Intensify the pressure

  • 2002-11-28
While Europe last week in the Czech Republic celebrated its watershed security consensus for the 21st century, one lowly nation has seen its prospects - in terms of both security and prosperity - tumble precipitously.

After the gates to Prague were slammed in his face, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been barred from 14 European nations - 12 members of the Schengen Agreement, and England and Ireland - as well as the United States, for human rights abuses and totalitarian system of government.

Worse for Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown that he too is fed up with Minsk. He recently made it clear that Moscow alone will call the shots in any Russia-Belarus union (that Lukashenko for years had been clamoring for), and the natural gas monopoly Gazprom, which takes its orders directly from the Kremlin, has not only demanded some $250 million in payments but is threatening to build a pipeline around Belarus through the Baltics.

This is as close to being isolated as Minsk can get. For if Lukashenko can live without the West, he is entirely dependent upon the East. Without Russia, Europe's last despot has no hope of further subsidizing his deplorable economy with cheap raw materials.

Curiously enough, just as Lukashenko started feeling the heat from the rest of Europe reports filtered out of Minsk that he was planning to visit Kazakhstan. Apparently, the dictator, suddenly finding himself quite lonely, has decided to start shuttling around in search of friends.

The isolation is long overdue. Long ago Lukashenko has shown he is a menace to Europe and a threat to his own people. Five opposition leaders were either murdered or disappeared (most notably a former interior minister). Liberal newspapers have been shut down, and peaceful demonstrators are routinely mauled in the streets. The country is devoid of any rigorous democratic debate.

The American journalist Anne Applebaum, in her book "On the Borderlands," wrote this of Belarus: "For anyone discovering Belarus, it was always easy to say what the Belarus were not... Lacking a state, they had no kings. Lacking a nobility, they had never even had rebel leaders. Lacking kings and rebel leaders, they had a history of occupation. They had never been independent, but what was worse, they had never tried to be independent."

If there was ever a European people with an identity crisis, it is Belarus. Tragically, the fiend Lukashenko and his lackeys have been able to manipulate this insecurity and now risk driving the nation into desperation and destitution.

Thankfully, autocracy has been disappearing from the European landscape. Slovakia's Vladimir Meciar was ousted in 1998, and Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic has been carted off to jail, where he is likely to spend the rest of his days.

That leaves us with Lukashenko. So it is crucial that now, while the spirit of Prague takes root, that Europe does something about him. The pressure is on, and must be kept up.