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Dictatorship in Belarus
July 17, 2012 8:09 AM   Subscribe

"Mr. Lukashenko has steadily turned Belarus into something akin to a prison colony. The possibility of ending up in prison is a constant risk for millions, and a check on even their most mundane daily routines." - Europe’s Last Dictatorship (SLNYTIMES)
posted by beisny (21 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, one time when my wife and I were traveling the subway in Moscow we were approached by a group of slinheads.

"Are you... American?" asks the lead skinhead - clearly we stick out.
"Yes!" says my wife chirpily, as she is indeed American.
"I am from Belarus" replies the skinhead, and then he leans in and says something very threatening sounding in Russian.

The next stop isn't our stop but we get off anyway.

To this day I wonder if the guy had some Belarus specific grievance against America.
posted by Artw at 8:28 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Europe's last dictatorship? What happened to Russia?
posted by Behemoth at 8:32 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


[A few comments removed, please let's not immediately derail threads with YES BUT AMERICA.]
posted by cortex at 8:32 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Folks, please give this thread a chance to be about something else other than the derailing topic that you want to talk about, please? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:32 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know what it says that my response is "Well, that gives Moldova something to feel good about." Moldova's usually dead last in everything in Europe. But they've got the iffy human rights situation without the dictatorship, I guess.
posted by hoyland at 8:38 AM on July 17, 2012


In Belarus there are, informally, two kinds of prisons: “red” and “black.” The former operate with some modicum of control, but in the latter, “prison law” dominates. One of the peculiarities of this set of rules is that it divides prisoners into castes, where the lowest of the low are the so-called sunken ones: untouchables used as objects of sexual violence and assigned a sleeping place next to the latrine. Simply by shaking the hand of this kind of person, a prisoner automatically turns into a sunken one himself.

This is actually an understatement. The prisoner can be degraded to sunken if they socialise with, touch in any way but rape, eat with or share any item with a sunken prisoner (actually they're mostly referred to as roosters; not sure why the NYT picked the alternate translation). In addition, normal prisoners won't pick up litter from the floor in black prisons because the floor is also touched by the sunken/roosters.

To break political prisoners, the Lukashenko regime places them in black prisons, in the same cells as sunken ones. Right away, they are on the very edge of survival, where philosophy gives way to physiological instinct.

Yeah, the rates of HIV infection and violence are far higher for roosters - putting them in there is a way to set them up for suicide or death. Plus, of course, informally it's not like the authorities are going to be that horrible to the person who kills a prominent dissident.
posted by jaduncan at 8:47 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Speaking of derails, I was struck by the sudden attention the author devoted to the tangent of Belarusian prison culture in the middle of the article. Apparently he was previously arrested in protests six years ago, and published his diaries on the matter.
posted by midmarch snowman at 8:48 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was in Belarus, in 1992, they had dealt with inflation by simply adding a zero to the end of all currency. Things got much worse from there. A good friend of mine came to the US from Belarus, and got fast-tracked for citizenship, because shortly after the Belarussian economy went utterly pear-shaped, Lukashenko went on TV to explain "Our economy has fallen because Jewish bankers stole our money! Jewish bankers like this man!" At which point the TV showed a picture of my friend's father. This contributed mightily to their asylum application.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:03 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Andrej Dynko is the editor in chief of Nasha Niva, a weekly newspaper in Belarus. This essay was translated by Julia Sherwood from the Russian.

So what is this guys status after this piece?
posted by highwayman at 9:33 AM on July 17, 2012


Yes, Belarus is the only European country I've been actively warned against visiting, especially crossing the boarder by train. Moscow is quite far away from Europe. Go by air.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:01 AM on July 17, 2012


This is why you let heads of state get away with their crimes, and retire to some nice island somewhere. Otherwise, they build entire apparatuses to perpetuate their reign, at any cost (to everyone else), until their own bitter end.
posted by effugas at 10:30 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mr. Lukashenko and his close cohorts appear as a prime candidate for an undercover, stealth joint assassination operation by the UN, or anyone else who wants to to the world a favor. One of the things that continues to boggle is how we don't find a way to summarily kill them - especially after we (the world) become collectively aware that someone like Lukashenko is slowly killing the hopes and dreams and lives of his own people, with a negative multiplier effect far, far into the future.

Some say that political assassination is tricky business; I agree, especially when it comes to one large country our another attempting to do such a thing. That said, when it comes to the kind of punk state that is run by killers and thugs like Lukashenko, something other than "making the world aware" needs to be done. Just look at places like Zimbabwe, Syria, Sudan, etc. etc., where maniacs run entire states and treat them as their own private killing field. It's wrong that our world should stand by and let that happen, once it comes to light - period!
posted by Vibrissae at 10:32 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I was in Belarus, in 1992, they had dealt with inflation by simply adding a zero to the end of all currency.

To be sure, currency revaluation is a common response to inflation that does not affect the actual inflation much. But it does simplify things so that you don't have to carry around hundreds of e.g. dollar bills that are now worth pennies in order to buy eggs. And frankly, runaway inflation is something that few nations have dealt with very well. /sidebar
posted by dhartung at 10:38 AM on July 17, 2012


Some say that political assassination is tricky business; I agree, especially when it comes to one large country our another attempting to do such a thing. That said, when it comes to the kind of punk state that is run by killers and thugs like Lukashenko, something other than "making the world aware" needs to be done. Just look at places like Zimbabwe, Syria, Sudan, etc. etc., where maniacs run entire states and treat them as their own private killing field. It's wrong that our world should stand by and let that happen, once it comes to light - period!

I think that's a bit naive - if you kill the leader, what makes you think their friend/son/right-hand-man/leader of the secret police won't take over and continue in the same vein? Typically, lots of people will have a vested interest in the status quo, whether they've benefitted from the leader's largess, or, like the guards in the black prisons, might be prosecuted for their acts if a more accountable regime ever came to power.

Has covert assasination ever toppled a regime? Any of the dictatorships I can think of that fell did so from foreign invasion, civil war, or withdrawal of support from a powerful state.
posted by kersplunk at 12:05 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is why you let heads of state get away with their crimes, and retire to some nice island somewhere. Otherwise, they build entire apparatuses to perpetuate their reign, at any cost (to everyone else), until their own bitter end.
posted by effugas at 7:30 AM on July 17 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


The Fletcher Memorial Home
For incurable Tyrants, and Kings
Is everyone in? Good.
Now
the Final
Solution
can be
applied
posted by Sebmojo at 2:44 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]



vibrissae: Some say that political assassination is tricky business; I agree, especially when it comes to one large country our another attempting to do such a thing. That said, when it comes to the kind of punk state that is run by killers and thugs like Lukashenko, something other than "making the world aware" needs to be done. Just look at places like Zimbabwe, Syria, Sudan, etc. etc., where maniacs run entire states and treat them as their own private killing field. It's wrong that our world should stand by and let that happen, once it comes to light - period!

kersplunk: I think that's a bit naive - if you kill the leader, what makes you think their friend/son/right-hand-man/leader of the secret police won't take over and continue in the same vein? Typically, lots of people will have a vested interest in the status quo, whether they've benefitted from the leader's largess, or, like the guards in the black prisons, might be prosecuted for their acts if a more accountable regime ever came to power.


Selective assassination of a tyrant and his/her group of maniacal insiders has never been tried as a cohesive strategy. The point is that what we currently do regarding regimes like this does not seem at all to work, and people keep dying - sometimes for decades. Yes, there is a risk that a new bunch of thugs would rise to the top, but if those same thugs knew that there was a UN bullseye on their forehead should they think about imitating their (now dead) predecessors, might have a dampening effect on their actions. Maybe I'm wrong, but we haven't tried this kind of control out in a way that is consistent enough to see of it would work.

The scenario is akin to what the US went through in the days of the Wild West, when order was forcibly brought - i.e. imposed - to far away places, out West. These little states are a lot like outlaw-run entities. Something has to be done, other than 5-10-year "negotiations" with sociopaths who continue to kill their own people in the interim.
posted by Vibrissae at 4:21 PM on July 17, 2012


Mr. Lukashenko and his close cohorts appear as a prime candidate for an undercover, stealth joint assassination operation by the UN, or anyone else who wants to to the world a favor.

When will you @$@#@!!! Americans realise you have neither the right nor ability to bring "peace" to the world through the barrel of a gun. OMG, are you aware of how well that's working in Iraq and Afghanistan currently? Not to mention a storied history in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Panama, seemingly 3/4s of central America, etc etc et-bloody-c.

It is staggering to me - staggering - that anyone can sincerely express a sentiment like this in our current world. Staggering. Guess what? You don't know best; your country is has a glorious record of fuck-ups (and blind-eye-turning for helpful regimes), and the "cures" you prescribe are typically far worse than the so-called disease.

Belarus is a terrible totalitarian state. Life, however, is not a freaking Rambo movie and going in all guns blazing is unlikely to improve things.
posted by smoke at 5:36 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


> When will you @$@#@!!! Americans realise

Knock off this shit. There are trigger-happy kooks in all countries (name your favorite "civilized" country and I'll be happy to run down their history of violent behavior), and tarring everyone in a given country with the same brush is part of the same pattern you deplore. I'm American and I agree with everything you say except for the vicious attacks on Americans as a group. (Let me guess: you're going to point out that some of your best friends are American!)
posted by languagehat at 6:59 AM on July 18, 2012


You're right Languagehat, and I apologise. I was knee-jerk responding to the trigger-happy cliche, that all-too-often seems over-represented in US govt and foreign policy; however that is hardly the fault of the entire nation.

None of my best friends are currently American, though due to a weird quirk with my accents, non-American Australians often think I'm American. If I was American, I would definitely try to be my best friend.
posted by smoke at 3:41 PM on July 18, 2012


Thanks, that's a classy apology and much appreciated. Believe me, I understand the temptation to attack a nation for the sins of its leaders; even as an anarchist who doesn't believe in Leaders of the president/premier/king type, I have to fight it. We're a tribal bunch, we humans.
posted by languagehat at 4:26 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Belarus confirms teddy bear air drop: Carrying pro-democracy messages, bears landed in "Europe's last dictatorship" earlier this month, officials said.
posted by homunculus at 3:21 PM on July 27, 2012


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