Embers in the East and "no mas" from Africa

Two items of note of late.
Firstly the brewing tension between democratic Poland and authoritarian Belarus by Kamil Tchorek.
MINSK -- While western Europe focuses on terrorism in London, the terror state of Belarus, dominated by dictator Alexander Lukashenko, is treated in the tradition of Neville Chamberlain's "faraway country of which we know little."

This is a mistake. Aside from the close though little-known historical and cultural ties that the West has with Belarus -- Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a leading figure in the American Revolution and an early advocate of democracy and emancipation, was born and bred in these parts -- the Moscow-backed regime in Minsk poses a security risk to Europe.

Two years ago Saddam Hussein's closest aide, Abid Hamid Mahmud Tikriti, was captured carrying Belarus passports for himself and Saddam's notorious sons. After a recent state visit from Tehran, the flag of Iran has been left to decorate the main thoroughfare in Minsk. Mr. Lukashenko is arming himself with cutting-edge Sukoyev Su-30s.

Last week, in a chilling echo of the Balkan conflict, Belarus special forces stormed buildings used by the nearly 500,000 strong ethnic Polish community -- some of whom live in the village of Kosciuszko's birth. The woman who leads the Union of Poles, Andzelika Borys, yesterday was questioned by police; her deputy and four other Union activists are in prison. Minsk is trying to replace her with a quisling. In protest, Warsaw last week withdrew its ambassador from Minsk.

Poland, Belarus' western neighbor and the EU's largest new member, is taking a far tougher line with Mr. Lukashenko than much of Europe. Poland has provided refuge for Belarusian émigrés who support the democracy movement, and has allowed the Belarusian opposition to use Warsaw as a place to work with Western NGOs and diplomats, assemble and speak freely without fear of reprisal.

This policy is buoyed by American legislation. Washington's Belarus Democracy Act 2004 grants financial backing to promote human rights and democratic development in Belarus. But as evidenced by a letter from the Polish foreign ministry to European leaders last month, at the start of the crisis, Poland is having to work to get the EU to follow suit.

In private, some EU diplomats emphasize that it is important not to antagonize Russia, an ally of Belarus, and dismissively claim that Poland has an interest in raising its profile through conflict.

But Poland's Eastern policy is set to get tougher still. After elections next month, Poland's ruling ex-communists are likely to be replaced by the conservative opposition. When I recently interviewed a leading candidate for prime minister, Jan Rokita, he spoke of foreign policy in positively neoconservative terms. "This now ends the period of mild politics," he said of the crackdown on the Polish minority. "Ours will be a simple message: Lukashenko must go. I will do all I can to help the Belarus opposition and I will want the EU to engage rather than look the other way."

On Monday, Mr. Rokita's colleague and presidential candidate Donald Tusk crossed into Belarus to show the Polish community there that they aren't alone. Since then, Belarusian Poles who met with Mr. Tusk have been jailed, and one of the prisoners, Andrzej Pisalnik, who edits the Polish-language newspaper, has responded by going on hunger strike.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, an emerging opposition leader, Alexander Milinkevitch was in Poland. "This is not an ethnic minority problem," Mr. Milinkevitch told me. "This is a civil rights problem for all Belarusian people from whatever background. Lukashenko is destroying civic society and we've got to stop him."

Mr. Milinkevitch believes that there is a European tendency to consign the current crisis between Warsaw and Minsk to the realm of bilateral relations. To continue to believe this, he argues, would play into Mr. Lukashenko's hands. His immediate wish is for Europe to rally round Poland in support of democracy in Belarus.

The shared vision of Jan Rokita and Alexander Milinkevitch is rooted in history. From the sixteenth century, Belarus was united with Lithuania, Ukraine and Poland in a state known as the "Rzeczpospolita Polska," or Polish Commonwealth. Much like in the United Kingdom or the U.S., citizens could belong to any or several cultural groups but swear allegiance to one state.

In such traditions tolerance is born. It is no coincidence that European Jews, Armenians and Protestants thrived in the Rzeczpospolita when they were hounded elsewhere. The Rzeczpospolita also produced Europe's first written constitution, which was defended militarily by Kosciuszko, who was born in Belarus of Lithuanian stock, spoke Polish, and was awarded American citizenship.

It is also unsurprising that the Czarist and Soviet empires attempted to rub out this history. "Until perestroika I thought I was Russian, and a minor Russian at that," commented Mr. Milinkevitch. "All my life, like everyone in Belarus and Ukraine, I'd been told that Russian history was our history, and that we didn't have our own. Now that we have learnt about ourselves, we want change."

As a means of coercion, President Lukashenko is doing everything to russify the nation and make sure the historical links with Poland aren't restored. He has changed the national flag from the medieval red and white Belarusian banner it was in the 1990s to a near copy of the Soviet era symbol. He has closed Jewish, Polish and Belarusian schools and established Russian replacements. For years he has touted plans to reunify with Russia, though they've never gone far.

Europe can stand by and watch Belarus, a European country, plunge into a totalitarian abyss. Or it can recognize and support the immense effort of so many Belarusians to become a democracy.

Unfortunately, I am skeptical the EU will do much. I first noticed the item at Chrenkoff on July 30th.

Second item is regarding the futility of aide to corrupt government with the delusional hope that somehow their poor and destitute constituents would benefit. Interview at Spiegel
"For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!"

The Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati, 35, says that aid to Africa does more harm than good. The avid proponent of globalization spoke with SPIEGEL about the disastrous effects of Western development policy in Africa, corrupt rulers, and the tendency to overstate the AIDS problem.

In addition, there are two must read items from Belmont Club.

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