Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, famously called "the last dictator in Europe" by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, isn’t exactly known for promoting transparency in government. By all accounts, that isn’t about to change.
The question of government transparency, however -- insights into the inner diplomatic workings of governments revealed by the leak of classified documents – is dominating headlines these days thanks to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
And while Belarus is rather isolated from the international community, its president is not so out of the loop as to not have heard of the whistleblower website.
Today, in fact, Lukashenka seemed to become the first official to appropriate the WikiLeaks model for a government-led transparency initiative.
Sort of, as in, not at all.
At a press conference today, during which the hardline ruler voiced no remorse for ordering police to beat protesters during post-election demonstrations, Lukashenka announced the upcoming publication of classified documents that he says will demonstrate the nature of interactions between the Belarusian opposition and the West.
Russian news agencies quoted him as saying, “We’re simply going to publish certain documents. We’ll see how those who are published on the Belarusian WikiLeaks site -- the supporters [of the opposition] and those who are working behind the scenes -- react to this.”
“We will publish all the documents that should be classified in the archives as ‘secret.’ These are historically important events,” he said.
This latest attempt by Minsk to discredit the opposition is supposed to take place before December 23.
This, then, is WikiLeaks Belarusian style, and evidently, a few things got lost in translation.
A government hand-selecting documents to declassify and post online --documents which may or may not be authentic -- doesn’t exactly have the WikiLeaks ring of truth. A presidential directive is the antithesis of a “wiki” contribution. “WikiPlant” seems more accurate than “WikiLeak.”
“Propaganda” might not be a stretch either.
Where’s the David and Goliath bit -- the morally-guided crusade against government secrets -- that supporters of WikiLeaks have been quick to adopt and promote? Perhaps that sense of high-minded mission, to give him the benefit of the doubt, is what the misguided Lukashenka may have been trying to piggyback onto.
(I pointed my browser to www.wikileaks.by to see what I’d find, and discovered that a site, complete with the Wikileaks logo, appears to have gone up December 19. A posted video showing protesters being abused by the riot police in Minsk’s Independence Square suggests that Lukashenka may have a different site planned.)
Even for a ruler known to be eccentric, some might call Lukashenka’s attempted appropriation of the WikiLeaks phenomenon bizarre.
In fact, the word "bizarre" has come up recently in relation to the Belarusian president. U.S. officials in Minsk allegedly used the adjective to describe him in diplomatic cables released in recent days by WikiLeaks. The real WikiLeaks, that is.
-- Richard Solash