Finlandization of Belarus. I. A Starting Point is Dramatic and does not Lack Pessimism

From Wikipedia: Finlandization is a political term, characterising relations between the USSR and Finland after World War II allowing it to keep its nominal independence and its own security policy regarding the interests of …

From Wikipedia: Finlandization is a political term, characterising relations between the USSR and Finland after World War II allowing it to keep its nominal independence and its own security policy regarding the interests of the close powerful state. The term was suggested in 1961 by the German historian Richard Löwenthal, who used it in the second half of the 20 century with not necessarily positive connotation.
After the Cold War with the Soviet Union (November 1939 to March 1940) Finland lost one fifth of the industry, 11 percent of the cultivated land and 12 percent of population. After World War II Finland paid a financial compensation to the USSR, finally waived its rights to Karelia, signed Cooperation and Mutual Assistance Agreement with Soviets in 1948, where it committed to neutrality and acknowledged special strategic interests in its country (for instance, to extradite the refugee citizens of the USSR). Finland was the biggest trade partner of the USSR from Western countries up to the eighth decade of the 20 century.
In return it maintained independence, market economy and freedom of speech, thus the concept of Finlandization meant a geopolitical compromise, trying to live next to the aggressive state with imperial ambitions. After death of Joseph Stalin the President of Finland Urho Kekkonen used to emphasize to the Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev that in case of attack its country would defend independence, but also urged that the interests of the Soviet Union would be affected if it forbids Finland to integrate into the economic structures of the Western Europe such as the European Economic Community and the European Free Trade Association.
Finlandization ended when the Soviet Union collapsed. The term was recalled and actualized already in this decade when the former U.S. President’s Jimmy Carter national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1977-1981 and observer of The New York Times Rene Nyberg had a quarrel regarding application of the Finlandization model to Ukraine in the context of well-known events. A prominent politician visioner used a forgotten definition wishing to suggest acknowledgment of domination of Russia, thus tried to inflict it to Ukraine. According to Rene Nyberg, although Finlandization policy served its purpose in Finland, it did not suit Ukraine, because an open war without any flashes of compromise was going on in 2014. Further events proved that Ukraine was moving towards the truth somewhere in the middle of these two approaches.
In the post-Soviet environment Finlandization seemed attractive to Armenia (now it is not probable). Deputy Head of the Yerevan Caucasus Institute, a political analyst PhD Sergey Minasyan in the portal in March 2014 published that it was the safest, however not ideal form of development of international relations. As if it is a natural choice of Armenia and can be an example to other post-Soviet states. These statements of a political analyst were quite macabre prophetical: Armenia in any case does not want to become the ground for the geopolitical confrontation like Ukraine and Georgia (…) after Russia annexed Crimea it is the only one from the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership (with the European Union – A.S.) except for Belarus that participates just officially and totally controls its territory.
An introduction to a hypothetic Finlandization of Belarus is quite long, however the situation is not a simple one. In case it is ‘the turn’ of Belarus, does it have another way out from the current political stalemate than the version of Finlandization adopted to its realities?
It is worth to start with recollections of the circumstances. The Council of Ministers of Belarus confirmed a temporary restriction for departure from the country (except for air transport) since 21 December. It is as if a preventive measure related to the coronavirus pandemic.
We can judge about the actual situation of COVID-19 not from official news (I must remind that there is no de facto sociology in Belarus). According to the civil initiative ‘Public survey’ (it includes sociologists, representatives of information technologies, data analysts and mathematicians), according to the results of the online survey of 6-18 November (31 thousand of respondents participated and after analysis of 25.5 thousand of questionnaires), from 434 thousand to 909 thousand adults of Belarus could have been infected with COVID-19.
Whereas the dictator of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko ignored the pandemic and still ignores it, a symbolism of the data selected by Minsk authority reveals a more realistic motivation of closing – 21 December is the founding date of the Committee for State Security of Belarus (KGB). As the political analyst from Warsaw Centre for Political analysis and forecasts Pavel Usov, closure of borders categorically conflicts with the internal policy regarding COVID-19, thus the only explanation of this step is to maintain a political control in the country by way of using the pandemic.
Actually, this means Belarus behind the ‘iron curtain’ – it would be harder to find out to the external world what is going on there; people under repression (there are over 30 thousand in the country) will have no possibility to depart. So far, a part of the prosecuted moved out (just in time) to Poland, Baltic States and Ukraine.
We should remind that on 29 October the entrance (even to citizens of Belarus) to Belarus from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine was temporarily closed. According to representatives of the State Border Committee, who presented the decision, around 600 athletic built fellows were not allowed to enter the territory of Belarus from these countries, who as if did not manage to expressly explain the purpose of the visit. On 5 November Alexander Lukashenko announced about ‘blind’ closing of the Western borders not for the first time, even without allowing Belarussians to go back to their country.
A common dose of the dictator’s demagogy: on 24 November during the award ceremony of distinctive letters to foreign diplomats Alexander Lukashenko asserted as if the West recently is worried about future of Belarus, create models of various effects on Minsk up to elimination of the regime exclusively. It even tries to include Russia to it; however, it does not know how. As if he can advise the only way how to eliminate him, Alexander Lukashenko: this can be done by the people only acting based on the Constitution and laws.
In reality, we can expect weirder things from the reality of Minsk. It is not funny when a resident of Pruzhany (the district centre 75 kilometres north-east from Brest) filed an application to the executive committee of the district to allow her leave home and go to the shop without a risk to be arrested. The regime of Belarus can make such applications mandatory – a repressive machine is acting more creatively; no opinion inside and outside the country stop Alexander Lukashenko.
On 6 December the leader of the Belarussian opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya announced results of its initiated online survey regarding suggestion to exclude Belarus from the system of global interbank financial telecommunications (SWIFT) (this sanction was effectively used for Iran and North Korea). 390 thousand respondents or 4 percent of the population of the country participated in the survey. 64 percent of respondents accepted the invitation despite of the risk associated with sanctions, for instance, disconnection from SWIF would finally move the regime of Minsk to the arms of Moscow.
In Europe the following algorithm of thinking is quite popular – as if no ‘strong’ pressure can be applied on Alexander Lukashenko because he would finally jump ship to Vladimir Putin.
The survey was not left aside by the regime of Belarus – on one hand, a propaganda newspaper Sovetskaya Belarusia called a possibility of disconnection not probable, however it still drew the apocalyptic picture of outcomes of sanctions: loss of markets, bankruptcy of the large companies, massive unemployment, collapse of the health and social systems and a catastrophic drop of income of citizens…
One comment to this piece of news: “What should we do? Should we wait until the punishers turn the country into the concentration camp? That’s what they are doing now”.
On 3 December Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told she was ready to run the country during 45-day transitional period. There is no doubt that this is just a meaningless phrase to the dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Her political advisor Alexander Dabravolski and advisor on international affairs Franak Viačorka during his interview to the portal on 7 December (by the way, the government of Minsk deprived the status of media for three months in 1 October) indicated six potential scenarios of further events in Belarus. Neither of them provides for that Alexander Lukashenko will start negotiations with political opponents unless circumstances caused that (pressure of foreign countries, internal concerned influential groups bought over (persuaded into?), finally (namely -!) protests).
The situation could be mitigated by announcement of the presential election in spring, however it is almost obvious that the dictator would not accept that willingly. On the other hand, Alexander Lukashenko has less resources to rule. In the assessment of advisors of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the probability to stay in power until autumn is equal to zero. No matter how you look at it, the political stalemate is for unlimited period so far.
As long as political statements are sounding, a Belarussian psychologist helping protestors Igor Losev (Svoboda.org – 24 November) told about the actual situation: events after presidential election on 9 August greatly affected the society of Belarus – citizens are becoming more angry and control their temper harder in the context of repressions. Fierce cruelty of power structures supressing protests are determined by selection (adults, who do not like self-analysis, serve in these forces), a particular training (full-time psychologists work in the units of special forces) and annoyance associated with fatigue – despite of days-off they have to sleep in their barracks in their uniforms, hugging their clubs and chase citizens around the city who just walk…
The psychologist personally had to live out very hard moments. Let’s say, a conversation with a young woman raped by soldiers, who was not able to tell about this to her mother because of fear that she might have a heart attack and her boy-friend because she was afraid he would go for revenge on the rapists and would be imprisoned or maybe killed. According to Igor Losev, only now a generation of young people without any traumas started to be born after Soviet times in Belarus and now the government started to traumatize them again. If the regime survives another 15 years, it would be very hard to eliminate the traumatized experience.
Thus, now we live through a dramatic time in Belarus. When the situation is like this, Finlandization of the country may develop between geopolitical boundary marks and poles: on 26 November when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov visited Minsk he expressed his expectations that situation in the country would soon get back to normal thanks to the constitutional initiatives of the President Alexander Lukashenko. He also denounced the intrusion of foreign countries on the affairs of Belarus.
The next day the European Parliament encouraged to make sanctions against Minsk regime stricter because of continuous violations of human rights and welcomed the third package of sanctions against Minsk being prepared and also the initiative (here Lithuania and Poland are very active) to start the international investigation of crimes committed by Alexander Lukashenko regime.
The dictator of Belarus on 8 December revealed a configuration formula of the new government. Actually, it means transfer of powers to the All Belarussian People’s Assembly by providing constitutional and also presidential powers. The Belarusian political scientist Valery Karbalevich commented this plan in the following way: beauty and advantage of the situation is that in contrary to the Presidency chairman of the All Belarusian People’s Assembly is not elected same as the Assembly is not elected, either (…) Alexander Lukashenko can easily keep his promise of pre-term presidential election and continue ruling on behalf of the public for the rest of his life. After all, he did not cheat, left the office of the president.
We have things like that. The search for more optimistic circumstances is produced in Part II “Finlandization of Belarus. II. Everything is More Optimistic Provided that Democratic Neighbours do not Show their Backs’.
Arūnas Spraunius

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