THE authoritarian president of Belarus has praised his regime’s secret police as representing the “best traditions” of the Cheka, the feared forerunner of Soviet Russia’s KGB.
Alexander Lukashenko used his annual “State Security Day” address to boost that his secret police could trace its lineage back to the Cheka, which murdered and tortured thousands of people during the Red Terror campaign in post-revolutionary Russia.
“Being a successor of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission, the Belarusian security services have travelled a long path of development over the past 95 years,” he said. “They have embraced the best traditions of their forefathers, the most important of which is honest service to the Fatherland.
“Today the KGB professionally addresses its tasks, serves as a reliable shield to protect Belarus against domestic and external threats and makes a considerable contribution to preserving the sovereignty and integrity of our country” he added.
Mr Lukashenko appeared happy to link the Belarusian KGB to the Cheka despite the bloody history of the old organisation.
Founded just a month after the November Revolution of 1917, the Cheka became a law unto itself, imprisoning, torturing and executing thousands. Its guards also policed the nascent Gulag system and were involved in requisitioning food.
The speech does nothing to dilute Mr Lukashenko’s reputation for authoritarianism in a country he has dominated since its formation in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since he came to power in 1994, he has faced repeated accusations of human rights abuses, and Human Rights Watch recently described his government as “increasingly repressive”.
“Nobody in Belarus will find this comparison with the Cheka outrageous,” warned Yuliya Sluckaya, former editor of Belarus’s largest independent newspapers and now president of the Solidarity with Belarus Information Office in Warsaw. “There is a statue of Felix Dzerzhinski, its founder, in front of the KGB building in Minsk. It is also no secret that Mr Lukashenko is losing support in Belarus so his relationship with the KGB since the 2010 elections has become central to his hold on power.”
Mr Lukashenko could also be mindful of an internal challenge, following his sacking last month of the KGB chief Vadim Zaitsev, over the apparent suicide of a senior officer.