Israel Shamir in Belarus as International Observer

by Joseph W

Israel Shamir in Belarus

Index on Censorship reports:

For Belarussians their nation’s politics often seems to be a rehearsed game played out by two big actors; Russia and the EU. Earlier in the year there was real optimism amongst those opposed to the regime of President Lukashenko after the Kremlin became increasingly tired of their old ally. The President had made the unforgivable error of refusing to recognise separatist Georgian enclaves. He had also become a bit of a regional embarrassment with his unfortunate habit of playing the pantomime villain by cosying up to every vile dictator from Mugabe, through to Ahmedinejad and Chavez. Russian TV showed films such as “Godbatka” about the suspicious disappearance of opponents. Lukashenko’s anti-Semitism, which takes the form of turning Jewish holy sites into multi-storey car parks has even been discussed with Russian broadcasters comparing him to Hitler. As Belarus lost around 1 in 3 of its people during World War 2, it’s sharp criticism.

Here’s where the realpolitik kicks in. With souring relations with Russia, the EU moved to court Lukaskenko. The foreign ministers of Germany and Poland proposed a potential $3.5 billion EU aid package, in return for ‘free and fair’ elections. It’s a bad deal for taxpayers. Knowing the opposition had little chance of uniting behind a single candidate (there are 9 opposition candidates in all) and with dissent smothered by his police state during his current 4 year term, Lukashenko had little to lose by running a relatively “free” election.

And there have been some significant changes since the last Presidential elections in 2006. For the first time, opposition candidates were given access to state-run television. There was even a televised debate on government-controlled television, albeit one which Lukashenko deigned not to attend. Candidates have also held huge public rallies, a sea-change since 2006, with hundreds of thousands of people queuing to co-sign their candidates’ election papers.

Yet, like every election since 1996 there have been serious electoral irregularities. Soldiers and students have been forced to vote early with lecturers demanding their students accompany them to the polls. An anonymous article by a former polling station worker claimed that electoral lists are topped up by 10 – 12 per cent with the names of government employees and teachers (both groups traditionally loyal to the President) from other districts in order to grant them 2nd votes, after they have cast their 1st vote elsewhere.

As IFEX reported a year ago [pdf], there is little independent media. In this environment, it’s been near impossible for candidates to build the profile they need to take on Lukashenko.

CNN reports that many Byelorussians are concerned about the vote count:

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has repeatedly expressed concerns over the status of civil and political rights in Belarus. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once called Lukashenko “the last dictator in Europe.”

The OSCE said in a statement Monday that its observers reported while the election showed improvement, “Belarus still has a considerable way to go in meeting its OSCE commitments.” It noted the detention of candidates as well as activists, journalists and others.

“While voting on election day was overall assessed positively, the process deteriorated significantly during the vote count, with observers assessing almost half of vote counts monitored as bad or very bad,” the organization said. “This undermined the steps that had been taken to improve the election.”

“This election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed,” said Tony Lloyd, who leads a short-term OSCE mission and heads the delegation of the organization’s Parliamentary Assembly. “The counting process lacked transparency. The people of Belarus deserved better. And, in particular, I now expect the government to account for the arrests of presidential candidates, journalists and human rights activists.”

I do not think that these  concerns are shared by Wikileaks’ man in Russia, Israel Shamir.

This week he has been in Minsk to observe Belarus’ presidential elections.

Charter 97 reports:

“Head of the Belarusian President’s Administration Uladzimri Makei had a meeting with Israel Shamir, representative of WikiLeaks website’s founder.”

A photo correspondent of the site manage to take picture of the only Russian-speaking WikiLeaks accredited journalist Israel Shamir standing on steps of the president’s administration building. Shamir arrived in Belarus to observe the country’s presidential election on December 19.

The president’s administration restrains from commenting on the matter of the conversation between Uladzimir Makei and Assange’s representative. However, taking into account that the Russian media have already started spreading information about WikiLeaks’ publishing of secret cables of the US Department of State regarding Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s position on the Georgian war and Nord Stream pipeline construction, it may be supposed that the subject was Belarusian files on WikiLeaks.

Ironically, after all the conspiracy theories about Julian Assange of Wikileaks meeting with Israeli secret services, here we read of Israel Shamir of Wikileaks actually meeting with Belarussian government officials!

Belarussian news site Interfax reports on Shamir’s presence in Minsk.

According to the article, Shamir claims that the Belarussian opposition is working for the USA:

I. Shamir present in Minsk as an international observer during the presidential elections as the only accredited journalist at the Russian-speaking site Wikikeaks.

“In my opinion, people and spend grants. Of course, the U.S. grants they practice”, – said I. Shamir, commenting on the incident at the Independence Square in Minsk.

“If we look at Wikileaks, then there was today published a dispatch, which refers to the black channel of” who is the Belarusian opposition. It says that anyone caught with 25 thousand dollars of “live” money. We have to think that it is not unique case, “- said the source.

In his opinion, the financial mechanism of the Belarusian opposition is a complex system of interaction between state and formally independent funds. “For example, the American Foundation National Endowment for Democracy – is one such organization which is engaged in nurse opposition. Such organizations are trying to impose the American model in his own way”, – said I. Shamir.

“On the other hand, of course, there are many ordinary people who do not understand. They do not understand that their hands and spend grants. Unfortunately, the way the world” – he stated.

At the same time I. Shamir said that expresses his personal view, not the views of Wikileaks. “Wikileaks has no political line,” – said the expert.

Not the view of Wikileaks, of course – just the view of Wikileaks’ representative in Russia.

Aside from Wikileaks, I find it incredible that Israel Shamir is an international observer now.

Recently, others have expressed concerns about Shamir’s involvement in Eastern European politics. Commenting on Wikileaks’ employment of Shamir, Andrew Brown wrote in the Guardian:

Given the tight if murky links between the Russian security apparatus and the quasi-fascist Nationalist movement with which Shamir is associated there, it has worrying implications for the security of anyone named in the cables. This is not because the cables themselves are inaccurate, but because they are not.

It was very perceptive of Andrew Brown to make a link between Israel Shamir’s role as Wikileaks’ man in Russia, and Far Right nationalism in Russia.

Taking a look at Shamir’s Russian-language livejournal, we see many themes running through his website which are familiar to those associated with Far Right Russian nationalism. Shamir tends towards a political identity which consists largely of opposing homosexuals, Jews and other ethnic minorities.

These themes are evident in this article Shamir wrote for the East and West Review. Here, Shamir complains about gays as a false minority group like the Jews and the Ingrians who will advance Western “Roman” ideas which will damage Russia’s Eastern “Byzantine” identity.

Naturally, there is also the matter of Shamir’s Holocaust denial. Shamir believes that it is the duty of every Muslim and Christian to deny the Holocaust.

This very week, Shamir is calling for support on the Far Right for his Spanish publisher Pedro Varela, a neo-Nazi arrested in Catalonia who claims that Anne Frank’s diary is a hoax.

Shamir describes Varela as “a man of great learning and modest habits”. He thinks Varela was arrested as part of a Jewish-Catalan conspiracy.”

A few days ago, direct questions were put to him, Wikileaks’ chief Kristin Hraffnson appeared unconcerned about Shamir’s antisemitism and other extreme views. Perhaps now is the time for Wikileaks to distance themselves from Shamir in a clear and unambiguous way.

Increasingly, it seems that Israel Shamir is being given credibility by repressive, reactionary regimes – and Wikileaks.