Independent Belarus. Domestic Determinants, Regional Dynamics, and Implications for the West

By Gimpelevich, Zina | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2004 | Go to article overview
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Independent Belarus. Domestic Determinants, Regional Dynamics, and Implications for the West


Gimpelevich, Zina, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Margarita M. Balmaceda, James I. Clem and Lisbeth L. Tarlow, eds. Independent Belarus. Domestic Determinants, Regional Dynamics, and Implications for the West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. 464 pp. Index. Paper.

The scope and magnitude of knowledge found in this anthology on contemporary Belarus is well balanced. The book includes the works of twenty-two contributors (three of whom are also the editors) from both sides of the ocean; twenty-two more participants are named in the acknowledgements as advisors, critics, and field workers. Though the book project dates back to April 1999 when Harvard held a conference dedicated to Belarus, subsequent fact-finding trips to the country have strengthened the text. The book's eighteen chapters are divided into five parts: "Domestic Politics," "The Belarusian Economy," "Russia and Belarus: Mutual Perceptions and Influences," "Belarus and European security," and "The Belarusian Challenge for the West: Strategy for Engagement." An appendix that includes Charter '97, which is in Belarusan and English, follows the chapters.

Timothy J. Cotton's "Belarusian Public Opinion and the Union with Russia," is the opening chapter. It examines Belarusan public opinion and concludes that the majority of Belarusans favors some integration with Russia but prefer to live in a sovereign Belarus. The second chapter, "The Opposition in Belarus: History, Potential, and Perspectives," by David R. Marplesand Uladzimir Padhol, names sixteen different major political groups and parties that exist under the umbrella of the Opposition that agrees only on one matter: the need to get rid of the Belarusan president. The authors show how Lukasenka, being a totalitarian leader, uses the government's apparatus on a population that has significant remnants of a pro-Soviet mentality. Rainer Lindner's chapter, with the self-explanatory title "The Lukashenka Phenomenon," evaluates and analyzes not only the figure of the president and his exploitation of Belarusan institutions and society but also the failures of the Opposition.

Patricia Brukoff s "The Belarusian Economy: Is It Sustainable?" covers the period of 1995-2000. Brukoff foresees a gloomy future for the Belarusan economy unless better cooperation with Western countries is developed. Leonid Zlotnikov wrote the fifth chapter, "Possibilities for the Development of a Private Economic sector and a Middle Class as a Source of Political Change in Belarus." This study, with its hopeful title, provides substantial economic tables. Summing up his analyses, the author points to the country's president and his major institutions as unbeatable obstacles to the formation of a Belarusan middle class. Margarita M. Balmaceda's chapter, "Belarus as a Transit Route: Domestic and Foreign Policy Implications," presents convincing arguments on the major economic asset of Belarus-its location-and the reasons for the country's failure to bank on such privileges as trans-border cooperation in the Euro-regions.

The third part of the anthology opens with Arkady Moshes' "Lukashenka's Role in Russian Politics." In this seventh chapter, the author points at a number of socio-political and economic contradictions between the two countries. he also proposes not to exaggerate the personal willingness of Putin and Lukasenka to unite their countries, as well as Lukasenka's role in such a merger. Andrei Sannikov, in the eighth chapter, "Russia's Varied Roles in Belarus," elaborates on three reasons for Russian interests in its much smaller neighbor: economic, military, and political. However, the Belarusan president is shown as a serious obstacle to fruitful relations. Yuri Drakokhrust's and Dmitri Furman's chapter, "Belarus and Russia: The Game of Virtual Integration," ends the section on mutual perceptions and influences of the two countries. These scholars deduce that the proposed union is nothing but a political game for both governments.

The fourth part of the book, consisting of five articles, embraces issues concerning the role of Belarus in European security.

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