Belarus is ‘soft dictatorship’, Nobel literature laureate warns EU

Nobel Literature Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich on Saturday warned the EU on the eve of lop-sided elections in her country that Belarus is a “soft dictatorship”.

“Every four years, new European officials come to power and think they can solve the (President Alexander) Lukashenko problem without knowing that he is a man who is untrustworthy,” Alexievich told a news conference in Berlin.

“He is a ‘Soviet man’ and will never change,” she said, referencing “Homo sovieticus”, a sarcastic pseudo-Latin term for those in former Soviet states who have difficulty shaking off the authoritarian mindset of the past.

European sources said Friday that the EU was ready to suspend sanctions against Lukashenko after he released the country’s last political prisoners in a surprise move in August.

The six opposition leaders included Mikola Statkevich, a former presidential candidate imprisoned in 2010.

Nevertheless, Belarus remains “a soft dictatorship”, Alexeivich said, adding: “Stalin’s dictatorship is not the only model. There are lots of other variations.”

The sanctions entail travel bans and asset freezes against Lukashenko and around 170 other individuals and 14 groups imposed in January 2011 for alleged human rights violations.

The EU sources said a decision on lifting them would be taken before October 31, when the measures expire and must be either renewed or scrapped.

One source said the decision would hinge on the elections passing off peacefully.

– ‘Creeping censorship’ –

The 61-year-old Belarussian strongman is expected to win a fifth consecutive term.

Alexievich said: “No one doubts that Lukashenko will win… We all suspect that for Lukashenko it doesn’t matter how we will vote, what is important is those who will count the ballots, and so there will be no surprise,” she said.

Lukashenko is standing against three virtual unknowns, only one of whom, Tatiana Korotkevich, has bothered to run a campaign.

By providing the only alternative for opposition supporters, 38-year-old Korotkevich has made a strong showing in opinion polls, but even her team doubts she could push the election into a second round.

Lukashenko congratulated Alexievich for her Nobel win, though none of her books are published in her home country in what the author has described as “a creeping censorship”.

She said Lukashenko was playing a “well-honed” tactical game with the Europeans, to whom “he turns as soon as relations with Moscow deteriorate”.

The two countries are currently locked in a spat over whether Russia can open an air base in Belarus as Moscow flexes its military might.

Even so, Lukashenko is propped up by Russia, which supplies the country of 9.5 million with cut-price energy, valuing Belarus as an ally and buffer against NATO member states such as Poland.

Alexievich also sees the Belarussian leader as capitalising from the current tensions between Moscow and Brussels over the conflict in Ukraine by acting as mediator, hosting peace talks in Minsk between Kiev and the pro-Russian separatists.

She held out little hope of greater democracy in either Russia or Belarus, saying authoritarian roots were deep in both countries.

“The situation in Russia and Belarus will last a long time to come. We are in an intermediate stage after (Soviet) socialism.

“We have the naive hope that democracy will come, but to have freedom we need free men,” she said.

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