By KELLEY CURRIE
Belarusian president Aleksander Lukashenko is often called "Europe's last dictator." He has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for most of the past two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, hiding under the protective wing of Moscow and living off its gifts of subsidized fuel. Over the past few years, as Anne Applebaum recently noted in the Washington Post, in response to Lukashenko's feint of unhappiness with his status as a Russian protectorate, Europe and the U.S. have attempted to lure him toward political reform with the promise of economic inducements and improved ties with the West. This exercise in "diplomacy" required Western diplomats to suspend disbelief and conveniently forget Lukashenko's long history of brutality in maintaining political power and his heartfelt antipathy toward the West. Of course, this naive exercise has spectacularly failed to achieve results.
This has become painfully clear as Lukashenko's goon squads, having viciously beaten and arrested hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators who protested his efforts at electoral theft, are now busy racing around Minsk looking for opposition leaders to arrest and possibly "disappear." One of those reportedly targeted by the goons is a man named Jaroslav Romanchuk, the presidential candidate of the opposition United Civil Party. Romanchuk is being targeted, even though he has reportedly publicly criticized other opposition leaders for themselves causing violence by provoking riot police during what began as peaceful protests on December 19.