SKOPJE, Macedonia, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Most of the post-communist countries in transition are ruled either by reformed communists or by authoritarian anti-communists. It is ironic that the West -- recently led more by the European Union than by the United States -- helps the former to get elected even as it demonizes and vilifies the latter. The "regime change" fad, one must recall, started in the Balkans with Slobodan Milosevic, not in Afghanistan, or Iraq.
Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist minister and the current president of Poland is feted by the likes of George Bush. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer and Russia's president, is a strategic ally of the United States. Branko Crvnkovski -- an active "socialist" and the new prime minister of Macedonia -- is the darling of the international community.
Vaclav Klaus (former prime minister of the Czech Republic), Vladimir Meciar (former strongman and prime minister of Slovakia), Ljubco Georgievski (until recently the outspoken prime minister of Macedonia) and Viktor Orban (voted out as prime minister of Hungary earlier this year) -- all strident anti-communists -- are shunned by the great democracies.
The West contributed to the electoral downfall of some of these leaders. When it failed, it engineered their ostracism. Meciar, for instance, won the popular vote twice but is still unable to form a government because both NATO and the European Union made clear that a Slovakia headed by Meciar will be barred from membership and accession.
But nowhere is European and American discomfiture and condemnation more evident than in Ukraine and Belarus.
Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine's president, has just sacked his government and installed a new, more friendly one, in its place. Kuchma has been accused by the opposition and by the international media of every transgression -- from selling radar systems to Iraq to ordering the murder of a journalist. He hasn't visited a single European leader -- with the exception of Romano Prodi, the chief of the European Commission -- for 2 years now.
Kuchma may attend NATO's Prague summit next week in the teeth of opposition by NATO and a few European governments. Rumors are that he is priming new Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich erstwhile governor of the Donetsk region, to replace him as president.
Aleksander Lukashenka, the beleaguered president of Belarus should be so lucky. Indeed, he is the outstanding exception to the warm welcome that the West has had for former Communists who have remained in power. The Czechs flatly refused him an entry visa due to human rights violations in his country. Minsk threatened to sever its diplomatic relations with Prague. The EU will impose a travel ban tomorrow on Lukashenka and 50 members of his administration. The EU has suspended in 1997 most financial aid and bilateral trade programs with Belarus.
In an apparent tit-for-tat, Belarus again raised the issue of Chechen refugees on its territory, refused entry by Poland. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been ignoring Belarusian complaints, letting the impoverished country cope with the human flux at its own expense. Lukashenka threatened to open Belarus' anyhow porous borders to un-policed traffic.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in a conference in Washington last week, tellingly titled "Axis of Evil: Belarus -- The Missing Link" and hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. ambassador to Belarus, Michael Kozak, chastised Lukashenka for having "chosen the wrong side in the war on terrorism" and threatened that he "will soon face the consequences of his illegal arms sales (and military training) to Iraq." The Polish delegate mocked Lukashenka and his "friends in Baghdad." Poland used to rule west Belarus between the world wars and Poles residing there are staunch supporters of the opposition to the wily president.
Belarus implausibly -- though vehemently -- denies any wrongdoing. Minsk is the target of delegations from every pariah state, from North Korea to Cuba. The Iraqi minister of military industry is a frequent visitor. Belarus has little choice. Boycotted and castigated by the West and multilateral lending institutions, it has to resort to its Soviet-era export markets for trade and investments.
The Belarus Act, a proposed bill pending in Congress, would grant massive economic assistance to the fledgling opposition and impose economic sanctions on the much-decried regime. Hitherto supported by an increasingly reluctant Russia, Lukashenka, having expelled the OSCE monitoring and advisory team, remains utterly isolated.
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