Prague, July 11 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrives today in Paris for an official
three-day visit. It is a controversial visit.
Lukashenka is a rather unusual head of state. Elected two years ago
(June 1994) in a contest with a pro-Moscow politician Vyatcheslav
Kabitch, Lukashenka has since then done his utmost to destroy the
country's fragile independence and take it back into a close union
Born in Belarus, he refuses to use his mother tongue and insists on
Russian as the principal language of business and instruction. He
repeatedly and emphatically proclaims his disdain for Belarusian
history, culture and traditions. He sees himself as the leader of the
Slavs, but the russified ones.
And he either ignores or puts down any opposition to these views.
During the last two years Lukashenka has suspended labor unions,
muzzled the media and dealt harshly with opposition groups.
Openly admiring some aspects of Adolf Hitler's rule, Lukashenka
professes preference for authoritarian methods of rule. Disregarding
the parliament, he has ruled by decrees. Ignoring the existing legal
system - he has repeatedly brushed off the country's Supreme Court
rulings nullifying his decrees - Lukashenka has increasingly relied
on force as the main instrument of rule.
During the last three months alone, Belarusian police has
recurrently clashed with, and forcibly dispersed, mass demonstrations
in protest against Lukashenka's policies. Opposition leaders have
been either arrested or forced to flee the country. Hundreds of
ordinary Belarusians have been detained and many more have been
mistreated by the police.
Economic reforms have been stopped. Financial institutions have been subjected to centralized government control. Inefficient kolkhozes and money-losing industries have been artificially propped up with government subsidies. Standard of living has plummeted and the
But Lukashenka vows to stay on course. His course.
But what is this course of his? Vincuk Viacorka, a leader of the
opposition Belarusian Popular Front, wrote yesterday in the French
newspaper Le Monde that Lukashenka's course follows "a curious
ideological hybrid construed of communism, nostalgic yearning for the
Soviet Union and an anti-western orthodox Russian chauvinism."
Another French newspaper, Le Figaro, today suggested that Lukashenka is just one of those "accidental politicians, brought to power during the time of problems and difficulties, and susceptible to turn toward authoritarian methods at any time."
Figaro also quoted an unnamed French diplomat, who noted the
difficulty of dealing with this sort of politicians because "one does
not have any idea what constitutes their term of reference and what
they are likely to do tomorrow. They are unpredictable."
But one has to deal with them. The French officials were said to
have argued that no country should refuse to "maintain a dialogue"
with another country, irrespectively of the internal politics of such
interlocutors. French officials say that this is particularly
important in the case of Belarus, a country "in the very heart of
Similar arguments were used by Polish President Aleksander
Kwasniewski, who visited Belarus three months ago. And they are
likely to justify other countries' contacts with Lukashenka as well.
But the sour political aftertaste remains. And it is likely to
linger, because there is little that can be done to change the