A few days ago one saw on television what looked like a ghostly meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania. A masked French president Macron was in a mumbling dialogue with an equally muzzled Svetlana Tikhonovskaya surrounded by aides who seemed to be extras in the popular flick ‘The Mummy’. The topic was Belarus and the lady was asking Macron to lead a EU intervention of some kind to ‘restore democracy’ in her country of which she claims to be the elected President in self-imposed exile.
As most people who follow the news are aware ,the recent elections in that small eastern European country brought back to power veteran President Lukashenko with a suspiciously sweeping majority. The wife of jailed opposition blogger Tikhonovosky who stood in his place was credited with 10% of the votes but she and her supporters declared that the process was rigged and that she had in fact won 60%. Within a few days, amidst harshly repressed street protests the former English translator, human right activist and self-declared head of state fled to neighbouring Lithuania, (in bad terms with both Belarus and Russia), which promptly recognized her as the lawful president and pressed the other EU member states to do the same, following the precedent of Venezuela’s US-picked but hapless “President” Juan Guaido.
The point here is not to debate the merits and sins of President Lukashenko who has long been the West’s ‘bete noire’, since he opposed the NATO assault on Serbia. Lately he even airily rejected the supra-national ‘binding advice’ to impose lockdowns and make masks compulsory to fight COVID-19 in Belarus (the country has actually fared better than many others during the epidemic). He is known as ‘Europe’s last dictator’ and EU leaders can’t wait to see him gone but to his credit has largely protected his nation from the major economic and social crises that befell the world in general and the former Soviet states in particular since the breakup of the USSR. Because of the stable prosperity he brought and maintained at home he is still popular, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas and among the older generations. On the other hand many in the upper middle class and the urban youth in Minsk, the capital hanker for a change and their impatience with the status quo is exploited by those who want to take Lukashenko’s place or who favour a tilt towards the west and look towards Poland or even Ukraine as models or precedents.
As usual geopolitical interests often hide behind the lofty causes of democracy and freedom. Belarus, being a member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community and CSTO (a Eurasian defence pact) is seen as a target by the western alliance and the EU which would not mind adding Belarus, a dependency of greater Poland centuries ago, to its roster. Madame Tikhonovskaya has shown her own penchant for the west and an increasing animosity towards Russia which makes her a darling of the EU and NATO ruling elites. The latter ask Moscow not to interfere, even though the two countries are deeply intertwined, while blatantly stepping into the fray to support and promote the Belarusian opponents to the sitting president.
Yet objectively nobody can conclude that Lukashenko has lost the last election but the western view is that he has been in power for too long. By that token however Angela Merkel is also well past retirement and in other major democracies the mandate of governments is questionable; for one the present British Conservative Coalition did not win a popular majority and yet came to power because of the peculiarities of the system.
Lukashenko reacted caustically to Macron’s call for his resignation by noting that the French president should have quit in the wake of the yellow vest protests if he believes that angry crowds in the street must result in regime change. If even 100 000 people marched in Minsk against their president does it mean that a national election in a country of ten million is invalid? In France too many of the protests calling for Macron’s departure were brutally dispersed. On the other hand the ruling dispensations of two other EU states, Poland and Hungary are ‘under surveillance’ for their allegedly illiberal nationalist policies even though voters returned them to power. Whenever a leader is described as ‘authoritarian’ his election is questioned by the western ‘moral’ authorities.
The Belarus story takes us to a general consideration about the nature of modern democracies which are systems of administration and decision-making increasingly governed by ideologies and predominantly by so-called progressivism, based not on the electoral verdict of the majority but on elitist legal pronouncements about what is allegedly good for society. The Canadian professor of law and political science Ran Hirschl.has described this insidious evolution from democracy to juridical arbitrariness in his book ‘Towards Juristocracy’. In Europe non-elected entities such as the European Commission, the “Venice Commission’ and the European Court of Human Rights take many of the important decisions and overrule national legislations with scant regard for local institutions and traditions. They codify and reify abstract concepts such as equality, a subjective notion and fraternity, originally a genetic bond or a feeling, into a juridical obligation as for example when the French Constitutional Council declares that illegal immigrants should be given asylum at public cost and cannot be turned back because fraternity compels acceptance. When one raises a realistic prognosis about hundreds of millions of people potentially coming across from poorer areas of the world in the hope of attaining higher standards of living in the EU or North America, the standard reply is that society’s responsibility is to be humanitarian without looking at further consequences and implications and even at the cost of disregarding the sanctity of borders.
The activism of judges, such as the late US Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who see it as their role to reinterpret and interpret constitutions according to fast shifting concepts of individual and minority rights tends to ignore the wishes and dislikes of popular majorities by imposing supposedly universal -but rapidly changing- values that require the reshaping of societies by court decisions sometimes translated into political decrees. This state of affairs, according to an article by Marc Erwann Gastineau in the Figaro of last September 28th, translates into a post-democratic system ruled by tribunals and not by elected politicians and it breaks the traditional balance between the three constitutional powers.
Looking beyond slogans and pious statements, the often repeated claim that democracies have natural affinities ignores both history and the contemporary situation. These purportedly peace-loving mature democracies show their true colours when leaks or whistleblowers expose their clandestine operations to overthrow regimes they dislike (i.e. Syria, Iran and Venezuela) https://www.zerohedge.com/geopolitical/leaked-docs-expose-massive-syria-propaganda-operation-waged-western-govt-contractors or undermine rival states (such as the ‘Beluga’ destabilisation programme https://www.opednews.com/articles/Operation-Beluga-A-US-UK-by-William-Dunkerley-Antiterrorism-Database_France_Litvinenko_Putin-160327-385.html carried out by the USA, Britain and some of their allies against Russia which some Intelligence professionals have connected to the infamous Magnitsky, Skripal, Navalny and other unresolved affairs).
Embracing the USA and other ‘old democracies’ in Europe and elsewhere too closely implies accepting the oversight of unelected and often unaccountable intrusive agencies and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international that monitor internal affairs of other nations and assign blame and condemnation according to their own criteria and often in keeping with the interests of the states which directly or indirectly sponsor them. On the other hand inconvenient whistleblowing journalists such as Julian Assange are arrested, imprisoned and prosecuted in what can only be described as political trials disguised as criminal cases.The title of republic is a catch-all (it means ‘the public thing’ in latin) with no specific normative value. In Spain for instance republicans want to repeal the constitutional monarchy and the Podemos Party now in government aims for a revolutionary socialist state whose charter would diverge from the liberal economic system of the European Union. They are also open to allowing a division of the country by allowing referendums about secession in the provinces where separatists are active and numerous. Will the other EU authorities agree that the King of Spain should abdicate or that Spain should be split asunder because separatists and republicans want it? Member-states of the EU have to operate within the statutory framework of the Union’s charter and treaties which severely limit their political and economic sovereignty by expecting them to march in lockstep when it comes to upholding ‘European values’ at home and abroad. Some have compared the EU to the defunct USSR and the desire to be free from those constraints led Great Britain to break away whereas the Brussels super-state tries to win new recruits.
The concept of universal human rights has led the more powerful countries to feel they have an obligation to interfere in other states. They accordingly try to midwife regime change in Belarus, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere rather than concentrating on managing their own very major internal problems.
The notion of a universal ‘democratic’ model of government that must be propagated through nation-building by superseding local traditions and cultures is toxic. We have seen the dismal effects of this missionary doctrine in too many countries that have suffered its onslaught in the last twenty years.