Lithuania and elections in Belarus

Reaction to the elections. Last week Lithuanian politicians jointly slated the presidential election in Belarus but also said that "the Byelorussian opposition has managed to substantially raise the demand for democracy in the country." Despite unanimity each party said something peculiar. The leader of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Social Democratic Party Juozas Olekas was not so much critical of Lukashenko as focused on "the success" of the opposition and on the prospects of Lithuania's cooperation with Lukashenko Belarus. He said that Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kozulin have shown that democracy is awaking in Belarus. "Add to this the courage of people in the face of repressions and the peaceful rally in the center of Minsk and you can say that the Byelorussians are beginning to need democracy."

Though agreeing with Lithuania's official stance, Olekas was still more restrained in criticism: "Judging from the information we have, we can hardly call these elections transparent and democratic. So, we call on people and democratic forces in Belarus to continue their cause."

In his assessments Olekas referred to Social Democrats Algirdas Paleckis and Algirdas Sisas, who observed the voting but were not allowed to observe the count: "They were so far that they could not see the ballots." Speaking of Lithuania's future relations with Belarus, Olekas said: "Lithuania has taken a wise attitude to Belarus and should stick to it in the future too. We should try to contact with Belarus on a certain level - especially in economy."

The leader of the parliamentary faction of the Liberals (right-of-center opposition) Algis Kaseta and the member of the faction Piatras Austriavicius were present at the voting in Molodechko and its suburbs. Austriavicius: "We watched how the local electoral commissioners certified the preliminary results. They were invited to a separate room one by one, then the chairwoman came out and announced the results we all expected, that's all."

Speaking of "the success" of the opposition, he said: "The opposition evening rally in Minsk made a good impression on me. It was a good sign that those elections were not just something that happened - I hope that their opposition will continue its efforts all over Belarus and we will shortly see real prospects for democracy in that country." They should capitalize on their success. "Lukashenko should understand that his repressions against his opposition are absolutely unacceptable and will get tough response from the West."

The tone of the leader of right-wing Pro Patria Andrius Kubilius was quite different. He called Lukashenko's 82% just funny - a leftover in the European continent. Kubilius: "There was no election in Belarus, because election is not just voting, but also electoral campaign, while Lukashenko's electoral campaign was a terror against his opposition." "The Byelorussian opposition has got a real leader - Milinkevich - but, on the other hand, it should be ready for a long and hard fight against dictatorship, and should start this fight right now without waiting for the next elections to come. And the EU and the US should help it in the matter."

Kubilius believes that Lukashenko can be scared by the Hague: "Lukashenko should know that today dictators usually end their lives in the Hague Court, and the West - and Lithuania likewise - should make this clear for him now - before he may start plotting against the opposition leaders."

The Lithuanian authorities also got it from Kubilius. He urged them to stop "double dealing" in their relations with Belarus. One example of such double dealing was the Seym's reluctance to pass a resolution censuring Lukashenko (they passed it only after 6 MPs were denied Byelorussian visas).

Pickets near the Byelorussian embassy in Vilnius. In the meantime, the right-wings have begun daily pickets of the Byelorussian Embassy in Vilnius. They will picket half an hour a day - later on once a week - to show their solidarity with the Byelorussian oppositionists rallying in the October Square in Minsk. One of the organizers is Rasa Jukniavicene, an MP and a Conservative leader, who was not allowed to observe the election in Belarus. She translated into Russian and read out her supporting address to the Byelorussians fighting for freedom in the center of Minsk.

During a Pro Patria rally their leader Andrius Kubilius also kept calling for a picket of the Byelorussian embassy, but in a much sharper tone: "Having no chance to change the situation and remembering how Scandinavian politicians supported us during Sajudis, we are coming out with a similar initiative and will fight a similar battle in European and western capitals too to help the Byelorussian opposition constantly rather than occasionally - from election to election."

Kubilius urged Lithuanian and Polish politicians to come together for "stimulating" the West into giving the Byelorussian opposition the hand it needs. He also called on the Lithuanian authorities to try to influence the G8 St. Petersburg conferees. The objective is to demand that Russia "stop to economically support the Byelorussian regime."

The Lithuanian government also got it: "I think the Lithuanian government should join the US administration in its clear support for the demands of the Byelorussian opposition for rerun presidential election. There has been no election in Belarus yet," says the leader of Lithuania's ultra right party (OMNI Naujienos)

Attending the Pro Patria picket were "Byelorussian youths," Silba activists. Mar 22 5:00 PM the embassy was picketed by the United Center for Byelorussian Initiatives. The picketers had brought an arithmetic book for primary school and were going to ask the embassy employees to give it to the chairman of the Byelorussian Central Electoral Commission so they learn to count votes "without 40% mistakes."

Alternative views. One of the few politicians with an alternative view of what is going on in Belarus is Social Democratic MP, reported "friend of Premier Brazauskas" Bronius Bradauskas. In an interview to Ziniu Radijas he says: "Has Lukashenko taken the power with arms? When he does it, we will blame him." "People can choose one or another thing, or something third. It's their right, it's people's democracy, and if we are democrats, let's accept the choice of the Byelorussian people." Bradauskas has his own view of the refusal of the Byelorussian authorities to give visas to 6 (of 16) Seym observers: "It's our own fault - if we go there as independent observers, we should have no prejudice. We kept saying that something was bad there - that's probably they denied us visas."

Bradauskas got a very quick - and very expected - response: he was called a "fifth pillar," the Kremlin's stooge. "Fifth Pillar or Belarus in Battle" is the headline of the article by well-known political analyst Vladimir Laucius in Delfi. Ziniu Radijas has broadcast the article. Laucius obviously differs but can't debate - he just hits bellow the belt: "In short, Bradauskas campaigns for behavior and mentality the Kremlin likes." Laucius does not even try to understand his opponent - as his opponent is "asocial person" who must not be understood. "An advocate of asocial behavior, Bradauskas thinks that your neighbor who beats his wife and puts the opposition in jail is worthy of understanding and respect."

Position of Lithuanian FM: borders with Belarus can be closed. In its "Valionis: The Byelorussian People Will Not Be Left to the Mercy of Fate" Delfi presents the position of Lithuanian FM Antanas Valionis. Speaking on Lietuvos Radias, Valionis said that now that the results of the presidential election are known, Belarus will not be left to the mercy of fate. Formerly too Lithuania has worked with democracy seekers in Belarus and will continue this work in the future too. Valionis: "We will invite people, will talk with them, we have opened in Vilnius the European Humanitarian University that was closed in Minsk, we will keep contact, of course, unless the border is closed." The last phrase may prove that Lithuania may be also considering the worst scenario - the closure of its border with Belarus.

Lithuanian media call for preparing revolution in Belarus

Now that there is no more hope for Lukashenko's overthrow, a number of Lithuanian officers and media have joined the local right-wings in their calls for "working for the future," i.e. for raising Lithuania's role in mobilizing the Byelorussian opposition and bringing it to the critical point. "One can say that the efforts of Lithuania and other democratic countries to unite the Byelorussian opposition have already given their fruits. Milinkevich can already be reckoned as a leader that can lead the people. But the fight for freedom may be just starting," says the leading Lithuanian daily Lietuvos Rytas.

The daily says that to blame for Lukashenko's victory are the US and the EU, who did not give enough attention to "the changes in Belarus." But Lithuania should. The country should develop a special "strategy of changes in Belarus" and become "a voice of conscience" to constantly remind the US and the EU that they should undermine the Lukashenko regime. "The efforts of the US and the EU to make changes in Belarus have not been consistent or sufficient - at least until recently. Hence, Lithuania may become a voice of conscience not to let the West forget its commitments to support democracy in Belarus after the elections." "It is exactly for Lithuania - perhaps together with Poland - to offer an effective strategy to support changes in Belarus. But for this we must develop such a strategy on our own," says Lietuvos Rytas.

In its article "The Byelorussians Do Not Want Freedom" the second key Lithuanian daily Respublika calls Lukashenko "a dictator," but still tries to make an "unbiased" analysis of the Byelorussians' self-consciousness and almost says that the West is trying to impose its idea of "freedom" on the Byelorussians. The daily does not say itself that there was a ballot-rigging but refers to "the opponents." "The opponents say that the campaign was unfair and the ballot rigged. But the truth is that the opposition would hardly win this time even if given ideal conditions."

Respublika says that the freest people by nature are intellectuals and businessmen. But because business in Belarus is internationally isolated, there can be no independent and brave businessmen in that country. Intellectuals are locked in a locked country. The only hope is for "the dissidents exiled by Lukashenko." But living abroad they are losing their roots and their artificial return to the Byelorussian soil will hardly bring revolution. They will already be strangers for ordinary Byelorussians. If they failed to make revolution before exile they will hardly do it now."

The isolation of Belarus is good for Lukashenko, says Respublika. The more isolated a national state is internationally the more united it is nationally. Such was the case with Serbia when it was "attacked" by the US and the UN, exactly such is the case with "anti-Yankee" beggarly Cuba, such is now the case with Belarus, who is uniting "in the face of capitalists and foreign special services." "The national unity of people is similar to tribal, family relations. That's why they unite around 'a father of nation' - not obligatorily people like Jonas Basanavicius or Cyprian bishop Makary. It may be a dictator - for father of nation like father of family should be an autocrat."

Respublika says that like tribes and families, national states have a tendency for secrecy and isolation - until they are content with their father. "And there is hardly a reason for ordinary Byelorussian to be discontent. The point is that he does not feel himself LOCKED. He has everything he wants: job, bread, timely pension and - the example of post-revolutionary Ukraine. He keeps away from democracy as in his country he has enough freedom to satisfy his physical needs. Lukashenko does not even need to keep him away. For a worker freedom is when he gets timely wages and holidays. For office worker - the same. For a peasant - it is when he can talk with his neighbor and do some digging in his garden. Lukashenko does not ban such freedoms and he is good, while he who breaks this small 'canned' world without any ideology is bad," concludes Respuiblika.