Lukashenko’s rule is unquestionably authoritarian, as he has conceded, but his policies, which combine aspects of the old communist system – social security and full employment – with a mixed economy and greater personal freedoms than existed in the days of the Soviet Union, have proved hugely popular with the majority of ordinary Belarusians, as his election results testify…
Our guide Natalia proudly escorts us round the factory museum, with its scale models of BelAZ vehicles. There is a photograph of a beaming Hugo Chávez, a strong ally of Luka shenko (he recently said that Venezuela would supply Belarus with oil for the next 200 years), driving a BelAZ truck. This is more than just a company – it’s an extended family. There is a sanatorium for the workers, two sports and fitness centres, and a cultural centre where a theatre collective plays. Such enterprises used to be common in eastern Europe before 1989 – but economic reform put a stop to all that.
Credit to Eastern Approaches, the Eastern Europe blog at the Economist, for bringing to my attention this highly unconventional view of Belarus. Mr. Clark, you really are serious, aren’t you? And yet, you are a journalist. Not only that, you are a journalist who dissents from the beliefs most people hold in your home country (Great Britain, I suppose, the New Statesman being a British magazine). Don’t you have at least some consideration for the plight of dissenters, people like you, in the happy paradise you just visited? Consider the following, from last year’s Freedom House report on Belarus:
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka systematically curtails press freedom. Libel is both a civil and a criminal offense, and an August 2008 media law gives the state a monopoly over information about political, social, and economic affairs. The authorities routinely harass and censor independent media outlets, including through physical force and revocation of journalists’ credentials. Belarusian national television is completely under the control of the state and does not provide coverage of alternative and opposition views. The state-run press distribution monopoly limits the availability of private newspapers.