Our Belarus Service's dramatic photos
and video coverage
of the harsh crackdown in Minsk against the postelection demonstration on December 19 -- as well as a subsequent action
to nip a protest the next night in the bud -- has provided a healthy corrective to recent soft-pedaling of the brutality of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.
Regardless of the aplomb with which "Europe's last dictator" has managed to snooker some in the West, a real or perceived relaxation of some of the most brutal fetters on political opposition, and his casual mockery of democratic reform, the OSCE still says
he has "considerable way to go" and has never overseen a free or fair election.
So the footage of his baton-wielding administration showing its true face on election night has resonated in the West, with CNN and "The New York Times
highlighting RFE/RL's video reportage from the scene (note to CNN: our Belarusian-language site is svaboda.org
, not svagoda.org).
So where might this all lead? Nowhere quickly, it's a safe bet.
"Wrong Carrot, Wrong Stick
" is how Edward Lucas puts it. And then he gets to the nub of the situation that now faces anyone who believed Belarus's tiger might change his stripes, or even slink off quietly into the jungle:
The West is now left without a policy. Trying to topple Mr. Lukashenko with a Ukraine-style “Orange Revolution” now looks hopeless. Nearly 20 expensive years of foreign-financed “democracy promotion” in Belarus has brought little result: the opposition is still divided, penetrated by the KGB and on the margins of society. Hungary and Poland, which each have six months running the European Union in 2011, hoped that progress on Belarus was meant to be the centerpiece of their revival of the “Eastern Partnership” (a plan for better EU ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) in 2011. Not anymore.
And what of the wily, volatile Mr. Lukashenko? No great brain when it comes to economics or history, he understands the geopolitics of his own region. When tempers cool, he will continue playing east and west against each other. He knows how short memories are in Brussels and Moscow. After all, he’s been around a long time—and he intends to keep it that way.
-- Andy Heil