Publication date: 03-31-2005

A piece of the pattern

In the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and, most recently, Kyrgyzstan, peaceful, pro-democracy protesters have ousted corrupt and autocratic governments that attempted to hold onto power through rigged elections.

Maybe these are isolated incidents, but it would be nice if these bloodless outpourings of respect for honest elections were part of a pattern. That last is certainly a fear in Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenko, who has fashioned himself into an old-style Soviet dictator, rules with an iron fist.

Lukashenko was elected and then re-elected in a series of increasingly rigged elections, and then last fall he succeeded in pushing through a referendum abolishing term limits, a clear indication that he plans to remain president. He has tightened his control of the broadcast media, the judiciary and a tame parliament, and his thuggish security services have cowed the opposition.

Lukashenko is a pariah in Europe, and even the Kremlin finds his dreams of reconstituting the Soviet Union - with himself assuredly at its head - a little too overreaching.

Moved by the events in Kyrgyzstan, about 1,000 protesters gathered in a pro-democracy rally in Minsk last week. Taking no chances, Lukashenko's government unleashed club-wielding riot police on the protesters. A government with any faith in its own legitimacy wouldn't feel compelled to do this.

The Belarus government showed that the lesson wasn't lost on it. The foreign ministry, showing a heretofore unknown interest in the rule of law and the welfare of the region, said, "The unconstitutional overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan could have fatal consequences for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, as well as in the Central Asian region as a whole."

If Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan are indeed part of a pattern, it would be so very suitable if Belarus were next.