Today’s New York Times published a rather grim outlook on the presence of Soviet era’s secret services in the countries of the old Warsaw Pact.
The case of Alexander V. Litvinenko, the former K.G.B. agent who was poisoned in London in November, would not seem out of place here, where a death threat in Romania, a suicide in Bulgaria and unbroken silence on several unsolved murders provide clues to the continued presence of the secret services today.
Some members of the secret police remain in place. Others took advantage of the state-asset fire sale that came with the dismantling of centrally planned economies and are now quietly powerful players.
Modern-day Belarus, similarly to Russia, resembles a cobweb of various security structures described in detail in a book of Oleg Alkaev “Death Squad.” These interdependent, or competing, groups have bloomed during the long 12 years of Lukashenko rule. The first, and so far the only, Belarusian President has created a network of “siloviki” (a common term to describe law-enforcement structures) to suppress any blossoms of dissent, and so far his servants have succeeded in this rather straightforward mission.
What worries me is the great number of them, those K.G.B. agents, well-paid and dishonest judges, special task force officers, secret service operatives, etc. Belarus by far is the most militarized country in Europe if to count all those various cops and agents who found an easy way to earn money in spheres where not too much thinking is required.
Where will those people be when their services are not needed any longer? But that is just a tip of the iceberg. Consider this. Lukashenko is famous for ruining small and mid-sized businesses and private initiatives. But take a bus, go around the country, talk to the locals, and you will be surprised to find out that in many, many provincial towns, the mayors’ sons and relatives have been opening stores, restaurants, and hotels. In Minsk it happens on a far larger scale; those local barons and “siloviki,” just like in Russia, are buying up Belarus, and their cobweb is growing wider and denser.
What Lukashenko has managed to achieve is that many “unreliable” entrepreneurs are out of business, and diverse markets are now controlled by his people and the people designated by his people. The cobweb. Call it however you want, maybe you can call me paranoid for such fears, but I do sense a network of mob-alike structures forming in my homeland, and this is scary. Unless you are in accord with the regime, you cannot make a lot of money in Belarus – this is almost an axiom. And sadly, the network of those who serve the regime, especially “siloviki,” are now establishing themselves as businesspeople. They look further into the future and build up their careers now, planning their lives in post-Lukashenko era.
In the period after the fall of the various European Communist states in 1989–1991, some countries employed the policy of lustration. In other words, limiting participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in the successor governments or even in civil service positions. But in our case with every other year of Lukashenko’s rule, the prospect of lustration seems to be more and more unrealistic. What we can aspire for is, at least, to sack the judges who sentenced political activists and to fire the most notorious “siloviki,” well, maybe imprison a couple if we can prove their guilt for some of the atrocious acts committed these years. But we cannot purge the entire country of all these diverse and terribly corrupt nomenclature, bureaucrats, and loyal servants of the current regime. Simply there are too many of them.
And what is really bad is that this cobweb will hold us on a leash for long, long years aggravating our European prospects. A very serious danger Belarus will face after the demise of the regime is resurgence of criminal structures and, I even can guess, appearance of very vast and powerful organized criminal groups firmly intertwined within the Belarusian economy. Oh, well, maybe I just need a cup of coffee.