Lukashenka's Belarus designed to ultimately fail?
Bordering on madness - Belarus mistreats its Polish minority
A FORGOTTEN minority in a neglected country, the 500,000-odd Poles living in benighted, autocratic Belarus have rarely troubled the outside world. Until now. Alexander Lukashenka, the country's erratic leader, has made the Poles into new targets for his intolerance of internal dissent and outside interference.
The western half of Belarus was in pre-war Poland. The booming economy and lively democracy across the border now stand in contrast to the poverty and repression of Belarus since 1994, when Mr Lukashenka won the last freely contested presidential election. The Belarussian authorities believe that their pro-western neighbours are trying to topple the regime, and see the Polish minority as a fifth column. In the past month, they have expelled a Polish diplomat, closed a Polish-language newspaper and replaced the democratically elected leadership of a local Polish organisation, the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB), with their own nominees. This week a mysterious pirate edition of the UPB newspaper came out, praising the Belarussian authorities.
The government is keeping a close eye on its neighbours. Pro-democracy outfits find it hard to work in Belarus, so they are usually based nearby, often with foreign funding. Belarus's main independent university, closed last year, has reopened in Lithuania. But the Belarussian KGB—as it is still called—believes worse is going on. “Camps for the training of militants, who will take part in clashes with Belarussian law enforcers and will destabilise the situation in the country, are being set up in neighbouring states,” its chief said in May.
The Poles have been singled out, but they are not the only ones suffering. The regime has launched a crackdown on the country's fragmented and ineffective domestic opposition, most of whose leaders are in jail or in exile. The remains of the free press in Belarus face potentially crippling lawsuits. All this is making Belarus a political issue in Poland, in the run-up to its general election in September. Some Polish politicians want to step up pro-democracy broadcasts to their eastern neighbour. But a senior Ukrainian official, Oleksandr Zinchenko, said in London recently that his country would not take part in such a plan.
It is hard to read Belarus. The regime survives thanks mainly to cheap Russian energy—but also flirts vigorously with China. It seems to be a dictatorship—but officials semi-privately hint at their distaste for their leader's antics. One opposition figure, a former diplomat named Mikhail Marynich, is expected to be released from jail next month, after western lobbying. The opposition is strongly pro-western—but many Belarussians still feel close ties with Russia.
Steering Russia and Poland To War