By Paul Goble
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has suffered three self-inflicted wounds his decision to demolish the crosses at the site of the Kuropaty mass graves: he has lost whatever sympathy he had among the population, he has likely made it impossible for any Western leader to receive him, and he has called attention to splits within his own regime.
That Lukashenka lost whatever sympathy and support he had among Belarusians is no surprise: Not only did he by his actions at Kuropaty dishonor their history but insulted their intense national commitment to honoring the dead and especially those who died for the cause of Belarus.
Today, a group of Belarusians took to Lukashenka’s office to hand over a petition protesting what he did. It declared that by his actions at Kuropaty, the Belarusian president had effectively “gone to war against the Belarusian people” (belsat.eu/ru/news/zashhitniki-kuropat-trebuyut-ot-lukashenko-vernut-kresty-na-mesto/).
The Belarusian leader may not care about that: his track record of abusing and ignoring his own population is legendary. But he will care very much about the second consequence of his actions. It is almost inconceivable in the wake of what he did at Kuropaty that any Western leader will now be willing to host him in his or her capital.
Belarusian commentator put it both classically and bluntly: By his tearing down of the crosses at Kuropaty, “a cross has been put on possible Lukashenka visits to NATO neighbors.” That deprives him of one of his major cards in dealing with Russia and thus leaves him in a significantly weakened position internationally.
But it is the third self-inflicted “wound” that probably disturbs Lukashenka the most because it points to more troubles ahead for his regime and his personal survival in office. According to analysts at Belarus in Focus, the decision to destroy the crosses at Kuropaty highlights not only the failure of Lukashenka to think about the consequences of his actions but also about something else.
And that is this: it highlights the internal disagreements within his regime, disagreements that may now emerge more publicly and more consequentially given Lukashenka’s rash action at Kuropaty (belarusinfocus.info/by/security-issues/konflikt-vokrug-kuropat-prodemonstriroval-vnutrennie-raskoly-vo-vlasti reposted at thinktanks.by/publication/2019/04/10/konflikt-vokrug-kuropat-prodemonstriroval-vnutrennie-raskoly-vo-vlasti.html).
The negative reaction of Belarusian civil society to the Kuropaty outrage was completely predictable, but the equally negative reaction of “a number of political officials, including those who had been considered close to Lukashenka as well as representatives of businesses affiliated with the government” shows that the country has entered an entire new political era.
How much these will matter remains to be seen, but at the very least, as the journal’s analysts observe, they already show that “the Belarusian regime is far from as monolithic as it is customary to think.” And that is something Belarusians in the government and out as well as Russia and the West are now going to factor into their calculations.