Alexander Lukashenko: He’s a dictator, but at least he’s not gay

A student guest post about Lukashenko, Belarus’ president who is sometimes referred to as “Europe’s last dictator.”


Lukashenko picture from the Der Spiegel story ‘Better To Be a Dictator than Gay,’ available from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/better-to-be-a-dictator-than-gay-germany-slams-lukashenko-over-slur-a-819458.html

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s comment describing Belarus as “Europe’s last dictatorship” resonated strongly worldwide and, along with actions by Belarusian police on Election Day in 2010, has prompted a general resistance against any kind of international diplomacy with the nation. Everyone seemed to take it very seriously; everyone except for Lukashenko, that is. Upon hearing about Westerwelle’s comment, all he had to say was, “Whoever was shouting about dictatorship there … when I heard that, I thought: it’s better to be a dictator than gay.”

Westerwelle is Germany’s first openly homosexual foreign minister. Germany effectively rolled their eyes at the comment. Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stated that Lukashenko’s remark “shows very clearly the position that the Belarus president takes in relation to basic rights. It’s interesting to find out this way that Mr. Lukashenko too now classes himself as a dictator.” Lukashenko has openly demonstrated his bigotry in the past, and has certainly not been limited to homophobia; he has been notorious for making sexist and anti-Semitic statements shamelessly, in public. It appears that this man is fully aware of the control he has over his population, and has little fear that any of his actions could endanger his role as Belarus’ “president”.

Lukashenko (Image from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1036512/The-comb-Soviet-style-tyrant-soon-Wests-favourite-allies.html)

The Soviet experience has shaped Lukashenko’s career and reputation considerably is his upbringing and life before becoming the first President of Belarus. Unlike many of his counterparts – the other leaders of post-Soviet republics – Lukashenko was never a part of an anti-Soviet resistance movement or a member of an anti-Communist political party. In fact, he benefitted greatly from the Communist system, as he was a collective farm manager throughout the 1980s. This background of having such close proximity with the working class and an understanding of the “travails of simple people” gave him an edge during his presidential campaign, despite his relative lack of political experience. Also, because of this background, Belarus is the only post-Soviet republic that still uses collectivized farming, and 80% of farms are state-owned. All other republics have, to some degree, privatized their agricultural systems. This has led to several problems for Belarusian agriculture, such as a resistance against organic farming, due to the disconnect between the government and the farm managers. This is one of many cases that evidence the fact that Lukashenko is becoming increasingly oblivious to the needs of his people, and his working-man appeal may be wearing off entirely.

As I’ve discussed before, Lukashenko prides himself over the incredible election turnout in the country, especially for presidential elections. These are the official numbers, as provided by the
Belarusian government:

Belarus' voter turnout data from http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?id=35
Belarus’ voter turnout data from http://www.idea.int/vt/countryview.cfm?id=35

These figures are exceptional, and if legitimate, are among the top five nations in terms of political participation. Belarus’ incredibly low democracy rating, however, would imply otherwise- actual voter turnout is estimated to be closer to 40% by the OSCE. Tony Lloyd, leader of the the short-term OSCE observer mission in Belarus, stated that “(The 2010) election failed to give Belarus the new start it needed… the counting process lacked transparency. The people of Belarus deserved better.” Apparently, the 79% of Belarusians who voted for Lukashenko may, in fact, have been misrepresented. Medvedev has defended the legitimacy of these elections, however, in just another case of Russian support of the Belarusian autocracy. He has been so successful in his control over the Belarusian people, in fact, that Putin has modeled many of his means of control after Lukashenko’s strategies.

Beyond being autocratic, it appears that the Belarusian executive system is going to become a patriarchy as well. Although he is very young, at nine years old, it appears that Lukashenko’s third and allegedly illegitimate son Nikolai is being groomed to assume his father’s role as President of Belarus. It is difficult to understand why Lukashenko has taken such an affinity for Niko, as he has outright dismissed his oldest son Viktor as “a useless weakling who will soon become even weaker” and his second son, Dmitri, as simply “irrelevant.” He has stated, just as bluntly, that he fully intends for Nikolai to become president one day. He has gone so far as to take his son along with him to meetings with high-ranking military officials and other heads of state. “My son, so to speak, is my tail. I can’t leave him with anyone. He says, ‘Papa, I’m going with you,’ and that’s it! I get in the helicopter – he follows.” It seems that Nikolai will be following his father in the political sense as well, down the road, and given Lukashenko’s success in maintaining power and his relatively young age, it seems unlikely that we will see any other president in the interim.

References

 Images (cited in order of appearence)

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