Monday, March 27, 2006

Belarus, Ukraine, and the European magnet 

I did more reading than writing today, which felt really good, and then did some lecturing tonight which leaves me a little too tired to go back to preparing for a conference this weekend (which is why I'm having jw guestblog for me -- the bothersome office crep got done earlier today.) So a shortish note on Belarus' crackdown and the Ukraine election.

On Russian Mushroom is a translation of a short LiveJournal entry:
I think, as a result of the recent events it's become obvious: in Belarus, there is no opposition, but there is a people. And to defeat the people is impossible.
I think there is an opposition, as I was arguing at length on NARN last weekend. But it was small and it needed fuel to grow. There is nothing like this to do that:
This is a mistake, and a very bad one. Dragging people out of hospital to jail is one thing, impersonating a U.S. diplomat to snatch an opposition politician is another. Seeing the pictures you realize these aren't just students; now it's the students' parents and uncles and aunts.

Today they look south and they see Ukraine holding elections, where they do not turn out well for the president, and there is no violence. Instead, the president tells his current PM to negotiate a new government with the woman he replaced. Ukraine may still have many problems, and you might want to think that Yushchenko is the cause of them, but a country stays together and may have a second peaceful transfer of power in 18 months. 'Round those parts, we call that progress.

LEvko makes an interesting note about that progress:
In the repeated second round of the last Presidential elections held on 26th December 2004, presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, broadly speaking representing the eastward-orientated portion of Ukraine, obtained 44% of the vote. Yushchenko, leading the westward-orientated Orange forces, and constantly supported by Yuliya Tymoshenko, obtained 52% of votes cast.

Now according to a poll of exit polls, of yesterday's Parliamentary elections, Viktor Yanukovych and other eastward-orientated parties will obtain about 35% of the vote, while Our Ukraine, the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc and other Orange parties will obtain about 45% of votes cast.

The rift between Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko bloc may be deep and Yushchenko's popularity in decline, but the 'European magnet' seems to be attracting an increasing number of the Ukrainian electorate.
That magnetism, always to the west of Belarus, now beckons from the south as well. Putin will of course remain Lukashenko's friend, but the feeling of isolation must nonetheless grow.

The west would do well to continue to hold out the offer of aid for reforms to counter Putin's development of a client state, even as it ratchets up the rhetoric over the repression of the weekend. Lukashenko lives on the we-versus-they politics of isolation. I would not give him an opportunity to use that line.