Kagarlitsky on Belarus

Boris Kagarlitsky’s analysis of the Belarusian elections is a breath of fresh air at a time when what exactly Belarus is has been so muddled by the ideological dueling between East and West. I encourage readers to check out his column “Nine Lives of the Belarusian Cat”. Here are some excerpts.

On why Lukashenko won:

The Russian and the Western mass media have split up into two camps: fervent partisans of the Belarusian regime and its furious enemies. With all that, either of the camps wouldn’t even make a guess, what this regime looks like, and especially, what kind of opposition that is.

Unlike Russia or Kazakhstan, Belarus is not rich in natural resources, therefore, it cannot export raw materials. Unlike Ukraine, it does not have siderurgy. Its domestic market is quite limited as well, for the country is not big. In the times of the USSR it served as the Soviet economy’s “assembly line”. In other words, only the developed processing industry will keep the Belarusian economy floating, given it produces goods of high enough quality to be exported to the former Soviet Republics and anywhere else if possible.

Implementing Russian model of privatization will result in an immeasurable disaster, against which all horrors of Neoliberal reforms implemented by Egor Gaidar would seem just a joke. The entire country would just die out. The more relaxed Ukrainian version wouldn’t work out either, due to the shortage of the resources available. To stay alive, the Belarusian economy needed guaranteed secure and modernized industry, simultaneously keeping wages low; otherwise, the Belarusian enterprises will not be competitive on the exterior market. Holding the wages and trying to avoid the collapse could only be made possible, preserving the social security protection, which inevitably handed the control over economy to the state, making it act as an investor, a proprietor, responsible for the healthy functioning of the industries, and as a distribution system. The Soviet type of economy has slowly been modifying in Belarus into an East Asia type of “export economy”, though with local flavor: not a tiger, of course, but a cat. The “Belarusian cat” model predetermined Lukashenka’s political endurance. Bat’ka was doing what the society expected him to. He did it roughly, undemocratically, enjoying support of the bureaucratic structures, inherited from the Soviet times. In return, he got the unlimited power for himself and his team.

And on why the opposition made little headway among the population:

The opposition was rejected by the Belarusian population in the first place because it hasn’t come up with something inspirational to suggest. Liberal programs and promises to prosper in the European house were nothing but bluffing. Paradoxically, what did add some weight the opposition was its persecution by the authorities. It raised the opposition’s moral prestige, stirred up sympathy. It was not enough to compensate for the narrow social basis, though. And the narrower the social basis is, the more significance is attached to the foreign sponsors. The attempts to repeat Kyiv Maidan in Minsk failed, as would other similar activity. Dumb Russian bureaucrats and mediocre journalists may of course trust the omnipotent political technologies. In practice they work out only under certain conditions and may not be thoughtlessly replicated. Lukashenka didn’t even bother to break up the demonstration. The cold did a better job than police squads would have done.

Neither the current opposition, nor its updated version, which will undoubtedly be created after the elections, will ever seize power. This absolutely must not lead to thinking that the future of the Belarusian regime is cloudless. Lukashenka as a political phenomenon was produced by specific circumstances back in mid-1990s. Since then, the situation has changed and keeps changing. The survival matter is no longer the case, but the further development issues will eventually become more and more acute. Lukashenka’s new term will not just be another one in a row.

According to Kagarlitsky, Lukashenko’s lease on life might begin to wear thin once Belarusian bureaucrats look to get a bigger piece of the pie they’ve only had a taste from. This, not an opposition, will force Lukashenko to proceed with more privatization. If not then, Kagarlitsky concludes,

One way or the other, the political crisis is inevitable, perhaps, resulting in a “color” revolution, conducted (like other color revolutions) not by the opposition, but the part of the ruling elites, determined to make changes. This is exactly how the story in Ukraine unfolded.

I highly encourage reading the rest.