Poland has started to put pressure on the dictatorship running Belarus, attempting to use its deep cultural ties to lend moral support to a burgeoning democratization movement. In response, the Lukashenko regime has seized a building near their shared border that provided community services to the Polish minority in Belarus:
A bitter row between Poland and Belarus over human rights, alleged espionage and democracy escalated yesterday when Belarussian police special forces stormed and seized a Polish community building near the country’s border with Poland. The Polish government responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Minsk.
The dispute between the two countries pits the authoritarian regime of Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko – dubbed Europe’s last dictator – against Nato and EU member Poland, which is crusading for greater democracy in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Mr Lukashenko – fearful of the pro-democracy tumult that unseated regimes in Ukraine and Georgia – claims Warsaw is spearheading a western plot to destabilise Belarus and foment a revolution to forestall his re-election next year.
Lukashenko wants to get his ersatz elections completed without disturbances, like people demanding an actual election as happened in Ukraine. His re-election will give him some breathing space to complete a planned reunification with Russia, allowing Lukashenko to hold onto power by using the Russians to tamp down opposition and dissent. The increasingly autocratic wants Belarus as a further buffer against the wave of democratization and liberalization coming from Eastern Europe — the very people that Russia once oppressed, and George Bush’s biggest proponents of the tranformative power of democracy.
To demonstrate that he means business, Lukashenko had security forces surround the community center and arrest everyone inside. Those detained were interrogated and, according to the Guardian, convicted on the spot. That may demonstrate remarkable efficiency, but it reveals the police state which Lukashenko has maintained since Belarus won its independence in the early 1990s.
Known as Europe’s last dictator, the last of a long and notorious line of despots in the region, Lukashenko should look to history to see how each met their fate. Those who allowed for the will of the people to exercise an orderly transition of power lived their lives in relative unmolested peace. Those who fought against the historical inevitability of liberty wound up on the end of a gibbet, or worse.