Thursday, 26 May 2011

Democracy made us nauseated

There is a museum in the town of Gori in Georgia dedicated to the life of its most famous son – Josef Stalin. So, all those nostalgic for the old Europe, the Europe of dictators and diktats, can head off in its general direction. Actually, if you are coming from the west, there is really no need to travel that far, either to the east or to the past. No, go to Belarus instead, where a tyrannical past is a living present, where Alyaksandr Lukashenko, the president, acts as something of a curator in a living Stalinist museum.

It’s all in place, a truly delightful reminder of times gone by; there are political prisoners aplenty, sudden arrests, show trails and a planned economy that, in the comforting old style, invariably overfull-fills shortages, a problem addressed by a flourishing black market.

Since last December’s fraudulent presidential election Lukashenko has been busy over-fulfilling the jails of Minsk with his former opponents, using the pretext of a bombing in the city’s subway in early April. A rather convenient excuse at that, a sort of Sergey Kirov Murder or Reichstag Fire moment, which has allowed the petty-tyrant to vilify not just his political opponents but democracy itself. “Before the elections”, he announced, “we had so much so-called democracy that it has made us nauseated.” Given the present condition of the country Belarus must be feeling so much better.

The show trails of people like Andrei Sannikov, a former diplomat who stood against the Stalin manqué in the election, are clearly intended as an entertainment, intended to distract people from the lamentable state of the economy. As the Economist reported, unable to sustain his pre-election promise to raise salaries, Lukashenka has been obliged to devalue the currency by as much as 30%, thereby wiping out the value of savings.

Oh, but it’s not his fault, he protests; no, it’s all the fault of foreigners who threaten Belarus from abroad, waging "a bitter information and political war" against the country. Who these wicked foreigners, the ghosts of Lukashenko’s febrile imagination, are is just a tad difficult to determine. Doubtless they include Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who refused to sit in the same room as him during the recent Chernobyl commemoration in the Ukraine. Never at a loss for the most fitting kind of words, Lukashenko responded with a witty broadside: “I don’t want to talk about types like Barroso and other morons and arseholes and the like.”

Alas for this particular Stalinist moron and arsehole his world is moving in ever decreasing circles. Under threat from international human rights lawyers, busy gathering material for a real trial, the places he can go in safety diminish by the day. In the end we may find that old dictators never die; they simply fade into irrelevance, or into Minsk, which probably amounts to the same thing.


  1. An English dentist I met on a trans-Atlantic flight tried to hit me up for a donation to an Anglo-Belarus charity that takes children from the fallout zone around Chernobyl to the UK for a detox-vacation. He seemed sincere enough about wishing to help poor children or orphans who had been most exposed. He complained that the nomenklatura had hijacked the project and insisted their own brats get trips to the UK instead. Outrage! I pointed out the potential advantage of mixing these privileged kids and the orphans, who might otherwise never meet, in a venue far from parental control where both might be infected with new ideas. I can be a very corrupting influence :)

    Eastern europe is a barbarous land.

  2. Great title, ANA. It could be used to describe Obama's misadministration as well. Don't know if you saw this, from Weasel Zippers:

    “The first time I had Guinness,” Obama said, “is when I came to the Shannon airport. We were flying into Afghanistan and so stopped in Shannon. It was the middle of the night. And I tried one of these and I realized it tastes so much better here than it does in the States.”

    Which begs the obvious question, how would he know it tasted better than the stuff in America if it was the first time he tried it? He’s so friggen stupid he can’t even keep his lies straight.

  3. A great acerbic insightful post. Authoritarianism is viral and hard to remove. Sartre said 'Who will de-Stalinise the de-Stalinisers'? I have to add that quoting someone for me does not mean allegiance to them. His question is axiomatic. We are fortunate to inhabit the country we do despite the efforts that have been made in recent years to erode the roots of democracy. I have a proposal to make to you Ana, a thought half flippant half serious, tell me what you think. A tax on political lies, those politicians exposed beyond doubt of lying about an issue that affects public safety are taxed half of their earnings.

  4. Don't you just hate communists.

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  6. Calvin, I think that's an excellent suggestion!

    My experience of Eastern Europe is quite limited but I know that Moscow is certainly not for the unwary.

  7. Bob, you need a better president or your president needs a speech writer who can walk and chew gum at the same time. :-))

  8. Richard, that's a first class suggestion; our deficit would all but vanish overnight. :-)

  9. Anthony, you know very well I do. :-)