accusing the Poles and the Lithuanians of fomenting unrest in Belarus. Lukashenka also ordered that both nations scale down their diplomatic representations in his country. In retaliation, Estonia and Latvia expelled leading Belarusian diplomats from their respective capitals and drew back home some of their embassy personnel from Minsk.
Significantly, further, "Daddy" refused to allow the return home the Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who is the Minsk-Mohylev Metropolite and the highest ranking Catholic clergyman in Belarus. Abp. Kondrusiewicz was abroad when the demonstrations started. He was born in pre-war Poland's eastern borderlands which are now in the Republic of Belarus. He used to be a Polish citizen but after 1989 the priest returned to the place of his birth to shepherd the faithful there, acquiring a Belarusian citizenship in the process. Now, Minsk has revoked his Belarusian passport.
Meanwhile, Warsaw put itself squarely behind the opposition. Most notably, the Poles attempted, quite undiplomatically, to present their closest allies with a fait accompli. Namely, they intended to bring the top Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to a Vishehrad Group meeting, which is the most important Three Seas forum. The Czechs objected and Tsikhanouskaya was disinvited.
Soon after, surprisingly for her Polish sponsors, the Belarusian leader, along with U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher and others, signed an open letter charging the Polish government with alleged discrimination against Poland's LGBT community. Since then, her standing in Warsaw has declined propitiously. The Poles still support the freedom cause in Minsk, but they'll think twice before turning to help Tsikhanouskaya with anything.
Earlier, Germany and Lithuania issued a joint statement refusing to recognize the Belarusian presidential elections as legitimate and, hence, Lukashenka as a true president of his country. The dictator bristled; next, he essentially told French President Macron off for suggesting a liberalization. He openly jeered at the European Union's sanctions. Moscow has Minsk's back. Putin extended serious credit to Lukashenka and assured him of other support, including energy and military.
It looks like "Daddy" is firmly back in the saddle. Poor Belarus. At least it looks like there will be no war, and a good thing, too, because the Kremlin will have no excuse to expand.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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