Reading the papers today I was struck by the quality of coverage on North Korea and the evil masterminds behind one of the most closed countries on earth. There was a lot of talk about how in a globalised world, North Korea and countries such as Cuba would be forced to change due to the tidal wave of democratisation unleashed by the Arab Spring. There was also a lot of naivety about Europe being a paradise for those who loved democracy. If there is one thing we should take away from the death of the brave cultural fighter for freedom Vaclav Havel it is that however secure and free a country may be, ideological battles will constantly be going on laying at the foundations of democracy and if detonated can destroy the enlightenment era values that it relies on. Consequently, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back in Europe considering in Greece and Italy we have nations who have had technocratic governments imposed on them by the EU.
One country towers as a source of concern to me in Europe and this is Belarus. Whilst the rest of Eastern Europe changed to thriving if slightly corrupt democracies across Eastern and Central Europe, Belarus did the exact opposite under the leadership of communist apparatchik and all round cartoon evil guy Alexander Lukashenko. Protests are frequently crushed, any sign of dissent be it cultural, political or by virtue of what you eat, watch or wear will be clamped down on due to the KGB (Yes that is still it’s name) security services. We should be outraged by the treatment of Belarussians fuelled by Russia, which under the leadership of Putin resembles an authoritarian country more and more every day. We should be considering targeted sanctions and funding internal opposition, as well as looking at any way short of military force to undermine the regime. However, the UN hardly talks about it, the EU in its gas deals is complicit on the subject, the UK and the USA are isolated as usual and the rest of the world ignores it, hoping the problem will just go away. However, as any good book on dictators in the 21st century will tell you dictators often live to an old age, with many wives and become ever more oppressive. Lukashenko seems to be following this disturbing path.
So what can we do I hear you cry? – After all if we intervene militarily won’t we just make the problem worse replacing one form of imperialism with another? If we’re being honest with ourselves the U.S. cannot afford to be in another conflict zone, NATO is saddled by the German’s hatred of fighting after World War 2, Britain’s lack of resources and the French Army’s cack handed approach to fighting wars and the Italian’s non existent army. Thus smart sanctions; targeting the leadership and the security forces as well as links with big business, work with NGOS and charities as well as opposition movements inside the country is the order of the day. As the collapse of the Soviet Union showed, it is surprising how easy it is to penetrate to the soul of an autocratic regime.
Practically individuals in the UK can also contribute. All you need is a laptop, a face book or twitter account and some contacts either in the Media, Drama or Film industry. As Tom Stoppard a playwright with many year’s experience highlights in Tuesday’s Evening Standard one of the last things Havel did was to sign the Artists’s manifesto against illegitimate power. I urge all lovers of freedom to support the campaign, which will hopefully lead to the beginning of the end for terrible scenes such as the crackdown on those condemning about the rigged elections in Belarus on December 19th 2010.
Perhaps then Lukashenko in 2012 will go the way of Gaddafi, Ben- Ali, Mubarak and others have gone in 2011. The world will be a freer and more prosperous nation for it, and all those anguished voices in Belarus hoping someone will listen to them won’t have been in vain.