You can also listen to the article in audio version.
The next stream will be 30 years since dictator Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus without a break. The closest his reign came to an end was in 2020, when the authoritarian angered the nation by rigging the presidential election.
School trips to the hometown
Lukashenko maintained power by beating, torturing and shooting protesters, and subsequently by a system of extensive political repression and fear. The Vyasna Human Rights Center currently registers 1,470 political prisoners and thousands of persecuted people in Belarus. Opposition is illegal in the country and opponents of the regime had to go into exile in Lithuania or Poland.
Meanwhile, the dictator he stands behind and whom Putin’s Moscow uses for its own politics will celebrate his jubilee of power in 2024 and another election next year.
The Belarusian exile television Belsat, which broadcasts from Poland, as well as the Deutsche Welle (DW) server, note in this context Lukashenko’s deepening cult of personality.
For example, the new ones are organized trips of school pupils from Mogilev to Lukashenko’s birthplace and to the places where he studied. Because of this, the school returned to the interior from the 1960s, i.e. from Lukashenko’s childhood, with maps of the Soviet Union on the walls.
If such a school field trip program is successful, it is to be extended to schools across the country.
The idea of making a propaganda film about the dictator is also being considered. The announcement of a movie about Lukashenko was recently broadcast on TV. He was mentioned by one of the regime’s main propagandists, Ryhor Azaronak. “The president doesn’t like fame and wouldn’t approve because he’s very modest, but what do you think about a movie about the president?” Azaronak asked.
“It seems to me that it needs to be done. The man who created this country, the man who leads the Belarusians. We live in extraordinary times. (…) I can see that we already need something like this,” the head of state studios Belarusfilm, Jury Alaksiej, answered him on the broadcast.
But it doesn’t end with the film either. T-shirts and tracksuits with Lukashenko’s quotes began to be sold in shopping centers.
Interview with Lukashenko’s opponent
“Unfortunately, the only country that has a clear strategy for Lukashenko’s regime is Russia. No one in Brussels or anywhere else in the world.” Interview with Pavel Latuška, minister of the Belarusian government-in-exile Svyatlana Cichanouská.
According to Belarusian political scientist Alesia Rudnikova, who is the director of the exiled think tank Center for New Ideas, the deepening of Lukashenko’s cult is connected with the presidential elections planned for 2025.
“Even if Lukashenko did not participate in them, his personality and attitudes would play a role. That’s why propaganda tries to portray him in a positive light,” quotes the DW political scientist.
According to Rudniková, another aspect may be that even Lukashenko’s supporters are already tired of the regime’s negative agenda, i.e. three years of reports on repression against opponents.
“The systematic persecution of citizens takes a heavy toll on the state apparatus. It requires additional expenses, and many civil servants have to devote more attention to repression than solving the real problems for which they are actually responsible,” said the political scientist.
Because of this, according to Rudniková, even supporters of the regime suspect that the system is kept running only by fear of repression. “Propaganda is supposed to change this impression and create a positive image of Lukashenko,” she added.
But Belarus is far from the cult of personality that is known from Central Asian countries. The capital Minsk will probably not be renamed after Lukashenka right away.
However, Belsat TV reminds that in Belarus, propaganda has been portraying Alexander Lukashenko as the wisest, most intelligent and best leader for decades.
At the same time, the dictator is portrayed as a modest man from the people who works in the fields, plays hockey and at the same time surrounds himself with the winners of beauty contests.
Mentions of Lukashenko have appeared in propaganda songs before. In 1999, he was depicted with a halo on a tapestry.
In 2000, “presidential positions” also disappeared from all Belarusian companies. They were replaced by the positions of chairmen, directors, managers and the like. Thus, there is only one “president” in the country, even though he is actually just a usurper of the presidency who got into it by force and falsification of elections.
He cannot live in the Czech Republic without a Belarusian passport
Belarusians living abroad have a new problem. Lukashenko’s dictatorship has been removing citizenship from politically engaged people for a long time, now the consulates will not issue new documents to expats. This also applies to Belarusians in the Czech Republic.
Ten years ago, Lukashenko himself publicly opposed the construction of statues and monuments to him during his lifetime. It is said that the dictator got used to the popular nickname “baťka” or daddy over time.
In 2009, a British PR agency helped him create the image of a caring father. It was one of the few recommendations he followed. Since then, he has appeared in public with his youngest son Nikolai, who is considered the “crown prince”.
The Lukashenkas also spent time together when, in the summer of 2020, the Belarusian regime bloodily suppressed pro-democracy protests against the falsified presidential elections. That’s when fifteen-year-old “Kolja” appeared in a bulletproof vest and helmet with a pistol and a submachine gun at his father’s side in the presidential helicopter.
According to Belsat, Lukashenko and his regime are not even ashamed to label the regime with the word dictatorship, on the contrary – they have taken it as their brand, which is clearly recognizable and which distinguishes them from others.
Since about 2019, even the mentioned folk designation “Baťka” has been on the decline. The regime replaced it by calling it “the first”. This includes, for example, the name of the Telegram channel of Lukashenko’s spokesperson “Pool of the First”.
The nickname “Daddy” apparently receded also due to the fact that Lukashenko’s regime did not manage the covid-19 pandemic and left the inhabitants to the mercy of the coronavirus. The attempted democratic revolution in 2020, which drowned the regime in blood, was a serious blow to the dictator.
Since then, propaganda has been intensively trying to portray Lukashenko as a real leader. For example, there are images of him “defending” the presidential palace with a machine gun in his hand or the already mentioned clothes with Lukashenko’s quotes.
How Belarusian society perceives Lukashenka’s cult of personality is difficult to measure. There is no independent research agency in the country. The last major poll was held before the 2020 elections. It was organized by independent media and the result then was that only three percent of the people would vote for Lukashenka. The authorities responded by banning surveys.