Belarus After Lukashenka

While no one can say who is to become Belarusian president after Lukashenka, there is little doubt what kind of political system and regime will emerge. Long rule of a strongman however avoiding massive violence, has leveled the playing ground of Belarusian politics almost to a desert-like place with only primitive forms of political phenomena. More developed forms of political being are tightly bound to outside sources.

Belarusian people do not know political pluralism in public sphere and are not familiar with political movements and politicians except for Lukashenka and his retinue. The parties established after the Soviet Union collapse enjoyed a short period of relative freedom and since late 1990s have no place to function as parties. Such prolonged inactivity has weakened their structures, activists, as well as resulted in ever more failing expertise and conceptual basis.

The recent performance at the BBC's 'Hard Talk' by one of expected Belarusian presidential candidates demonstrated that if politicians stay for a while outside the public sphere it brings them no good. Speaking in London studio Mr. Andrei Sannikau sticked to old motives of Belarusian opposition from 1990s and early 2000s, which made him sound somehow anachronistic for a Belarusian ear.

According to Sannikau, Lukashenka's regime did not change since 1996. Simply rejecting clear statistics on economic advances of Belarusian regime, he proposed to compare Belarus not with Ukraine, but with Baltic states - countries with absolutely different history in modern time and their specific cultural background.

Doubting popular support of the regime he claimed that actually there is only a lack of information on alternative politicians in the country. And boasted about stopping disappearances in 1999-2000 - actually there were 3 cases involving 4 persons, though Sannikau hinted that there were probably more disappearances and one murder - and only speculation on motives and other details. That is all.

There are, however, many new things to sort out - lack of modernization and degradation of infrastructure, deterioration of education and health system, doubtful deals with property and land and so on. In a word, the nation is loosing its development prospects. Yet opposition is hotly discussing every new film on Russian TV and flatly ignores that perhaps most valuable asset of national economy - potash company - can be sold to Chinese behind closed doors dooming the nation to economic hardship for years.

Of course, Lukashenka's monopoly on politics exhausted and diminished not only the opposition. It also transformed the government itself into an amorphous mass of managers unable to work on their own. There seem to be quite few persons among regime's servants who can become public politicians, as current Belarusian leader always promoted not politicians but 'able functioners' ('khozyaystvenniki') in his system. Even pro-president organizations established at some moment apparently in an attempt to provide a mass basis for regime and possibly serve as a source of new elites - like Belarusian Republican Youth Union or Public Association "Belaya Rus'" - could not persuade Lukashenka of their necessity and remained just some shabby institutions.

With some reservations, roughly the Belarusian regime can be considered a 'sultanistic' one since there is no real politics in the country outside the presidential palace. Under sultanistic regimes American scholar Richard Snyder means 'the ruler's maintenance of authority through personal patronage rather than through ideology, charisma or impersonal law'.

Political scientists have already studied transformations of such regimes. And prognosis is gloomy. Sultanistic regimes have immense problems with transit to democratic government (comparing to authoritarian), and even if they manage to build some kind of democracy it displays many features of sultanism for many years ahead. However, only charismatic leaders with democratic beliefs usually managed to lead their nations from sultanism to democracy.

And Belarus has currently no such politicians. No wonder, some political analysts are exploring other scenarios of Belarusian political development in near future. Zmicier Pankaviec of 'Nasha Niva' gave up his hope for Democratic opposition and is seeking for a Lukashenka's successor among regime's 'soft-liners'.

It seems that the best exit-option for Lukashenka, Russia, West and opposition could be some kind of successor to the current president. For Lukashenka himself, as it is a guarantee of his own security. For Russian and Europe, since they get rid of an unreliable leader in a neighboring country. For opposition, because it would ensure some - however, little - democratic changes. I am sure, any new president after Lukashenka will be more democratic and will tilt toward the EU.

He believes, Presidential Administration head Uladzimir Makiej can be a new president. If so, Belarusian leadership can reproduce the earlier political succession maneuvers of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev in Russia.

There are some signs - however scarce - that Lukashenka is thinking about successor. Usually he implicitly and explicitly claimed himself to be indispensable and irreplaceable for the nation. But two years ago, while answering a question whether he is going to rule the country for the 4th term, he said that there are already people in the country who are able to run it, besides him. Of course, he did not elaborate on persons, yet anyway such statements are only available material to analyze Belarusian government politics extremely closed to any observers. Do not forget, so far Belarusian leader did not announce he would participate in the presidential elections due at the end of this year or in early 2011.



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