Alexander Lukashenko has won the 2015 presidential elections to no surprise. The authoritarian dictator is ruling the Republic of Belarus since 1994. Although called a Soviet style dictator, Lukashenko is not communist and the economy of Belarus is not fully planned. Sure there are old style state enterprises and the government has a lot of economic power. But there are also market elements and many means of production are in private hands. Still the western media loves to portray Belarus as a Soviet style state, while in reality the nation is more in line with Vladimir Putin’s style of government!
The Republic of Belarus is a former Soviet republic. Founded as the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1920, it was one of the founding nations of the USSR. Like the Russian SFSR, the Belorussian SSR became a Stalinist state after Joseph Stalin’s rise to power. Many Russians regarded Belarus as part of Russia, since the Belorussian language is very similar to Russian. Polish and Yiddish was also spoken by a large Jewish population. In the 1920’s they were regarded as part of the Soviet people. But Joseph Stalin’s antisemitism led to mass-arrests and the removal of the Jewish culture from Belarus!
After the Nazi’s invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941, the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was overrun. The Germans regarded the Belorussians are ethnic Russians and enslaved millions. Many Jews were deported to the concentration-camps, most would not survive. Anticommunist nationalists tried to work with the Nazi Germans. But until 1943 they were ignored. It was only after the Soviet victory in Stalingrad that Hitler allowed the formation of the Belorussian Central Council. This collaboration group set up a ”government” under German supervision. In February 1944, more then 28.000 Belorussians became part of the ”Belorussian Home Defense” a collaborationist battalion of anticommunists!
They aided the Germans in arresting and deporting people who were regarded as Jews and communists. With the defeat of German forces on the Eastern Front, the Belorussian Central Council collapsed. Its members fled to the west, were they became anticommunists fighting for a ”Free Belarus”. The western allies ignored the fact that these anticommunists aided the Germans, in the killing of 13 million Soviet workers and peasants. As stalinism collapsed in 1991, the flag of the Belorussian Central Council became the banner of the new Republic of Belarus. Suddenly the symbols of the former collaborationist regime were seen as ”patriotic”!
Stanislav Shushkevich was the first leader of the republic after 1991. As chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus, Shushkevich was the acting head of state. Like Boris Yeltsin in Russia, Stanislav Shushkevich carried out massive austerity politics in order to bring Belarus, in line with the capitalist world. Poverty rose as state-enterprises were sold to capitalists. Elderly workers lost their pensions, yet bureaucrats like Shushkevich did not cared. In three years he and his oligarchy destroyed so much, that a many Belorussians turned to a populist called Alexander Lukashenko!
This Lukashenko did not played a big role before the collapse of the USSR. He has a military background and served as chairman of state collective farms . In the last year of the Belorussian SSR, he was elected as deputy in the Supreme Soviet. Lukashenko was the only member of parliament who voted against the December 1991 agreement, that dissolved the Soviet Union. A fighter against corruption, Lukashenko became the face of nostalgia for Soviet times, as he rejected western style capitalism!
In 1993, he accused Stanislav Shushkevich of political corruption, which was very high in Belarus at the time. Shushkevich was forced to leave office, although not all accusations were proven. Still the fact that he was accused of corruption and the embarrassment was enough. Lukashenko then participated in the first ( and only ) democratic presidential elections in 1994. Thanks to a populist and anti-imperialist platform, Alexander Lukashenko won the election and became the first president of Belarus!
Unlike other post-Soviet leaders, Lukashenko reversed course. He ended the privatizations and called for ”market socialism”. Washington DC was not happy and labeled him a ”dangerous populist with authoritarian style of ruling”. Lukashenko did not cared and slowly removed the power of the parliament. Soon the president changed the national flag and symbol, returning to the flag used by the Belorussian SSR, yet win-out the communist symbols. Belarus turned into a authoritarian presidential dictatorship, as opposition forces faced harassment and intimidation by the Committee for State Security still called KGB!
The economy is a mixture of state ownership and private ownership. Some means of production are privately owned, but the government still controls vital sectors. These sectors are controlled in Stalinist style with no participation rights for workers. State managers are the bosses and obey the rules set out by Lukashenko’s government. Many bourgeois politicians call Belarus ”the last communist nation of Europe”. But this is not true, because the private sector still makes up 50% of all economic activities. However because the government owns the banks and biggest enterprises, many foreigner business people deal with the state. Private enterprises also lack modern marketing skills, which limits their ability to break into the world economy!
Another fact is that Belarus is orientated towards Russia and not Europe. Belarus’s main trading partner is Russia. Lukashenko has always looked towards the east for economic gains. The Belorussian currency is linked to the Russian Ruble and much is dependent on markets in the Russian Federation. In 2011 a crisis started after the government raised salaries to 500 dollars a month. The state dominated economy could not deal with this and a crisis erupted. In September 2011, the National Bank of Belarus introduced a free exchange market session, to determine a market value of the ruble, which showed that the currency was very weak!
Government salaries were then lowered to 300 dollars a month. In a democratic nation this would have led to strikes. But in Belarus, no government worker dares to strike. Because losing you job means that the government, can force you to do work for less then five dollars a month. Unofficially it is said that between 15% and 25% of all people in Belarus do not have work. In 2015, Alexander Lukahsenko sighed a bill which introduced a fine on the unemployed population. This law obliges all citizens who are not paying direct taxes to pay up to 250 dollars a year. Avoiding of payment is going to be punished by fines, administrative arrests and compulsory public works. The state-media called it a fight against ”lazy people” and ”social parasites”!
Lukashenko is a dictator who does not care what the world thinks of him. Although he has two sons, it is his third illegitimate child that is his favorite. Nikolai Lukashenko is 11 years old and always at his father’s side. The young boy is drilled to succeed his father as the next president, as he stands alongside his dad in all state matters. Revolutionary socialists have no illusions. Alexander Lukashenko is a state-capitalist dictator. A man who opposes homosexuals, socialism and democracy in general. He claims to be a ordinary father-figure, but in reality is a brutal leader. His ”market socialism” and anti-imperialism are used to attract support from those who want a return to the USSR. But Lukashenko knows that returning to stalinism is no option. So he plays on a strange mixture of symbolic stalinism combined with autocratic state-capitalism!
Belarus is not a nation free of exploitation. The exploiters are state managers and those capitalists who are loyal to the president. Political support comes also from the official; Communist Party of Belarus, who support Alexander Lukashenko for his anti-imperialism and love for the USSR. Most members of parliament are independents, selected by the president to participate in pseudo-elections. Although the communist party is loyal, it has no real power. All power is centralized in the presidency!
The authoritarian president made good friends with other leaders who were not so democratic. Vladimir Putin of Russia is a close ally, but this does not mean that Lukashenko is a puppet of Moscow. As a nationalist, he follows his own path and is willing to criticize Russia if he thinks it helps him. This was shown during the invasion of Crimea which Belarus opposed. Lukashenko offered to use his capital as neutral ground to come up with a peace treaty. Although there has been a Minsk Treaty, the Ukrainian Army and Russian separatists still fight each other in Eastern Ukraine.
Since winning the 1994 elections, Lukashenko has never made any effort to win the others. He plays on the KGB to spread fear and intimidation. Elections are just there to show to world how ”democratic” Belarus is. While in reality they are just a show for Lukashenko and his allies. Revolutionary socialists call therefore for a socialist revolution, against the ruling bureaucracy and the president. Such a revolution cannot come by peaceful means, as the regime has already proven its commitment to violence. But the opposition is no alternative as it is led by capitalist-democrats, who favor the markets over workers. They also use the flag of the Belorussian Central Council, which was used as national flag until 1995. Opposition forces claim their flag stands for freedom, while in reality it is a symbol of anticommunism, collaboration with fascists and the capitalist period under Stanislav Shushkevich!
Many young people in Belarus are fighting for change. But they look wrongly to the European Union. They think that Europe is a bastion of democracy and freedom. Since most are raised after the USSR, few remember the days when Shushkevich with European blessing, destroyed their economy. Capitalist barbarism led to the rise of Alexander Lukashenko in the first place, which is not told by the bourgeois democrats who struggle against the regime. Therefore we revolutionary socialists call for a new Belorussian Socialist Workers Republic. A socialist state by the working class and for the working class!