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7 E. Eur. Const. Rev. 43 (1998)
Yesterday as Tomorrow: Why It Works in Belarus

handle is hein.journals/eeurcr7 and id is 243 raw text is: Special Reports
Explaining Lukashenka's hold on power
Yesterday as Tomorrow: Why It Works in Belarus
Alexander Lukashuk

U rnike other states, ours is governed-excuse
this indiscretion-by   a president with
integrity. So says Alexander Lukashenka
about himself in the recently published book Alexander
Lukashenka: First President of the Republic of Belarus. The
well-known Belarusian painter Mikhail Savitski is also
quoted in the book, praising Lukashenka as a myste-
rious figure, in whose depths he a heroism and passion
that make one forget daily life. Other quotations refer
to the president as flexible but firm, open and shrewd
and a man who sees things in the proper perspective.
The book, which presents the reader with
Lukashenka's vision for the future of Belarus, was
published in June, then on the eve of the International
Economic Forum in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.
The highly publicized program for Lukashenka's
planned three-day visit to the forum included inter-
views, press conferences, and speeches, as well as two
presentations of the English-language version of the
book. But he was received so inhospitably that he felt
compelled to shorten his stay to a mere day.
Still, the audience did get a quick course in
Lukashenka's convictions and political style. He
warned of the dangers of American intervention in
European affairs, accused the West of ignoring
Belarus's needs relating to the Chernobyl disaster, and
reproached the EU for adopting double standards in its
relations with Belarus. He went on to attack NATO
expansion and then, to top it off, explained that
Switzerland's political system was far more totalitarian
than that of the former Soviet Union.

Upon returning to Belarus, Lukashenka charac-
terized  the forum   as a zoo.   His chief of
administration issued a release stating that the Crans-
Montana forum is not of a high enough level for a
leader as powerful as Alexander Lukashenka.
The village idiot and his rise to power
Authoritarian leaders are not unique, and, at the end
of this century, they are often largely ignored by the
foreign press. In November 1996, for example, dozens
of foreign journalists were covering the constitutional
crisis in Belarus when Lukashenka dismissed the
National Assembly    and  the  members of the
Constitutional Court and introduced     his own
constitution. The next day, the foreign media packed
their bags and hastily bid their farewells. The
journalistic consensus seemed to be: a coup d'6tat is
big news, dictatorship is not.
Since then, however, Belarus has climbed back
onto the front pages. In an article of May 1998,
devoted to the recent diplomatic drama in Minsk, the
so-called Drozdy crisis, The Guardian referred to the
Belarusian president as the village idiot of Europe.
This may be funny, but it hardly explains the
phenomenon that Lukashenka represents. Although
village idiots have been known to make it to the top,
they have seldom managed to retain power for long.
Lukashenka, by contrast, continues to enjoy unwavering
popular support (from approximately 40 percent of the
population) and has already extended his term in office
beyond what is constitutionally allowed. To under-

SUMMER 1998                                                                                                      43

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