On April 29 Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka delivered a speech to the National Assembly on the “health” of the state that was wide ranging and more than two hours in duration. Although the speech covered a number of topics, its chief interest lies in his defiant attitude toward the West and his insistence that Belarus must follow its own course without outside interference and along the lines dictated by its leader (Komsomol’skaya Pravda v Belorussii, April 30).
For more than two years, the president has focused on the campaign “for an independent Belarus.” He is alarmed, however, by a number of problems among Belarusian families. Children, he notes, see unrestrained violence and brutality on television and computers. They have stopped reading books and going to museums and the theater, and their entire cultural development is reduced to the Internet. They are also suffering from a variety of maladies. Indeed, only one schoolchild in 10 is said to be healthy. Belarusian society is plagued with smoking and, increasingly, with drug addiction. These factors undermine the family, which Lukashenka sees as a vital part of a healthy life.
The president continues to develop state-sponsored civic initiatives. He notes that there are 2,235 public associations in Belarus, but the pillars of society must be the trade unions, youth groups affiliated with the pro-government Belarusian Republican Union of Youth, and veterans’ and women’s organizations. Opposition activists are not considered a healthy phenomenon. They are said, in fact, to develop “dynasties” of professionals who have not worked for years and maintain places in their parties and movements for their children to succeed them. As noted on the Charter-97 web site, the president has chosen to overlook the facts that his eldest son is a member of the Security Council, his second son runs the presidential sports club, and a hitherto unknown third child, now four years of age, has been designated by his father as a future president of the country (www.charter97.org, April 29).
Once again Lukashenka extols the program to build a nuclear power plant in Belarus. The construction, he says, will stimulate the entire economy and scientific thinking. In addition to the nuclear project, he notes the strengthening of the “agro-industrial complex” and the creation this year of 271 more rural settlements. He advocates the revival of small towns, which (unlike villages) are not supported by the state. He also notes the importance of bilateral military and technical cooperation with Russia. These comments all serve to bolster Lukashenka’s image of an independent Belarus.
The speech uses stronger language with regard to foreign powers. He says that he is ready to build a Union State with Russia, which he does not consider a foreign state. If the Russians had not broached the issue of Belarus joining Russia, then more progress would have been made on the issue of the Union State. Belarusians are, however, a “proud and independent people” who for too long in their history were controlled by foreign powers: Lithuania, Poland, and the Russian Empire.
As for the West, Belarus is not going to follow its orders. Please, he asks, do not knock on people’s doors and demand the release of this or that political prisoner. If the Americans think they can introduce permanent sanctions and destroy Belarus, they are mistaken, he says. Nor does he fear that Europeans will join the Americans in such measures, inasmuch as Belarus is the conduit for 30 percent of the gas supplies delivered to Europe from Russia. The inference is simple: Belarus controls the transit of this essential commodity, so the Europeans cannot afford to take a strong stance against Belarus.
Belarus simply will not endure Western (i.e., American) pressure: “You found a lousy oppositionist” (Alyaksandr Kazulin) who received less than 1.5 percent in the presidential election and have transformed him into a great political prisoner–“don’t you know what kind of person he is?” Once again the president’s powers of memory seem limited inasmuch as he was the one who appointed Kazulin, the onetime Rector of the Belarusian State University, as a minister in the government.
In 2008, Lukashenka notes, the most significant event will be the parliamentary elections. The elections must be held in such a way that no one doubts the legitimacy of the elected deputies. Furthermore, he is convinced that the “absolute majority of the population” will support those candidates who endorse the progressive development of the country. He is clearly referring to the candidates who support his own policies. He is convinced that “the wise Belarusian people will make the right choice again.”
The speech portrays the president’s image of and goals for the state. Belarus is becoming more insular, fearful of foreign influences like the Internet and increasingly intolerant of any internal opposition. Indeed, the comments about the opposition are derisory and dismissive, and the president has long considered its leaders as hirelings of foreign states. Though he asserts that Belarus is prepared for friendly relations with all countries, his attitude toward the United States is manifestly hostile and defensive. Finally, his concept of the state is personal rather than governmental. He notes that corruption is rife in the government and has even penetrated his own administration. Only Lukashenka himself is above criticism.