By Joshua Keating
I had a chance today to speak briefly with Belarusian opposition leader Aleksandr Milinkevich, who is visiting Washington and gearing up to challenge President Aleksandr Lukashenko in upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for 2011. Milinkevich, who also ran unsuccessfully in 2006, is under no illusions that it will be a fair fight, but says the opposition can use elections to "increase the pro-democratic atmosphere in society and tell people about their other options."
I asked him if he saw any change of a "color revolution" breaking out in Belarus following the election:
There is a huge difference between Serbia, Georgia, or Ukraine and Belarus. Those countries didn't have dictatorship; they had imperfect democracy. They had opposition in the parliament; we have no one. There was free television everywhere. They didn't have the huge fear in society that we do in Belarus. [In those countries,] in order to participate in a demonstration on the street, someone would just have to fight apathy. In our case they have to combat combat this fear.... A color revolution in Belarus would be very difficult.
But Milinkevich does see one key difference between the current situation and previous elections, the growing tension between Lukashenko's government and his one-time patrons in Moscow:
For the first time ever, Moscow's candidate will not be Lukashenko. Moscow is very disappointed with him. He did not deliver on his promise to unify the two countries. He started to play around with the West. For us, this is a test in the geopolitical sense -- which direction we're going to go .