When a colleague passed on a link to an article defending the Belarussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko, I took it for granted that it was written by professional useful idiot Neil Clark, an unreconstructed communist that, for reasons unclear, manages to publish in most of Britain's mainstream newspapers and political magazines. His latest masterpiece, from The New Statesman:
[Minsk] is a capital city where the streets are safe and clean, where ordinary people can still afford to buy medicine and basic foodstuffs and where the unemployment rate is less than 1 per cent. It's the side of Belarus you won't read much about. After last month's presidential elections—in which Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected to serve a fourth term with almost 80 per cent of the vote—the arrest of opposition candidates and hundreds of their supporters led to the reappearance of the old "last dictatorship in Europe" headlines… While other former Soviet republics rushed to embrace capitalism following the fall of the Berlin Wall, privatising their state-owned enterprises and removing subsidies to industry and agriculture, Belarus kept the old collectivist flame alive….
Our guide Natalia proudly escorts us round the factory museum, with its scale models of BelAZ vehicles. There is a photograph of a beaming Hugo Chávez, a strong ally of Lukashenko (he recently said that Venezuela would supply Belarus with oil for the next 200 years), driving a BelAZ truck. This is more than just a company—it's an extended family. There is a sanatorium for the workers, two sports and fitness centres, and a cultural centre where a theatre collective plays. Such enterprises used to be common in eastern Europe before 1989—but economic reform put a stop to all that.
Of course, Clark loves the "wonderfully retro ministry of economy" in Minsk, the "statues of Lenin [that] still line the streets," and that his "guidebook describes [Belarus] as a country 'so unspoilt by the trappings of western materialism that it's very easy to feel a sense of having slipped into another time and dimension.'" For a reality check, read Timothy Snyder's post on the Belarussian elections at the notoriously imperialist New York Review of Books.
And for weekend reading, I offer some of Clark's greatest hits: Here he is writing at The First Post (owned by The Week) in defense of Hungarian communism ("Because the accounts we read in the West are nearly always from the hostile perspective of upper or middle-class émigrés or dissidents, the achievements of communism in eastern Europe have tended to be ignored"); calling Iraqi interpreters seeking political asylum "Quislings" in The Guardian (or this piece, shrugging that Serbian leader Zoran Djindjic was assassinated because he was too was "a Quisling"); an earlier defense of Lukashenko (and Milosevic and Chavez) and a celebration of Ahmadinejad's economic policies that "empower the working class," both from The Guardian; and a good chuckle at those who believe the old saw about "communist tyranny" (Clark's scare quotes) in Eastern Europe.