Monday, March 7, 2011

Lukashenko Versus WashPo, Or, Basic Freedoms

The Washington Post ran this interview Sunday between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and one of the newspaper's editors, Lally Weymouth. Last December, the country held elections that gave a victory and a fourth presidential term to Lukashenko. The news incited massive protests and the round-up of over 700 pro-democracy demonstrators. The EU and the US have responded by imposing sanctions and asset freezes on Belarus' top government officials and their families. Relations remain tense as the Lukashenko administration and opposition forces continue to struggle against one another both at home and in foreign diplomacy and press.

On an editorial note, Lukashenko exhibits what seems to be a fundamentally flawed understanding of the exercise of the freedoms of assembly and the press in the United States, which results in what is at times a comically arrogant disdain for these human rights. See the full interview for more discussion on legal rights, amnesty and the jailing of opposition leaders. 

The president's stance utterly owns his designation as "Europe's last dictator," as he was recently described by former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. He references ideas such as "propaganda" and "the fifth column" that smack of a Cold War rhetoric most in the West would be disappointed to learn had not vanished forever. The president goes so far as to offer a bizarre-o insinuation that President Obama may be assassinated and "repeat the fate of Kennedy" -- and this, according to the Belarusian leader, because he's not keeping a tight enough rein on his political opposition. 

The following are some of the interview's best parts, with Weymouth in italics and Lukashenko in regular typeface.

"If you hold an election and seven out of the nine candidates running against you end up in jail, it is not a very good signal to the West that [Belarus] is an open and democratic place. Plus, there were limits on the amount of money the candidates could raise and how much time they could spend on television. There was only one debate, and you did not participate.

"The question is not about the time limit the candidates [had] in the media. The question is what these candidates said. They were saying that Lukashenko needs to be hanged. Belarus is a wayward country. So, the Americans decided to treat the results of the elections in a very negative way."
"... If your security services had information that people were trying to engage in mass disturbances, they would arrest hundreds of thousands of people.
"I don't think so.
"You don't think so, but I know so."

"Why did you kick out the U.S. ambassador in 2008?

"Why do we need an ambassador who is masterminding the actions of the fifth column?
"Do you really believe this?

"I am the president of Belarus. I know this."

"What is your impression of President Obama?

"Good opinion, but you don't let him do his job.
"Who is "you?"
"The opposition.
"You mean Republicans?
"Not just Republicans - I mean businessmen, some part of the security forces. I don't think Obama would like to repeat the fate of Kennedy.
"Why did you bring that up?
"If Obama will go on pursuing his course of action, there will be people who may not like it. He will pursue the interest of the majority of his people, but there will be radical people who don't like this course of action. It may have bad consequences."


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