The Prague Racket
By John Laughland
At the NATO summit in Prague this week, one man is notable by his absence. Last Friday, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was refused a visa on instructions from Washington, an unprecedented diplomatic snub. After a six-year propaganda campaign waged against Lukashenko by the west, he now stands isolated. The EU is about to slap a travel ban on him and his ministers, like the one imposed against the Zimbabwean government. Meanwhile, some American politicians have started to refer to Belarus as part of the axis of evil.
The reasons given for the wests hostility towards Belarus are that Lukashenko is authoritarian and a dictator. This is an odd charge, given that the losing candidates in last Septembers presidential elections conceded that the incumbent president had won more votes than them. It is also strange for the west to revile Lukashenko when it courts so assiduously President Putin, whose own election, like all those in Russia since 1991, was outrageously rigged.
Most of the charges leveled against Belarus are absurd. It is often claimed that people are beaten for speaking Belarusian; in fact it is the official state language and Lukashenko himself speaks it frequently. It is also alleged that Catholics and Jews are persecuted there. But the Catholic hierarchy was restored under Lukashenko and the Oxford Institute for Hebrew and Jewish Studies has just confirmed that the Jewish community in Belarus is flourishing. It is also stated repeatedly, without evidence, that Lukashenko has had his political opponents murdered; these claims persist in spite of the fact that one of his alleged victims was discovered alive and well and living in London.
Why they hate Lukashenko
The real reason why the west hates Lukashenko has nothing to do with concern for democracy or human rights. It is instead that, as a genuinely popular politician who has preserved his country from the worst ravages which economic reform has inflicted on its neighbors, Lukashenko is not given to taking orders. In this respect, he is unlike any of the other senior former communist officials currently hobnobbing in Prague. The wests friends in eastern Europe today have their hands firmly on the commanding heights of political control in their countries, just as in many cases they personally did under communist dictatorship.
The west prefers such people because the demands it makes on post-communist countries are so unpopular. All eastern European states are required to sell off their national economic assets to foreigners, and close down their agriculture by accepting the dumping of subsidized EU food imports. This creates massive social disruption and unemployment. In addition, they must spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, preferably on arms made in the U.S.
Consequently, a small country like Lithuania, whose economy has collapsed so catastrophically, has just announced the purchase of $34 million worth of Stinger missiles, made by the Raytheon Corporation of Tucson, Arizona. When Tanzania announced it was spending $40 million on a new civilian air traffic control system, there was an outcry; but Lithuania, whose official GDP is not much larger than Tanzanias, will have to spend $240 million on arms every year as the price for NATO membership. And Lithuania is just one of seven new member states, all of which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on arms.
The economic interests driving NATO expansion are so blatant that the man who co-ordinates U.S. policy on the matter practically has military-industrial complex as his middle name. Bruce Jackson, president of the U.S. committee on NATO, is a former military intelligence officer in the U.S. army who became vice-president of Lockheed Martin, the gigantic U.S. arms manufacturer and biggest provider of financial control and accounting services to the Pentagon, from whose accounts trillions of dollars have disappeared.
Jackson left Lockheed Martin in August to take up his new full-time political job of promoting democracy in a united Europe. But a good illustration of the economic agenda which is really behind NATO expansion was given when Jackson recently told Bulgaria that its membership of NATO would depend on it selling the national tobacco factory to the right foreign buyer.
Far from promoting democracy in eastern Europe, Washington is promoting a system of political and military control not unlike that once practiced by the Soviet Union. Unlike that empire, which collapsed because the center was weaker than the periphery, the new NATO is both a mechanism for extracting Danegeld from new member states for the benefit of the U.S. arms industry, and alsoever since the promulgation of NATOs New Strategic Concept in April 1999an instrument for getting others to protect U.S. interests around the world, including the supply of primary resources such as oil. It is, in short, a racket. Any state which refuses to play ball knows the consequences: the humiliating treatment meted out to President Lukashenko is simply intended pour encourager les autres. (For the encouragement of others.)
John Laughland is a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group
The Guardian UK, November 22, 2002