Friday, March 24, 2006

A Pyrrhic Victory

David Marples, on the ending of the October Square protest in Minsk:
The president finally lost patience. Several hundred protestors were reportedly arrested and many were savagely beaten in custody. Yet more "commemorations" could be forthcoming, such as April 2, a date when the opposition usually denounces the Russia-Belarus Union, and the Chernobyl anniversary (the 20th), traditionally the biggest protest march, on April 26. Lukashenka would prefer that international attention be refocused elsewhere and seems perplexed by the sustained international interest. He could not have ordered a new election under the terms demanded by Milinkevich.

Overall, Lukashenka has been tested. He has attained a pyrrhic victory, but faces new uncertainties and doubts. The opposition is not yet powerful enough to remove him, but its threat has grown. The contrived turnout and vote count, as well as the over-reaction to the opposition campaigns, were in retrospect a blunder by the authorities that served to revive a long dormant civic society in Belarus. The end game -- a massive assault on the small group that chose to stay for a further night on the square -- was predictable. Additional retributions may follow. The Jeans Revolution might have failed, but it marks the first sustained attempt by the opposition to resist the Lukashenka dictatorship.
The opposition has also said that it will go ahead with this weekend's protest rally, timed to coincide with the March 25 commemoration of the short-lived independent state of 1918.
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