Belarus: Hoof-Beats of the Horse of History Stuff/Post-Election Events

Scepticalscribe

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Not sure if anyone is following what is happening in Belarus at the moment.

I've observed four elections in that country since 2004, and, in a normal world, would have expected to have been there, in Minsk or its environs, for the past few weeks, if not months.

As it happens, I didn't apply to observe the election held in 2016, (although I had been invited to apply) for I would have been sent there had I done so.

Instead, I was despatched to Russia - a mission for which I had also been invited to apply - for a few months in 2016.

However, while this year's election went ahead, the OSCE did not receive an invitation to observe the election, and, had they done so, this is an election observation mission that would have been exceptionally difficult to carry out on account of Covid. A great many countries will not be seconding & sending any observers whatsoever, while others will send observers only in very limited numbers under strict conditions.

While the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred across the border, in Ukraine, the direction of the wind on that fatal day in April 1986 meant that much of the radioactive material affected several regions in Belarus to a far greater extent, something the authorities were always rather reticent about.

This year, the president received an improbable vote reputedly in excess of 80% of all votes cast, while his leading challenger - the opposition, normally endlessly split, had, on this occasion swallowed their mutual dislikes and endless enmities and rallied and united behind her - is said by official sources to have received an equally implausible 9% of the vote.

The opposition have disputed and challenged this result, and - over the past week - increasing numbers of the population - seem to be somewhat concerned as well.

This is the sort of country where presidential candidates are arrested, detained and bashed to bits on the night of the actual election; in the past, I have met individuals - candidates for president - who were subsequently arrested on election night and beaten to a pulp while in detention.

Demonstrations have taken place (giving rise, last week, to the usual excessive and ferocious police response, a response that seems to have become more muted as the week progressed), and I think it can be said that Mr Lukashenko (the president) is facing the most serious challenge yet to his 26 year rule.
 
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lizkat

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I am so glad you opened this thread, I kept meaning to ask what you had thought of the election and the aftermath. It looks to be a big mess now but that the people aren't having this level of corruption any more and that probable messing with the election results was a last straw.

Dangerous turning point sometimes when a populist impulse to dislodge an oppressive regime manages to get nearly or actually across the finish line. Sometimes a next wrong move by whoever ends up in power doesn't take long and so for a new regime to become corrupt itself even while still trying to dismantle a previously corrupt rule. Or especially when violence seems inevitable just to get the old regime gone. I will still hope for something much better for Belarus.
 
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yaxomoxay

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Not sure if anyone is following what is happening in Belarus at the moment.

I've observed four elections in that country since 2004, and, in a normal world, would have expected to have been there, in Minsk or its environs, for the past few weeks, if not months.

As it happens, I didn't apply to observe the election held in 2016, I would have been sent there had I done so. Instead, I was despatched to Russia instead for a few months.

However, while this year's election went ahead, the OSCE did not receive an invitation to observe the election, and, had they done so, this is an mission election observation that would have been exceptionally difficult to carry out on account of Covid.

While the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred across the border, in Ukraine, the direction of the wind on that fatal day in April 1986 meant that much of the radioactive material affected several regions in Belarus to a far greater extent, something the authorities were always rather reticent about.

This year, the president received an improbable vote reputedly in excess of 80% of all votes cast, while his leading challenger - the opposition, normally endlessly split, had, on this occasion swallowed their mutual dislikes and endless enmities and rallied and united behind her - is said by official sources to have received an equally improbable 9%.

The opposition have disputed and challenged this result, and - over the past week - increasing numbers of the population - seem to be somewhat concerned as well.

This is the sort of country where presidential candidates are arrested, detained and bashed to bits on the night of the actual election; in the past, I have met individuals - candidates for president - who were subsequently arrested and beaten to a pulp while in detention.

Demonstrations have taken place (giving rise, last week, to the usual excessive and ferocious police response, a response that seems to have become more muted as the week progressed), and I think it can be said that Mr Lukashenko (the president) is facing the most serious challenge to his 26 year rule.
great thread. I am following this with much interest.
I believe we’re at a dangerous turning point in history.
 

Scepticalscribe

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I have some seriously strange stories - and experiences - from Belarus....the kind of stuff you read with jaw-dropping stupefied disbelief in books.

Will return to this tomorrow.
 
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Scepticalscribe

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After my online French classes (later this evening, and this tardy teacher - though not of French - still has to attend to matters of homework), I'll return to this and other threads.
 

Alli

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After my online French classes (later this evening, and this tardy teacher - though not of French - still has to attend to matters of homework), I'll return to this and other threads.
You’re taking French? Merveilleux! That’s what I taught the first 2 decades.
 
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Scepticalscribe

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You’re taking French? Merveilleux! That’s what I taught the first 2 decades.
The govt is paying for it, and AF conducting the classes. Online.

My French was quite good at school - but that is a long time ago; however, I do have a fairly extensive dormant vocabulary in that language.

When I returned from Africa two years ago, the foreign ministry (because they wished to be able to deploy me on EU/CSDP capacity building missions & EOM (election observation missions) in Francophone regions, suggested (advised, strongly recommended) that I take up French classes.

Accordingly, I engaged the French husband (himself a teacher) of an old school friend (who herself was also a teacher) to give me private classes, an arrangement that worked well until my mother's health further deteriorated, which was followed by her death, whereupon my interest and motivation in many things (including French classes) vanished.

Towards the end of this January past, the foreign ministry contacted me with a view to ascertaining my interest in French classes to be run by AF (but paid for by them); then, before matters could proceed any further, Covid struck, putting all such plans in abeyance.

However, the classes - now held in an online format - were resurrected in July, and here I am, despite having taught (lectured, tutored) for far longer than I was ever a student, still to dispense with some silly student habits, such as doing your homework at the last minute.
 
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Alli

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However, the classes - now held in an online format - were resurrected in July, and here I am, despite having taught (lectured, tutored) for fa longer than I was ever a student, still to dispense with some silly student habits, such as doing your homework at the last minute.
And my problem with being a student is I’m done with all assignments on Tuesdays. Then I have to wait for other classmates to do something. Or for the professor to provide feedback. Drives me nuts!
 
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Chew Toy McCoy

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great thread. I am following this with much interest.
I believe we’re at a dangerous turning point in history.
I think all democracies are being exposed as a sham.

While I’d like to see more conservatives on here, I’ve felt for at least the past couple years that the usual debating points are a distraction and of little consequence in the bigger picture. We need to put aside our differences for a while and unite in our common interests and concerns. That scares the shit out of the ruling class and what is needed to get actual change. Otherwise it’s going to be a never ending parade of electing nutters to the captain’s chair until we get a world war that kills half the population.
 

Scepticalscribe

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I think all democracies are being exposed as a sham.

While I’d like to see more conservatives on here, I’ve felt for at least the past couple years that the usual debating points are a distraction and of little consequence in the bigger picture. We need to put aside our differences for a while and unite in our common interests and concerns. That scares the shit out of the ruling class and what is needed to get actual change. Otherwise it’s going to be a never ending parade of electing nutters to the captain’s chair until we get a world war that kills half the population.
Very interesting post - and one that I think deserves a separate thread, for it is a serious subject, one which merits closer examination.

For now, I shall return to the subject of Belarus, because I think that things there may be coming to a bit of a boil, at the moment.
 
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Belarus:

A few thoughts occur:

I have already mentioned that Belarus is the sort of country where presidential candidates tend to be arrested on the night of the election, detained, and beaten to a pulp, and sometimes released, months or years later.

It is also the sort of country where if a presidential candidate (and his or her, spouse) have both been detained, their children might be taken into care by the state, if there are no other relatives in the country (emigration, not surprisingly, is stratospheric, and the proverbial brain drain cannot be denied) to take care of them.

This - the immediate threat to her children, who - bearing these rather unsettling circumstances in mind - had been sent out of the country in the days immediately preceding the presidential election - was what seems to have prompted the departure of Ms Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to Lithuania. Her husband, - a well known blogger - is, of course, already behind bars.

And it is the sort of country where several zeroes can get added to (or sometimes, - at a state decreed slash - subtracted from) the legal tender denomination notes issued in the local currency, in the years between one's visits, so that the rate of exchange can serve to make you feel improbably and impossibly and quite ludicrously wealthy, a surreal state of affairs, with your wallet bulging peculiarly, almost to bursting. And then, by the time of your next visit, for the next election, a few years later, several zeroes - let us imagine - the last three zeroes - have been knocked off the currency, yet the exchange rate is still surreal, changing frequently.

I have observed elections - four, in that country, and others in countries with a similar political complexion - namely, autocratic, bordering on dictatorship, although, in the case of Belarus, it has long since passed that particular border and is a fully fledged dictatorship.

And, the test that I use (to myself) when seeking an answer as to whether an election can be described as "free and fair", in such a country, is to ask whether the outcome, the result, is (was) known in advance.

Do we know - or can we tell - the result in advance, before the election?
 
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Scepticalscribe

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Indeed, not only is the outcome, the result, of the election, known in advance, but I have been a party to chats, or conversations, or exchanges, with fellow observers over beer, or wine, or coffee, where we discuss whether to lay bets as to what we think the precise preferred percentage vote desired by the president will be.

Word will come back - via discreet (but well informed) diplomatic channels or sources, that - this year, the president has decided he wants 77% of the vote.

And then, fulfilling that actual task, - not just contriving a victory for the incumbent, but to ensure that somehow the ballot boxes yield the precise figure of 77% of votes cast for the incumbent (this actual conversation - speculating on what percentage of the total vote the president would decide he wished to receive) and this actual event really happened, the last time I was in Belarus, in 2015) will fall to the unfortunate officials who staff the polling stations, and the various layers of the state bureaucracy tasked with running the election.

Carrots and sticks are applied, to ensure that the outcome is as desired; carrots (bonuses, improved accommodation, promotions at work, perhaps university places for children), and sticks (well, one can use one's imagination - but, it was in the interest of those who counted the votes, and recorded the result to arrive at a percentage that had been requested in advance).

And they have to try to do this while aware that people such as me are around, invited in to the country in an official capacity, to observe and adjudicate, to assess and record, to report on whether their election is not just "free and fair", but also whether it meets the stated required standards of their own law.

The analogy I always use when I am home is to say that it reminds me of when we were kids, sneaking a peek at the answers in the back of the maths book, and then, how we would waste around two hours in a vain attempt to try to persuade the teacher that we had somehow worked this out, all by ourselves.
 
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So, the bureaucratic staff of the electoral commission have the task of not just ensuring the the president wins the election (irrespective of what is actually in the ballot boxes) but of ensuring that he wins it by a specific margin that he chooses sometime in the middle of the section campaign.

They must reconcile this preferred result with whatever reality they find in the ballot boxes, all the while (though not this year) having to contend with the unfortunate and uncomfortable and unwelcome presence of people like me, who ask awkward questions about what we are witnessing and write reports based on what we have seen.
 
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Chew Toy McCoy

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Very interesting post - and one that I think deserves a separate thread, for it is a serious subject, one which merits closer examination.

For now, I shall return to the subject of Belarus, because I think that things there may be coming to a bit of a boil, at the moment.
Fair point, and I didn't want to derail this thread, but to tie what I said to this thread, I think I'm not alone when I my initial response to this story was "Where?" It's possible some countries think they can get away with this type thing because they are off most of the world's radar and/or their are much bigger international stories taken up the headlines. From your posts you are obviously closely involved in international elections and I read earlier a good part of Europe is concerned. Why do you think it is getting so much attention?
 

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Fair point, and I didn't want to derail this thread, but to tie what I said to this thread, I think I'm not alone when I my initial response to this story was "Where?" It's possible some countries think they can get away with this type thing because they are off most of the world's radar and/or their are much bigger international stories taken up the headlines. From your posts you are obviously closely involved in international elections and I read earlier a good part of Europe is concerned. Why do you think it is getting so much attention?
Perhaps an American might ask "where?"

No European would - and neither would a Russian.

Belarus - which was once one of the European republics of the old USSR - borders three EU countries - Poland, Lithuania, Latvia; it borders Ukraine, the most contested, and important, space in the post Soviet Union, (apart from Russia itself) and - of course - it borders Russia.
 
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Chew Toy McCoy

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Perhaps an American might ask "where?"

No European would - and neither would a Russian.

Belarus - which was once one of the European republics of the old USSR - borders three EU countries - Poland, Lithuania, Latvia; it borders Ukraine, the isle most contested, and important, space in the post Soviet Union, and it borders Russia.
I do admit I am pretty ignorant of the former USSR states and what they are today. So I take it the incumbent is some form of Putin sympathizer? I do know the other 3 you mentioned (I'm thinking/hoping all but Poland were former USSR states)
 

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For years, decades, the best part of a quarter of a century, through election after election, after election, the stated result, confirmed by the state's central election commission, met the president's needs, declaring him the victor of something that was never a genuine electoral contest in the first place, while simultaneously publishing results that mirrored the precise predictions made by unkind souls, continued without interruption.

On this occasion, I think that President Lukashenko over-reached himself.

Precisely because the opposition - for the first time that I can recall - united behind a single (telegenic and clearly idealistic) candidate, it was simply not credible that she would receive a mere 9% of the vote.

This goes beyond fraud, into an outright insult to basic intelligence.

I think that - having successfully arranged, or managed, or massaged - results for years, President Lukashenko was complacent, and over-estimated the appetite of his electorate for humiliation and fraud and being taken for fools.

The problem with the desired 77%, or 80%, or the notorious 99.9% of the vote received by autocrats in rigged elections is that - over time, ego demands that the desired vote has to be seen to increase, and, incredibly, defying logic and reality, it can never, therefore be seen to decrease, not least, because even a bashed to bits opposition might give voice to an obvious if unwelcome question wondering why you received a mere 65% of the popular vote, whereas in the previous election you had received 79% and surely this must be viewed as a marked decrease in popularity?

Your pride won't - or rather, can't - allow you to permit your own rigged statistics to be seen to decrease, because if even your own rigged results show a decrease in your recorded vote, you cannot plausibly argue that your popularity has increased.

When you ramp up the percentages in such a ludicrous manner, unfortunately, there is no safe descent, no safe way down from the heady heights of apparent public adulation.
 
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I do admit I am pretty ignorant of the former USSR states and what they are today. So I take it the incumbent is some form of Putin sympathizer? I do know the other 3 you mentioned (I'm thinking/hoping all but Poland were former USSR states)
No, he is not.

Or, no, not really, but kind of, sort of.

Nuance is the shade to study, here.

Yes, Lukashenko has called for - requested - help from Russia, but he is probably the only person alive who has double-crossed Putin on several occasions and lived to tell the tale.

On the issue of Ukraine, for example, he is seen as a genuine neutral (which would not be the case if he was in Putin's pocket) - the talks pertaining to Ukraine are/were held in Minsk, and known as the "Minsk Talks".

They are guys who dislike and distrust one another, - it would be classed as an uncomfortable alliance based on some common or usual political interests - even if their respective systems of government bear an unusually close resemblance to one another.

However, a vignette (I'll add more) from my own past, observing election in that country.

Twice, in my presence (two different elections in Belarus), Russian colleagues (yes, you read that correctly, Russian colleagues, Russian diplomats) expressed their reservations, and found formal fault with, aspects of the way the election was run in Belarus.

When Russians mutter about electoral shortcomings in a nearby ally, one culturally close, geographically adjacent, and politically fairly friendly (although not quite as close as some western commentators think - Lukashenko was very good at calling up anti-Russian feeling when he wanted to boost his nationalist credentials), it is instructive.

I think that things are on a knife edge, and VVP doesn't want to end up on the wrong side if Lukashenko is overthrown, as he would need, at the very least, the acquiescence of the public - if not their outright approval - for any action that would be seen to interfere in the internal affairs of the country in the wake of the departure of a detested autocrat.

Belarus is not Ukraine; the country is surprisingly homogenous, and instinctively pro-Russian; however, if Russia were to overplay its hand, that could change, as most Belorussian citizens do not wish to be controlled by Russia.
 
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Bed beckons, but vignette or two before I succumb to sleep:

A decade ago, during the presidential election of 2010, in Belarus, I spoke for some time with one of the presidential candidates after a meeting he had addressed.

He told me that during the previous presidential election - in 2006 (an election I had also observed), his wife had fallen ill unexpectedly, and had been taken to hospital, where she deteriorated dramatically, was operated on, and died, whereupon he burst into tears.

While it was never explicitly stated that her death was as a result of anything other than sudden, unexpected and deadly ill-health, this is a country where the relatives of those who challenge the president sometimes suffer unfortunate consequences.

Anyway, that unfortunate man was one of the presidential candidates arrested on the night of the election in 2010, which occurred a few days after I had spoken with him, was charged, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison.

Another presidential candidate with whom I spoke at some length with in 2010, - a tough, former army officer, he received six years hard labour at the time, and was also arrested and imprisoned during subsequent elections, most recently, this past May, for collecting signatures in support of Ms Tikhanovskaya - he is currently behind bars - informed me that he had a "special relationship" with the president, adding, "he hates me".

Then, he proceeded to tell me a story which does make me wonder how the armed forces - which have been supportive of the regime to date - will react if the current protests continue.

The story concerned the president, and his young son, who, apparently was always attired identically in whatever his distinguished father wore on a given day.

Meetings with dignitaries called for suits (and ties); meetings with the military required the appropriate uniforms.

This tale described how the president met some senior officers, who stiffly stood at formal attention before him. While the president reviewed the senior officers, his small son, attired identically to his father, wandered around the officers, who stood rigidly at attention, and entertained himself by kicking them in the calves from behind as he passed them, while they remained rigidly at attention.

My interpreter - an older, vastly experienced man, with excellent English, - he had worked for Gazprom in Africa in the 1980s, so had been some sort of high-flyer at that time - with a lined, lived in, face (he sort of resembled Walter Matthau) and expressive, haunted, basset hound eyes, murmured, in a low voice to me, as we took our leave, "I happen to know for a fact that that story is true."
 
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