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The Last Soviet Republic: Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus Paperback – August 16, 2007
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About the Author
Stewart Parker is a graduate in Philosophy, and in Peace and War studies. He is a qualified healthcare professional, is married and has a son.
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Rest assured, you will not find a better book covering modern Belarus. Almost all of the books in Amazon's recommended readings about Belarus fall back on stale stereotypes of Lukashenko as "Europe's last dictator," the phrase used by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The authors may have more prestigious credentials next to their name, but these books have none of the original analysis offered in Parker's book.
At some point, a more authoritative account of Belarussian history will need to be written. Parker's book is relatively short and deals more with modern Belarus than the past. However, this is the best introduction that a casual reader can get on this fascinating country that resisted the wave of counter-revolutions experienced across Eastern Europe in the 1990s.
I found his "matter of fact" approach, backed up by source information, to be quite enjoyable. Parker doesn't "beat you over the head." While the author does not openly side with Communism, his objective and logical presentation backed by his research puts the October Revolution, industrialization, collectivization, etc. in a more realistic and positive light than the stereotypical image presented by most western political hacks that masquerade as writers.
Parker's coverage of President Lukashenko and the situation in Belarus after the dissolution of the Soviet Union is detailed and accurate. He reports on this in the main part of the book with the same objectivity, logic, and use of source materials as he does in the first one quarter of the book that is devoted to the country's history. His coverage of Belarus' social and economic systems, human rights policies, international relations, etc. is meticulous and very well presented. The sections that expose and lay bare the United States' hypocrisy and double standards regarding Belarus are worth the price of the book!
I believe this is an excellent book and is MUST reading for anyone who desires to learn the truth about President Lukashenko and Belarus. It is certainly the most objective book that I've read on Belarus and Soviet history by a western author.
This man has been demonized and deserves a fair assessment.
One weekness of Parkers book is that he fails to explain why Belarus have had a better economic development than Russia and Ukraine and even quite decent compared with all the former Soviet Rebublics. As Verena Fritz shows in "State-building" (highly recommended), the former Soviet Republics with a stable consolidated political regime - either democtratic or authoritan (Belarus could probably best be described as a democratorship in this respect) - have performed much better than those left in political chaos (as Russia and Ukraine), War (As Tadjikistan and Armenia) or both (as Moldova and Georgia).
A more serious weekness of Parker's book is that the book contains a lot of examples of errors in the specter between inaccuracies and share disinformation.
One example is Parkers coverage of the Karapaty mass-graves outside Minsk where the best scientific estimates suggests that 220.000-250.000 dead bodies are burried after being shot by the NKVD during the 1930s purges. Parker suggests the number is 30.000 and that it is not known whether the bodies was killed by the NKVD or the Germans during the war. Though the number of killed is disputed, it is an undisputable scientific fact that the murdered are vicums ot the NKVD purges. As the archeologist Zianon Pazniak and engineer Auhien Smyhalou who were responsible for the archeological project when the mass grave was first found in 1988 have documented in their report, we know that they are killed by the NKVD because of the ammonuition used, coins found on the victims that are no newer than from 1936 and other sources documenting that the mass graves was used by the NKVD from 1937-1940 and that the Germans did not invade the area before 1941. Instead of this scientific material Parker base his disinforamtion on revisionist rethorics a la "can you be really, really sure" supported by the Lukashenka administration.
Another example of disinoformation is the disappearance of the oppositional politician Victor Gonchar and his friend Anatoly Krasovsky, who dissappeared from Minsk the 16th of September 1999. Parker argue that it is unlikely that they were murdered because another person missing, Zakharenko, later turned out to be alive and living in London. Further that the Lukashenka government on several occations have claimed that they have taken the investigation of the dissappearence very seriously. Third, Parker claims, it would be counterproductive for the authorities to get rid of a political opponent. On the other hand, the murder of the two missing persons is documented on video-tape. The tape recoreded by two oppostional politicians shows how they climb over the fences of a KGB owned area (acting after a tip from a source that later also disappeared) and starts digging in the ground where they were told the bodies were hid until the hit their dead bodies in the ground. In addition to releasing the video-tape to the public, the two persons who recorded it had to flee Belarus and was given political asylum abroad. Aage Storm Borchrevink has interviewed them and let them tell their story in his book "Eurostories" (as far as I know it is only published in Norwegian. Neither the immigration authorities who checked out their stories when they applied for asylum or the Helsinki commitee have been able to find any mismatches in their stories.
A third example of Parker's disinformation regards the independent media. According to Parker 555 out of 776 newspapers in Belarus was independent i 2005. I have not checked out theese numbers, but assume that it is true. What Parker does not write is that all the independent newspapers together is printed in 300.000 copies, while the biggest pro-regime newspaper published by the state alone is printed in 500.000 copies. Neither does Parker write anything about that all distribution of newspapers in Belarus is done through state postal system only, charging 4-5 times as much for distribution of independent newspapers as it does for stateowned newspapers. In addition the taxes on independent newspapers is twice as high as for state owned. As there is a tency towards that advertisers in independent newspapers gets surprising visits from the tax police, they often hessitate to advertise in independent newspapers. Information from Reporters without borders and the Helsinki commitee backs up this information.
2 examples Parker gives of independent newspapers that has been closed is Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volia that, accroding to Parker's claims, after several warnings for anti-semittic journalism were closed in 2006 and 2005 respetively. According to Reporters without borders Nasha Niva was closed as a result of their landlord broke off their lease after he was visited by the secret police. In October 2003, former Czech President Václav Havel granted the cash portion of the Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award to "Nasha Niva" editor Andrey Dynko. The Award is given each year by the Prague Society for International Cooperation to an individual who has dedicated his or her life to public service with the stipulation that the financial portion of the award be passed to a gifted young person. "I pass this award to Mr. Dynko because we, who have benefited so much from international solidarity, must show solidarity ourselves," Havel said at the award ceremony in Prague. You can think for yourself what version you belive in.
I could have given a lot of more examples. I belaive that the ones that I have given is more than enough to demonstrate the pattern in Parkers writing though. Facts tends to be left out of the story. When they are included he uses vague rethorics to make the situation unclear, rather than present the basic facts that will make it clear to the reader. It is hardly relevant in the disappearence over that another missed person, later turned up alive or for the suppression of independent nbewspapers in general that the Lukashenka regime also has closed two anti-semittic newspapers. Neither is it very clearifying to ask rethorical questions like "why should Lukashenka want to do anything like that", instead of giving the reader the available facts so that they can make up their own opinion based on avaialbe information.
Parker is right that much of the information about Belarus in international media is not very informative, biased or both. Unfortunately a better source of information is not given in Parkers book.