By: Mazda Majidi
Lukashenko's real crime: Not facilitating the imperialist plunder of his country
The scene is familiar. The script being played out is one used by the United States and its imperialist allies against independent countries holding elections where pro-imperialist candidates have no chance of winning. Elections are called fraudulent, demonstrations are held by predominantly privileged sectors of society and the police stand accused of violence when often it is right-wing demonstrators who instigate the violence. In the final act, the corporate media delegitimizes the elections.
This time, the script is being played out in Belarus, an Eastern European country of 10 million people that was formerly a republic of the Soviet Union. Belarus held presidential elections on Dec. 19. The final election results were announced by the Belarus Central Elections Commission on Dec. 24.
As expected, incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected president. Nearly 91 percent of those eligible voted. Lukashenko received over 5 million votes, nearly 80 percent of the votes cast. The official count conformed to pre-election polls conducted by various polling agencies. Baseless imperialist accusations of "tyrant" and "dictator" notwithstanding, Lukashenko is an immensely popular leader. In the previous elections in 2006, Lukashenko received 83 percent of the vote. The results of the elections were no surprise to anyone.
But that did not stop the "pro-democracy" forces from crying foul, even before election day. Opposition candidates called for a rally in central Minsk, the capital of Belarus, at the Oktyabrskaya Square, which had been turned into an ice rink for the winter holidays. The attempted counter-revolution was dubbed "revolution on ice skates."
The demonstrations resulted in some violence, at least in part instigated by the demonstrators. Protesters were confronted by pro-Lukashenko youth and the police. About 600 people were arrested, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported.
Russia's ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Surikov, said that Lukashenko's victory had been "expected" but that opposition candidates "understood that they cannot win, and attempted to carry out a 'yellow', 'orange' or whatever else [revolution]."
Without the benefit of any evidence, or even plausible accusations, the United States and Western European imperialists denounced the elections. The top European Union diplomat, Catherine Ashton, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement: "Taken together, the elections and their aftermath represent an unfortunate step backwards in the development of democratic governance and respect for human rights in Belarus. The people of Belarus deserve better. ... Without substantial progress in these areas, relations will not improve."
But imperialist hostility toward Belarus has nothing to do with how elections are conducted or how democratic it is. A glance at the CIA World Factbook reveals the real reason why Belarus is not considered a member of the "community of democracies":
"Belarus has seen limited structural reform since 1995, when President Lukashenko launched the country on the path of 'market socialism.' In keeping with this policy, Lukashenko reimposed administrative controls over prices and currency exchange rates and expanded the state's right to intervene in the management of private enterprises. Since 2005, the government has re-nationalized a number of private companies.
"In addition, businesses have been subjected to pressure by central and local governments, including arbitrary changes in regulations, numerous rigorous inspections, retroactive application of new business regulations, and arrests of 'disruptive' businessmen and factory owners. Continued state control over economic operations hampers market entry for businesses, both domestic and foreign."
So Belarus is labeled an evil country because the state imposes serious limitations on international and domestic business, unlike the United State and other imperialist countries, where business runs the state.
And what has been the result of this economic "mismanagement?" The bourgeois media often refer to Belarus as an "impoverished" country where the economy is in "tatters." Well, according to the CIA World Factbook, the GDP of Belarus grew 8.6 percent in 2007 and 10.2 percent in 2008. Even in 2009, when the world capitalist economic crisis caught up with Belarus, the GDP still grew, albeit at only 0.2 percent. This is for a country with negative population growth.
The CIA Factbook lists the unemployment rate for Belarus at 1 percent, a number never achieved by imperialist countries even in the boom phase of their business cycle. Belarus has a literacy rate of 99.6 percent. Various other economic and social indicators are evidence that, far from being a nightmarish place, Belarus is a fairly nice place to live for working people and, for the same reason, a terribly restrictive place for capital.
This is the second time that the West has attempted to wreak havoc through elections in Belarus, the first time being the 2006 elections. The imperialist objective was to emulate the model of "revolutions" that had been implemented in other former Soviet Republics.
The United States supported staged street demonstrations to destabilize the governments of the Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. These "revolutions," deemed the "Orange Revolution," the "Rose Revolution," and the "Tulip Revolution," respectively, resulted in U.S.-favored candidates coming to power. In June 2009, a "Green revolution" in Iran failed to bring about regime change.
The crime: resisting privatization
There is, of course, a history behind the U.S. government's hostility towards Belarus. One of the founding republics of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, Belarus was one of the first regions to be invaded by Nazi Germany. Remaining under occupation until 1944, the German imperialists killed approximately 3 million Byelorussians and destroyed much of the infrastructure. Only in 1971, 26 years after the end of the war, did the population of Belarus reach its pre-war levels.
Under the direction of the Soviet planned economy, Belarus became one of the industrial centers of the Soviet Union, gaining relative prosperity. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, capitalist reforms swept across the former Soviet Republics. State-owned industries and lands were privatized and sold to foreign and domestic capital at dirt-cheap prices. The privatizations and shutdowns of factories judged to have insufficient profit potential brought about massive unemployment and a huge drop in the standards of living.
The same process ravaged Belarus. "During 1991-1995, with the support of international finance organizations, Belarus initiated preliminary reforms toward transforming into a market economy," according to the World Bank's 2003 Belarus Country Brief. The country's GDP declined by an estimated 40 percent during this period.
"From late 1995 onwards, however," the World Bank report continues, "the Government sought to insulate its population from the pain of reform by protecting jobs and wages. The state retained control over most production resources, and a significant share of GDP was allocated to social expenditures and subsidies. Market-oriented reforms were very limited."
Under the leadership of Lukashenko since 1994, Belarus put a halt to the privatizations and proceeded to use the country's resources to maintain the government's social programs and social infrastructure. The World Bank describes the outcome: "The country retains many features of a planned economy, with the Government wielding significant control over the factors of production and the decisions of economic agents, a high tax burden and major budget redistribution of funds aimed at supporting traditional companies and employment. The agricultural sector remains largely unreformed, small and medium enterprises have undergone a minimal level of development, and a considerable share of GDP is allocated to social expenditures."
In 1995, the IMF and the World Bank stopped loaning money to Belarus, citing the country's refusal to implement free market reforms.
The strategy to financially isolate Belarus backfired. Not only did Belarus avert financial and social crisis, its economy flourished. From 1996 to 2004, the economy went through a steady period of expansion averaging an annual growth of 6.6 percent. (World Bank, "Belarus: Window of Opportunity to Enhance Competitiveness and Sustain Economic Growth," November 2005) This growth persisted while the rest of the former Soviet republics experienced economic decline.
To the imperialists, these are the crimes of the Lukashenko regime. It has refused to privatize, erected barriers against imperialist capital penetration and maintained a high standard of living for its citizens, along with a relatively equitable distribution of wealth. All of these factors present substantial barriers to international investors who view mass poverty and high unemployment as favorable conditions for their investments.
The imperialist campaign against Belarus' national development would not have been complete without the customary demonization of its leader, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko has for years been described as a "dictator," an "autocrat" and "tyrannical" by Western media. He has been likened to many previously demonized leaders, most of all to Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic.
Lukashenko was a member of the Young Communist League in his youth, a deputy chairman of a collective farm in the early 1980s, and then the director of a state farm and construction materials plant in the Shklov district. In 1990, Lukashenko was elected to the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus. In December 1991, Lukashenko was the only deputy of the Belarusian parliament to vote against the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In 1994, as Belarus plunged into the "free" market capitalist economy and its state industries were sold off, Lukashenko ran on a campaign of fighting corruption, saving jobs and protecting the interests of the common people. He won the election with 80 percent of the vote.
Imperialism and 'democracy'
Belarus is a clear illustration of the real approach of the imperialist bourgeoisie toward elections and democracy. With the dominance of bourgeois institutions over society, the capitalist class relies on elections to promote its class agenda and to keep class antagonisms in check. While the electoral process may force the bourgeoisie to make concessions to the working class, it structurally precludes the working class from gaining power and challenging the existing productive relations. This is why bourgeois mouthpieces use the terms democracy and capitalism interchangeably.
But the commitment of the bourgeoisie to its own form of democracy ends the minute elections generate an outcome that is unfavorable to its class interests. That is why popularly elected presidents, such as Belarus' Lukashenko and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez are still called dictators.
In 1993, when the Russian parliament voted to impeach U.S. puppet Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament and used the military to nearly demolish Russia's White House, where the parliamentary representatives had deliberated. The imperialist media did not condemn Yeltsin for his authoritarian and anti-democratic actions. To the contrary, they praised him for his courageous commitment to reform against the hardliners, the hardliners being representatives of the Russian parliament elected in the early post-Soviet era.
From a Marxist perspective, all states are instruments of class domination, representing a class dictatorship, whether they are democratic or autocratic in form. Bourgeois politicians understand this concept too well. In fact, they operate on the basis of this principle.
The developments in Belarus demonstrate the utter falsehood of the pretense of capitalist states' commitment to democracy. Contrary to common propaganda, not only are capitalism and democracy not synonymous, they are incompatible. By re-electing Lukashenko, the people of Belarus, have taken one further step in the direction of real democracy and away from the tyranny of capital.