The first and so far only Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has remarkably never lost his everyman attitude or his penchant to speak simply and directly despite spending 26 years at the helm
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 07th July, 2020) The first and so far only Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has remarkably never lost his everyman attitude or his penchant to speak simply and directly despite spending 26 years at the helm.
With decades of experience in dealing with politicians, diplomats and leaders who weigh their every word and speak in guarded halftones, Lukashenko's avoidance of highfalutin language has never wavered, from addressing the United Nations General Assembly to shaking hands with a small town compatriot.
This makes the president a treasure trove for witty comments for journalists, internet users and voters. Many of his sayings are instantly recognizable across the Russian-speaking world, while internet memes and montages of his ad-libbed phrases take on a life of their own.
Sputnik has painstakingly combed his plethora of public appearances to bring just a tiny fraction of Lukashenko's most standout utterances. This text samples the Belarusian strongman's views of his country, its people, himself and the world around with a clarity unthinkable from any other leader.
Lukashenko characterizes Belarus with traditionally warm and lyrical metaphors such as "an island of stability," "a pillar of security in the region" and "the cleanest place on the globe." At the same time, he repeatedly noted that earlier Belarusians walked "in bast shoes and under the whip," and he, as the first president, got the country as a "bloodied stump of the Soviet empire."
In describing his attitude toward the country, Lukashenko's metaphors betray a vivid imagination, or maybe even a literary talent.
This year, the president noted that "today we are comparing the world around us to an ocean which has been storming endlessly lately. Belarus in it is, though not the largest, maybe even a small but rather solid ship which we must keep."
At the same time, Lukashenko seldom shied away from portraying himself as a father figure to the Belarusian people, saying that any president must be a "dad" to his people. The moniker stuck and Lukashenko is referred to as "dad" (as opposed to father) by many Belarusians, whether supportive of him or not.
"I understand, and you [officials] understand that people are not dying of love for us. But the people understand very well that the current leadership in Belarus is the unique phenomenon in the post-Soviet space, and not only, where we are all oriented to the people," Lukashenko said, adding that the people have always and will always criticize the leadership.
Speaking to parliament in an annual address, Lukashenko said that to some, Belarus has become a "bone in the throat" because they see the country's people carry on living without being resource-rich or stocked up.
The most direct question regarding the sovereignty of Belarus has been the perennial discussions on uniting with Russia. In March 2019, Lukashenko described the situation better than any integration-oriented economist or diplomatic tightrope-walker, he did in his simple... Lukashenko way: "Belarusians today want to be with Russians, but to live in their own apartment."
If he had gone ahead with integration without proper support from all citizens, Lukashenko said "Belarus would devour me within a year of making such a decision." He did, however, propose a simple and ingenious solution: "let's include Russia into Belarus."
Lukashenko applies his familial manner when describing relations with Russia, often referring to the neighboring giant as an elder brother.
Although he maintains that he never distinguishes the Russians and the Belarusians, as they are "people from the same root," he does err on the side of preferring his countrymen, once calling Belarusians "Russians with a badge of quality."
"Our destiny is to live together. Even if our elder brother is not all that, and goes this way and that, brothers are not chosen. We also have plenty of flaws. We, too, are not always, you know, fluffy and white," Lukashenko once told a journalist after oil price disagreements put a dent in relations between Moscow and Minsk.
For someone who is often called the "last dictator of Europe," Lukashenko, surprisingly, is not averse to such accusations but takes them in stride, denying such a postulation but joking on the matter regularly.
During the visit to Belarus of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February, Lukashenko thanked the top US diplomat for risking "to come to Minsk and look at this country - see what kind of people there are here, what kind of dictatorship, what kind of democracy - is there a lot of it, a little and so on."
Meeting Pompeo on a Saturday, Lukashenko joked that the Belarusian "dictatorship is different because everyone rests on the weekend but the president works."
The president also shared some esoteric views on the meaning and extent of democracy.
"In the way that we understand democracy, it does not come close to existing in any country," he said earlier this year.
In the practical sense, the president's horizons widen significantly.
"We live in a democratic country. Moreover, we are squeezed between two democratic blocs from the west and from the east. To the south [Ukraine], it cannot get any more democratic than that," Lukashenko posited in 2018.
For a leader with a track record of a quarter-century, his statements betray a rather nonchalant attitude to his prospects, openly saying to his people that he "will not be upset if you do not elect me," and that he was "not a tsar but a plowman."
Last year saw parliamentary elections, which the Belarusian leader called the rehearsal of the presidential elections, and stressed that "everything should be beautiful and dignified. We need a working parliament, not screamers."
The current situation in the presidential election has triggered nations and organizations to express concern over politically motivated arrests. Two popular contenders have been arrested and criminally charged while another claims to have gathered more than the necessary 100,000 signatures necessary to vie for the presidency but was robbed. The Central Election Commission, however, maintains that a large chunk of those signatures was invalid pointing to the fact that the two other opposition sides were registered as legitimate contenders.
"At the right time in the right place, we will bring everyone to their senses. There will be no coup in the country, maidan, even less so," the president assured once again on June 10.
"We cannot be distracted by rallies and various statements - some kind of loud noise. We do not have time for this," Lukashenko told his ministers in a televised cabinet meeting.
"Elections or no elections, the main thing is the harvest," Lukashenko quipped.
Belarus stood out as one of the few countries to refrain from taking drastic restriction measures in the face of the pandemic that swept through the world in 2020, mostly thanks to Lukashenko's laid back attitude towards what he called a "corona-psychosis" that has "stupefied people."
He called on Belarusians "not to fret over this disease" but to be more responsible towards their health.
"Hug less strangers on the street," Lukashenko urged his amicable citizens.
"We have been ranting around here, quarantine, curfews and more. Listen, this is the easiest thing, we can do it within 24 hours, but then what will we eat?" Lukashenko asked, and called on his citizens to go on "working quietly."
The agrarian-minded president maintained the farming theme in reassuring his people that this will blow over, saying that "the field will heal everyone."