In 1994 Alexander Lukashenko took over the main ruling position of the state and has since been the irreplaceable president of the Republic of Belarus. Prior to 2004 only two presidential terms were allowed, but a timely referendum paved the way for Lukashenko to run for the fifth term.
The Belarusian president was also nicknamed “the last dictator in Europe,” largely to an unfavorable human rights record and imprisonment of political opposition by the Belarusian KGB. Negative attitudes towards Lukashenko continued until the crisis in Ukraine, though relations with the EU warmed up after the Minsk agreements. Lukashenko didn’t exactly support Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but he was also critical of Western involvement.
From an interview to Euronews:
“We support another position. We don’t want the destruction of Ukrainian territory. Many people say that Crimea has been given to Ukraine by mistake, that it’s originally Russian territory. It’s an incorrect approach. Why then we wouldn’t go back to the times of Batu Khan, to the times of Mongol-Tatar invasion. Then it would be needed to give almost all territories of Russia, Western and Eastern Europe (besides Belarus, because they didn’t reach us) to Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Then should we come back to what has happened? It’s not allowed to rearrange borders, because we accepted many international acts, which determine inviolability of borders. And we are devoted to this idea.
At another press-conference he claimed:
“Kiev gave Crimea to Russia ‘without a single shot,’ which means that it’s not their territory. This is a plus for Russia.” He also proposed that Ukraine should find reasons for this annexation in themselves, because “You (Ukraine) gave a reason for Russia to annex Crimea”.
Since the Minsk agreements, Lukashenko hasn’t gathered much attention from news outlets. However, the recent visit of French actor Gerard Depardieu brought Lukashenko back to the news (along with his campaign for a fifth presidential term). The official Russian vesti.ru describes Deparieu’s visit to Belarus in two articles, highlighting quotes regarding the Belarusian president and the country itself:
“I see that Belarusians are proud of their country and their president and I’ll tell that everywhere I go. He is a very smart person in questions of world politics”.
Note was made of Depardieu’s support for the recent Belarusian “law on loafers” (Author’s note: the law requiring a person unemployed for more than 183 days of the year to pay a fee to the state) and compared it with France, where there are so many “social dependents.” The news outlet also dedicated an article to the elections and Lukashenko’s success with the pre-election rally (but didn’t mention anything about difficulties faced by the oppositional candidates).
The non-state news outlet slon.ru paid a lot of attention to Lukashenko and his run for the fifth term. Moreover, the source covered the problematic area of his relations with opponents as well as economic problems caused by the downfall of Russian economy.
ALEXANDRE LUKASHENKO IN WESTERN MEDIA
The Lithuanian capital Vilnius, by some even deemed to be the second Belarusian capital, has served as the resort for political activists and related opposition. Lithuania and Belarus were once united as one state and since remained neighbouring countries. Therefore news about Lukashenko appeared here periodically.
Delfi often uses colourful language to describe Lukashenko’s unchallengeable dictatorship: “A. Lukashenka rules a country with his iron fist,” “the last European dictator” and etc. The upcoming presidential election in Belarus is among the topics that has been recently discussed by Delfi and 15min. Analysis leads to prediction that no significant changes could be expected. News outlets also draw attention to other issues: Lukashenko’s position regarding the Ukrainian crisis, farming lessons for Gerard Depardieu and the “Law on loafers.” Comparison of positions regarding the “Law on loafers” in Russian and Lithuanian media suggests that Lithuanian media is more critical.
Estonian media quote his expressions regarding war issues:
“Russia will never fight with Belarus. It would be a catastrophe for Russia itself.” “We are highly concerned about the activities of NATO in Eastern Europe” – Postimees. “But I highlight one more time that there will be a war with Russia only when we start it ourselves. Russia will never start a war with Belarus.” – ERR.
Lukashenko is seen as the mediator and the necessary link between Russia and the rest of the world: “He wins – and this time, it seems the opposition and the West even welcome it.”
Delfi.ee portrays Lukashenko as a strong and tough man – but Putin as a stronger figure: “Even the big Slavic brother fears Putin like fire.”
Lukashenko’s recent activities haven’t received much attention following a great number of articles about the Belarusian president and the Minsk agreements. Two of the three selected media sources (Tagesschau.de, spiegel.de) have not published anything, but Süddeutsche Zeitung has three articles about him.
Süddeutsche Zeitung writes about Depardieu’s visit to Belarus:
“Gérard Depardieu does not seem to care about his reputation any more. Now he has visited the President of Belarus, a country under the last dictatorship in Europe.”
The only article talking about the elections in Belarus is „High wire act in Minsk.“ The article aims to explain to the German readers why the opposition presidential candidates do not have a chance. The situation between Belarus and the EU is said to be improving.
The Wall Street Journal produced a blog entry on the “New Push for Sanctions on Belarusian Potash” that alluded to sanctions imposed on Belarusian companies and individuals “following claims of post-election repression by Mr. Lukashenko and members of his administration.”
The New York Times presented two short articles from the Associated Press on the upcoming elections in Belarus. The first, entitled “Incumbent, Jailed Politician Among Belarus Candidates,” referred to Lukashenko as “the authoritarian incumbent who has ruled for 21 years… repressed opposition and retained a Soviet-style state-controlled economy.” The piece also depicted the harsh events of the 2010 elections. More specifically, the article mentioned one politician, “who’s been in jail since he ran in 2010,” filing to run in Presidential election.
A few days later the “Belarus Won’t Let Ex-Presidential Candidate Run Again” article recounted that the Belarusian Election Commission turned down the application of the imprisoned politician, Nikolai Statkevich, to run in the October vote. Most notably, Lukashenko was said to have “ruled Belarus with an iron fist since he was first elected to the post in 1994.”
AND FOR DESSERT. CAMPAIGNING FOR THE ELECTIONS – HOW IT IS DONE IN BELARUS
Although elections in Belarus are scheduled to take place on the 11th of October, the country mostly sees the activity as a necessary ritual, not as an event that can result in political change. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine may have further strengthened the president’s position, for the majority of the population now fears the very prospect of political revolution and believes that Lukashenko must secure the state with stability in the political sphere. As found in analysis of selected media, Europe still remembers Lukashenko’s track record with political opposition and related repressions in the country. Nevertheless, relations are becoming warmer with Lukashenko’s display of diplomatic wittiness in the Minsk agreements.