Vienna, January 27 – Outraged by Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s actions since the elections and encouraged by the support they have received from the European Union, Belarusian opposition leaders are discussing with Lithuania the possibility of creating “an informal embassy of Belarus” there, a kind of government in exile with which other states could interact.
“If Europe does not recognize the elections [in Belarus], Oleg Metelitsa, a close advisor for former presidential candidate Vladmir Neklyayev who is now in a Minsk prison, said yesterday, “it is important to have a political represtantion so that Europe will be able to speak with someone from Belarus” (www.ng.ru/cis/2011-01-26/1_lukashenko.html).
Another reason for the establishment of such an institution is have a focal point for providing assistance of one kind or another to the hundreds of young people who have fled Belarus in the wake of the latest Lukashenka crackdown in order to seek refuge in neighboring states like Poland and Lithuania.
Up to now, “Nezavisimaya” reports, only one Belarusian – Viktor Kontsevenko, an aide to Nikoaly Statkevich – has formally asked for political asylum. The others hope to return, but if Lukashenka continues on his current course, more of the nearly one in five Belarusians now working or living abroad may also request asylum.
If the current Belarusian opposition does form a kind of government in exile, that will be the second such institution from that country. At the present time, there is still a self-proclaimed Belarusian government in exile from the times of the 1920 republic. Based in Canada and headed by Ivonka Survilla, it is not recognized by any other state.
But the new institution, if it takes shape, might attract greater support. Given that Lukashenka’s actions have destroyed any claim he may have to be the legitimate leader of a legitimate government and given the failure up to now of foreign powers to force him to change, the existence of a government in exile could provide additional leverage.
Were some foreign states to recognize that government as legitimate and hence the powers that be in Minsk as illegitimate, that would certainly increase pressure on Minsk to change, with even more Belarusians coming to recognize that they will be left isolated if they do not move toward changing the government there.
But if that positive result could be one of the outcomes, there are at least two other negative ones. On the one hand, Lukashenka might decide that he has no reason to engage the international community and dig in in much the same way that the generals in Myanmar have over the last two decades.
And on the other, given the very unpredictable nature of the Minsk leader, it is possible that he would launch some kind of campaign against any government that either hosted or recognized a Belarusian government in exile. In the first case, that could even lead to violence, and in the second, to economic actions, including blocking the flow of Russian oil and gas.
Because of all these dangers, efforts to create a Belarusian government in exile are likely to proceed cautiously, but given the thuggishness that Lukashenka has shown in recent weeks, the possibility that Belarusians and others will conclude that they have no other choice is more real than ever before.