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March 16, 2006
Death To Protestors In Belarus

It has the reputation as the last dicatorship in Europe, and this week Belarus and its throwback Soviet-style government demonstrated why. With its upcoming elections seen as a sham, the opposition to Belarussian strongman and Kremlin favorite Aleksander Lukashenko had planned to hold rallies to protest the rigged polls. That has brought a warning from Lukashenko's KGB chief that protestors would be considered terrorists and subject to the death penalty:

OPPOSITION supporters in Belarus were warned yesterday that they could face the death penalty if they took part in a protest after the presidential election on Sunday.

Stepan Sukhorenko, head of the KGB secret service, accused the Opposition of planning to use the rally to stage a coup against Aleksander Lukashenko, the President, who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994.

"We will not allow the seizure of power under the guise of presidential elections," Mr Sukhorenko told a news conference.

"For those who take the risk of going out into the street and try to destabilise the situation, their actions will be qualified as terrorism" — a crime, he added, that can result in life in prison or the death penalty.

These kinds of threats normally mean that the government itself is terrified, not terrorized, by the potential for widespread protests after the polls close. Threatening death for simple speech always demonstrates the last stages of any dictatorship. When the people lose their fear of individual consequences, the dictatorships escalate the threats to include anyone who even is seen with dissidents, hoping to scare people into keeping quiet and staying home.

Does it work? Not for long.

Lukashenko has big problems. On one side he sees Poland, a nation known for its love of liberty, and a significant amount of people in Belarus are ethnic Poles. Warsaw wants democracy to develop in Belarus for the sake of these cousins but also because failing dictatorships can cause a lot of damage when they collapse without any plan to replace the tyrants. Lukashenko has Vladimir Putin on his side -- but that didn't help the Luddites that lost Ukraine or Georgia, and Putin would risk losing his position in the G-8 if he is seen to intercede too much on Lukashenko's behalf. The G-8 already has major reservations about Russia's continuing membership due to his flirtation with Hamas and the imposition of autocratic rule that Putin seems eager to press. He cannot afford to rig elections in Belarus, at least not indiscreetly as he did in Ukraine.

This threat by Lukashenko should be seen for what it is: one of the last acts of the truly desperate. Confident and stable dictatorships do not need to issue threats such as these, because their subjects already fear them. Having to remind people of one's omnipotency indicates that it only exists in the mind of the dictator. Expect Belarus to fall to a velvet revolution within months.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 16, 2006 9:58 PM

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