Guards stand at a military camp near the Belarus-Poland border. (Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times)
Guards stand at a military camp near the Belarus-Poland border.

Maciek Nabrdalik for The New York Times

Allen Hates Politics, Part 8

November 19, 2021

I hate Alexander Lukashenko.

I am an unabashed Taylor Swift fan – a Swiftie, if you will. My life blood is “Wildest Dreams.” My entire emotional spectrum is just all the lyrics of “Love Story,” “The Way I Loved You,” “You Belong With Me” and “Jump Then Fall.” For the past several years, I have followed Taylor’s highs and lows.

But lately, I’ve been feeling Taylor’s tunes a little bit less. I’ve listened to “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” countless times this week, each song being seemingly catchy as always but never as resonating as it once was when I listened to it upon release. I hate to admit it, but perhaps I am growing out of “Fearless.”

I turned 17 in late August and “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” just hasn’t been the same. How can I listen to “Love Story” or “15” and not think to myself, “I am old as rocks” or something of the sort? I’m not a freshman or 15 years old anymore. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that 15-year-old me and current me are not remotely the same person. I feel too disconnected from that younger whippersnapper that once inhabited this body of mine and my capability to feel that lightning-in-a-bottle high school love has diminished severely.

As the temporal distance between my current and adult self closes, the emotional distance from songs like “Love Story” and “15” also increases, as if adulthood was pulling me away from these songs I once belted while washing the dishes. The solution, I’ve found out, is to just let loose a little bit and stop trying to “act my age.” In times of need, I can unchain my 15-year-old self and just enjoy these songs as the little prick I once was (or maybe still am). 

This was really just a long-winded way to say: flashback to my 15-year-old self. August 9, 2020. I don’t remember what I was doing that day at all. I suppose I was just doing some 15-year-old shenanigans, like listening to “22”, hoping to ditch the whole scene and fall in love with strangers. I was just 15-years-old and completely unaware that Alexander Lukashenko had just been elected for his sixth term as Belarusian president (quite unethically, might I add). 

Flashback again to the fall of the Soviet Union. Exactly 13 years before I was born, Belarus would receive independence in 1991. Lukashenko at the time would be serving as the Deputy to the Supreme Council of the Republic of Belarus until 1994, when the first Belarusian constitution was enacted. Lukashenko would then campaign as Belarus’s first president. 

Although not even being the favorite, Lukashenko won easily, with 45.1% of the first vote and then 80.1% in the runoff. Lukashenko would never lose an “election” ever since, serving as Belarus’s first and only president since its independence from the Soviet Union. President Lukashenko would come under fire from basically everyone in the following years. His critics encompass: Mike Pompeo, the International Olympic Committee, the Russian media and much more.

The more you read about Lukashenko, the more you realize how much of a horrible human being Lukashenko is. This guy is tied to a laundry list of horrifying crimes all for the purpose of maintaining his political legitimacy. His extreme crackdown of political opposition has earned him the title of “Europe’s Last Dictator.” 

So here I am, 15 years of age, doing whatever it is that 15-year-olds do, while Lukashenko goes on a tear in Europe. But I imagine if my 15-year-old self did end up finding out about what’s happening now, he would be telling the story as such:

(freshman accent) Well first, Lukashenko in 2020 is all like, “Oh my god, how dare you tell me the election was fraudulent,” and then proceeds to tell the police to arrest and beat up 35,000 protestors. And then the European Union (EU) and the U.S. were all like, “What the heck, dude,” and then imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials. But Lukie is not having any of it so in May 2021 he’s like, “Aw, now you’ve made big dog mad,” and then diverted an entire airplane from Lithuania to Belarus so he could arrest a journalist he had beef with. Obviously, the EU was not good with that and then put tougher sanctions on Belarus. 

(still freshman accent) But now Lukie Pookie is all, “I can’t believe you did that,” and then was all like, “Okay, guess I won’t be accepting migrants now.” So now migrants from Syria, Iraq and other places that were supposed to reside in Belarus are piling up at the Poland-Belarus border and it’s a total dumpster fire because you know, it’s cold and there’s no food or shelter. But they can’t get through the border because of, like, laws and stuff, so the migrants are just trying to force or sneak out of Belarus any way they can. 

(regular self) Thank you for that wonderful primer. In essence, Lukashenko (Lukie Pookie) is using migrants as a bargaining chip against the EU, basically saying, “I will make the migrant crisis worse if you don’t concede stuff to me.” Which is definitely against some international law, but Lukashenko simply doesn’t care. And also what types of “concessions” Lukashenko wants isn’t entirely clear – could be stopping immigration into Belarus, could be ending sanctions. What we do know is that it is a standoff. Both sides are waiting for the other to succumb to the pressure: Belarus dealing with EU’s sanctions and the EU dealing with the humanitarian border crisis. And with that, the stage is set.

Some obvious winners and losers can be made out. 

Loser: Belarusian officials. Belarusian officials, who are also Lukashenko’s buddies, are being heavily sanctioned. And the EU is really making them regret ever getting involved in Lukashenko’s scheme. The sanctions consisted of travel bans, asset freezes and “called on the [European] Council to adopt measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines,” according to a press release. This is a real stinger, as the EU is making life miserable for these top officials. Travel bans are pretty straightforward: no more leaving the country for the time being. Sucks. Asset freezes are where a person is barred from accessing their money. Sucks even more. And Belarusian airlines can’t leave the country as well. Sucks, sucks, sucks. It’s not limited to just the officials, Lukashenko and his family are facing even harsher punishments. Simply put, their lives are worse, period, and they gain pretty much nothing from involving themselves in Lukashenko’s all out brawl with the EU. They get the Loser stamp.

Loser: migrants. They’re all stuck in a perpetual, cold, bare limbo that is the Belarus-Poland border. Supposedly, state-run Belarusian travel companies facilitated the diffusion of travel documents into immigrant hands, in which the immigrants were promptly escorted to the Polish border. The Polish, confused and stubborn, told the immigrants “no.” By that point, the Belarusians dusted off their hands and declared that they wanted nothing more of the situation. So here we are, the immigrants not allowed back into Belarus, not allowed into bordering states and without food or shelter – the perfect concoction for a humanitarian crisis. Migrants didn’t really get to play, but were rather the negative consequence of Lukashenko’s pettiness. 

Loser: Lukashenko. Look, Belarus is a lovely country, but it is nothing compared to the scope and power of the European Union. Lukashenko is ultimately using an underhanded move, to say the least, holding immigrants hostage at the Belarus-Poland border until the EU caves in. But tit-for-tat, the EU just has so much more at their disposal than Lukashenko. Sanctions, for starters, but also the capabilities to dissolve the migrant crisis on their own terms and take away Lukashenko’s main weapon. Just one main issue…

Winner: Poland, kind of. I didn’t really consider Poland’s perspective at first, but their position continues to evolve in importance as the situation escalates. This article probably wouldn’t even be written if Poland does what everyone is thinking: just allow in the migrants. But realize that Poland is run by a right-wing government and they hate immigrants. Latvia and Lithuania, neighboring Belarus, are right alongside Poland in locking up their borders, so why does Poland have the most to gain from this situation? It all comes down to a previous conflict that Poland is having with the EU. According to the New York Times, “the European Union is locked in a major confrontation with the right-wing Polish government about the supremacy of European law over Polish law and about restrictions on the independence of the judiciary.”

That sounds complicated and don’t worry, it’s not important, thankfully. What’s important is that the EU is withholding funds from Poland intended to stimulate their economy post-COVID because of this scuffle… and Poland is not happy about it. But Poland has a nice opportunity to strike a conversation with the EU, because you know who the EU hates more than Poland right now? You bet – Lukashenko. In fact, the EU hates him so much that they’re willing to not only side with Poland, but also chat with them and possibly give them funds to lock up their border.

Poland is not only back on talking terms with the European Council, but the EU is also considering giving them money for their border (?!). For the right-wing government, this is an early Christmas gift. But there’s a little caveat (or two), as there always is, first being that Belarus now dislikes Poland. By getting friendly with the EU, Poland now makes enemies with Lukashenko. So what did I mean by “lock up their border?” It’s nothing like locking a door in your house. For national borders, I mean guns and soldiers. Belarus is on the same page, bringing their own militia and their own tensions to the border. And with guns pointed at each other, shots fired could spell disaster for Poland.

Oh, and a second thing. Poland won’t accept the EU money. The Polish want to appear as if they’re handling the situation themselves without the aid of the EU, otherwise they could appear weak. To put a bow on this situation: Poland in talks with the EU and right-wing government flexing their anti-immigration policy to their people, net good for Polish administration.

Uhhhhh: EU. If I took a plane to Brussels, where the EU headquarters is located, right now, what I would witness would top any episode of “The Bachelor” or whatever drama you enjoy watching. It’s because geopolitics is a dirty, dirty business. It’s not like domestic electoral politics, where leaders try to be all sunny to voters and constituents. The only goal is win, by any means possible. That means force, alliances, power, but most importantly, calculation. 

It’s also because geopolitics is a ridiculous, childish business. Out of context, you’d think most geopolitical conflicts are mere playground fights or teenage drama stories. And Europe is just one big playground, one big cafeteria with a bunch of emotional youth.

The EU, in this analogy, is the adult in the room. Like a counselor in a school, the EU must mediate conflicts between their member nations. Lukashenko and Belarus are having their little temper tantrum, throwing stuff at the kids next to them (Poland, Latvia and Lithuania). On top of that, Poland got suspended, but now the counselor needs Poland to help settle down Lukashenko. Europe has always been one chaotic school that houses the most diverse (and spiteful) of children. 

For a counselor like the EU, it’s just been a busy day at work. To say that the EU is winning or losing is misleading. This is their job, settling things between these angsty teens or immature kids, however you choose to imagine the member nations. Of course, the stakes are far higher than any teen drama or playground beef. Thousands of migrant and asylum seeker’s lives are on the line. In fact, ten have already died at the time of me writing this. 

The right course of action for all players going forward is going to be helping the immigrants first. And there are so many ways to easily accomplish that. Stubbornness is really the only barrier at this point. Both Poland and Belarus could offer asylum to these migrants, but choose not to; the consequence being the deadly limbo I talked about before. The longer these childish countries continue to absolve themselves of any responsibility to the migrants, the more people will suffer on every side of the conflict as it escalates.

I was just 15 when this all started. I’m not that much older now, admittedly, and by that logic, not that much more mature or different from who I was then. Only about a year and a quarter has passed since then. And yet, in those 450 or so days, I can’t help but feel that songs I loved, or even started to love – “15” and “betty” and “august” and “You Belong With Me” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – are slowly getting away from me. Childhood escapes me as my age creeps me into an inevitable adulthood that entails taxes, careers and um, other stuff. 

Geopolitics, by contrast, remains young and constant: a magical and also terrifying Neverland of humankind, the place where nobody ages and nothing changes for as long as history has known conflict. It’s a testament for us as human beings, perhaps. That people, even in government and in our most distinguished positions of power, are just petty, bratty, awful kids beyond the veils of professionalism. The ways in which countries interact with each other surprisingly resemble the silly ways in which kids on a playground bicker or teens gossip. Not that I’m any better; everyone has their inner child… or is a child. And even as I age, I’ll find strange entertainment in the dramas of geopolitics, where world leaders unleash their 15-year-old selves, make petty, horrendous decisions and maybe scream Taylor Swift at the top of their lungs. Kind of like how I was and always will be, just a little less nowadays.

In conclusion, I hate politics.

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