By Stephen Gowans
As he stepped off his plane at the Minsk airport two summers ago to begin a two-day visit to Belarus, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pointed to a connection between his country and that of his host, President Alexander Lukashenko. “Belarus,” he declared, “is a model of a social state, which we are also building.” (1) That Chavez’s model state exists in an infrequently remarked upon corner of Europe may be a surprise to most admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Called Europe’s last dictator by Condoleezza Rice and a “brother in arms” by Chavez (2), Lukashenko oversees over a “socially-oriented market economy” in which 80 percent of the enterprises are state-owned and collective farms still feed the country.
He has “presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years…cut the (value added tax), brought down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty”…and created “the fairest distribution of incomes of any country in the region.” (3)
He has done “what the conventional wisdom in the West says is not possible: maintaining a state run economy with one of the strongest growth rates in Europe, generating increases in wages and pensions, boosting productivity and minimizing the disparities in wealth that have destabilized so many of the former Soviet republics in their transition to market economies.” (4)
What may be equally surprising to Chavez admirers is that Lukashenko has done all this by “steadily turn(ing) Belarus into a miniature version of the Soviet Union, with a state-run economy.” (5)
The only deputy of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic to vote against the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Lukashenko talks fondly of the Soviet Union — “my country,” he called it in 2005 before the UN General Assembly. (6) Statues of Lenin and busts of Stalin — some newly erected — can still be found in Belarus.
This hardly sits well with state officials in the West who accuse Lukashenko of stealing elections and smothering democracy – the usual charge leveled against leaders who haven’t signed on to the project of fattening the bottom lines of Western corporations and investment banks at the expense of their own people. Lukashenko wins elections by landslides because he is widely popular, and he’s widely popular because he puts the interests of Belarus’ people first.
So Washington and London fund subversion projects under the guise of promoting democracy, funneling millions of dollars to youth groups, anti-Lukashenko media and opposition parties to bring down the government. The New York Times remarked that in the last presidential election the US and British-backed opposition “seemed not to be running an election campaign, as much as they (were) trying to organize an uprising.” (7)
The opposition failed miserably, both at the polls and in the streets.
Check out Stewart Parker’s new book, The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus (http://www.belarussolidaritycampaign.co.uk/) as well as “Belarus struggles to defend workers’ interests” in the latest issue of Proletarian http://www.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=proletarian&subName=display&art=338 .
Both go a long way to setting the record straight on the hold-out Soviet republic Chavez calls a model of a social state.
1. New York Times, July 24, 2006
2. Financial Times, August 2, 2007.
3. Times Online, March 10, 2006.
4. Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2006.
5. New York Times, January 1, 2006.
6. Lukashenko address to the 60th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, September 15, 2005.
7. New York Times, January 1, 2006.