Tom Stoppard: We must not be distracted from this brutality

Are we going to let this village tyrant enjoy a respite from scrutiny and accountability

Share
Related Topics

Is the Belarus story important? Careful how you answer. The story doesn't photograph well, and it's hopeless for TV. The mere fact of a corrupt and vindictive autocracy is hardly news anyway in this wicked world.

So you could be forgiven for asking: set against the scale and violence of the retaliation by autocracies in North Africa and the Gulf, don't we have worse things to worry about than the crimes of Alexander Lukashenko and his bully boys?

It's the wrong question.

Better to ask: are we going to let this village tyrant enjoy a respite from scrutiny and accountability because, for the moment, our attention is engaged by larger, louder, more sensational and more photographable news elsewhere?

"President" Lukashenko rigged his election, and is now busy rigging the trials of the opposition candidates who presumed to stand against him. They were among hundreds arrested. More than 30 are held in the KGB cells in Minsk. Others are under house arrest and close guard. Things are shaping up for a legalistic atrocity.

My interest in all this is not impersonal. One of the presidential candidates, Andrei Sannikov, has been a friend since I met him in Minsk a few years ago. So, too, his wife Irina. (Both have been arrested, charged and detained.)

I also met Vladimir Neklyaev, another candidate (arrested, badly beaten up, awaiting trial under house arrest) who – would you believe – is the Belarusian national poet.

There was no need for any of this. Lukashenko has had a lock on this country for at least a dozen years – going back to a very dark period when four of his most active and prominent opponents disappeared in murderous circumstances. Last December, he was home and dry again with a huge notional majority, and – let it be said – for many of the older voters, especially army veterans, he represented the national pride in independence, as well as a dictatorial stability.

When some 10,000 people gathered for a peaceful demo on the Sunday after the election, diplomats who came to observe things concluded there was going to be no trouble, and returned to their embassies. Then, late at night, thousands more citizens who had kept back came to the same conclusion. Before midnight the crowd had tripled. It was then that the army waded in with astonishing brutality.

It looks in hindsight, for there were some pre-emptive strikes against individuals, that Lukashenko had decided on a showdown. It was as though dissent, which he might have deemed an irritant, had become an affront to his majesty.

So now Belarus festers like a blister on the map of polite, politic Europe.

What is to be done?

To start with, in Europe's acronymic maze there is something called the OSCE – the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. It has the right to invoke, by vote, a procedure called the "Moscow mechanism", by which, amazingly, it can force any European country to accept investigators into malpractice. The Moscow mechanism is a rare recourse, but Belarus seems like an appropriate occasion for it.

Second, and more piquantly, there is the course of launching a private suit in a civil court against Lukashenko personally. There is a group of lawyers who have been examining this possibility for weeks now. It has looked like a long shot (there are issues of national sovereignty) but last week a new factor entered the argument: torture.

Ales Mikhalevich, presidential candidate, arrested, charged and released by the KGB into house arrest, publicly tore up his deal to keep quiet, and described the treatment he had received at the hands of the secret police, including being stripped naked and kept outdoors in sub-zero temperatures.

In the words of one of the lawyers, "torture is a game changer". European foreign ministers, including our own, seem to need a game changer, too. Is this the moment for their actions to suit their words?

Tom Stoppard is on the board of the Belarus Committee, a group of NGOs and individuals brought together to campaign on Belarus

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup