Aleksandr Lukashenko – The Last Dictator of Europe?

“The last dictator in Europe” is what German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle called Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Don’t let the ex-Soviet strongman’s laconic response – “Well, I’d rather be a dictator than be gay” – distract you from the reality of what the man represents. Lukashenko is a fascinating study. He sits at the helm of a soviet-styled “cult of personality” state less than 2000 kilometres from the European Union parliament building in Brussels. He will not attend any official diplomatic meetings without his 10 year old illegitimate son, outlaws photography of the (balding) back of his head and has an obsession with ice hockey, which he plays daily and perhaps not surprisingly, usually scores. How could this exist in the modern age? In 2016, I, as an 18 year old recent high school graduate wanted -needed – to find out, so I went.
The world bank classifies Lithuania as an emerging economy, a member of a NATO the EU since 2004. The capital, Vilnius looks attractive as far as post-Soviet cities go, and the countryside looks almost quaint. When your train crosses into Belarus, it’s eastward-looking neighbour, the time change is one hour and twenty eight years . The night sky is sparsely illuminated by piles of garbage burning in the distance, and the peaked, Soviet style caps of the guards at the stations make you think you’re truly in a different era.
The capital of Belarus is Minsk, which was to be my home for the next two nights. The city itself is beautiful in the most unorthodox type of way. In a parallel series of events, it could be a Prague, Budapest or a Bratislava, cities that have fused together traditional and brutalist styles to form their architectural identities. But Minsk has one style – that of communist block building, their pillars rising high into the grey sky. The KGB headquarters centrepieces the city. Belarus is the only state on earth to have never abolished the KGB.
My accommodation fit the bill. A three bedroom flat administered by an elderly hunched woman who spoke about as much English as Joseph Stalin – whose picture graced her wall. Like many places not seen on travel stamps and postcards, English (or any other language than Belarusian and Russian) is not spoken. This put me at a disadvantage, as I wanted desperately to speak with the locals about their nations past, communism, Russia and their President, who at the time of my visit was in Uzbekistan rubbing shoulders with his central Asian allies.
Although I cannot take certain pertinent memories from my trip to Belarus, I can sharply recall the feeling of the country. This was not the Europe of postcards, of backpackers or of standard romance. There exists a beauty in the grimness, and in the blackened smiles of those asking “Amerika?” whenever I opened my mouth. The train shuttered along on my way back to Europe, back to “civilization” back to comfort and back to familiarity. It chugged over fields where seventy years before millions of men, women and children died horrifically as two ideologies battled without rules. Now, I am still asking which side modern Belarus resembles.
 
A guest blog by Adrian Dorney. 20 year old canadian and friend of YPT with a passion for grey and all things soviet.
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Thursday January 01, 1970