Analysis: The Peculiarities Of Political Discourse In Belarus

By Jan Maksymiuk

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka made a nearly four-hour-long televised speech to some 2,500 handpicked loyalists at a gathering called the All-Belarusian People's Assembly in Minsk on March 2. The speech was very distinctive of Lukashenka's oratorical skills and fully reflected the authoritarian character of official political discourse in Belarus, where only one individual -- the incumbent president -- is allowed to know and proclaim answers to any imaginable question from every possible person. Here, a look at Lukashenka's typical oratorial techniques.

Lukashenka's speechmaking is based to a considerable extent on the Soviet-era tradition of Communist Party congresses, when first secretaries delivered lengthy reports on virtually all aspects of life over which the party extended its control. Lukashenka's presidential addresses are similarly protracted, all-embracing, overloaded with statistical data, and indigestible to listeners after the first 30 minutes -- as were those by his antecedents from the politburo.

Here is a typical example of this style:

"With satisfaction, I report to this high assembly," Lukashenka said at the beginning of his speech. "The country has achieved major indicators of the Program of Socioeconomic Development of the Republic in the years 2001-2005 of the 21st century. The development course we worked out has proven correct. The confirmation of this can be found in high rates of economic development demonstrated by our economy in the past 10 years. Compare: our average annual economic growth in the past five years was 7.5 percent, versus 3.5 percent in the world as a whole."

However, there is one feature that makes Lukashenka's lengthy orations lively for his listeners even after two or three hours -- the Belarusian president often strays from the text prepared by his speechwriters and inserts impromptu passages, sometimes pages-long and usually emotionally loaded. Take, for example, the following phrase in which the Belarusian president, beginning the third hour of his address with criticism of the United States and Western democracies in general, expressed in passing his displeasure with the "colored revolutions" in the CIS.

"There has been a sequence of various revolutions of various colors in the former republics of the Soviet Union, including with support from those democratic -- I would rather say -- dung-ocratic states," Lukashenka said.

Word Play

The play on the sound similarity between the word "demokaraticheskii" (democratic) and the neologism "dermokraticheskii" (dung-ocratic) is hardly an ingenious oratorical device, but his listeners usually are not lovers of a lofty or subtle literary style. The people listening to the president on March 2 woke up at this point, preparing for more. And Lukashenka did not fail to meet their expectations. He immediately delivered a 30-minute impromptu diatribe, in which he branded Western democracies as being "covered in blood."

But Lukashenka is not consistent in his vision of the West. In another passage -- some 60 minutes after his "dung-ocratic" comparison -- he portrayed the West as "the developed countries toward which we are getting orientated."

Finding a generally accepted socioeconomic measure under which Belarus could compare favorably with Western states is still an unachievable task for Lukashenka, so he occasionally proposes indicators that are not immediately verifiable or perhaps unknown in the West. This time the Belarusian president claimed that Belarus is the only country in the world that created a system of "social standards" for the population and asserted that his government would observe no fewer than 44 such standards.

"Who else, which other country has taken such responsibility upon itself?" Lukashenka asked rhetorically. "Name it! There are no such countries! And we, I do not doubt it, will make this system work!"

Lukashenka's Advice

Apart from publicizing plans for the future, Lukashenka also likes to touch upon a broad variety of topics either serving as illustrations of his economic theses or emphasizing his self-imposed stature as considerate "father of the nation."

During the All-Belarusian People's Assembly on March 2, the Belarusian president in particular gave Belarusian sportsmen advice on how to fight for Olympic medals, briefed publicly his ministers on how to sell Belarusian fertilizers abroad with profit, and instructed Belarusian men and women in general on how to keep a good physical and sexual form and overcome a demographic crisis in the country.

"The average life expectancy of our men is 10 years lower than that in developed countries," Lukashenka said. "Soon [our] women will bear children of Western men, my dear ones.... There are several reasons for this [situation], but two of them are the most important. First, this is nonobservance of the healthy style of life: lack of physical exertion and overeating, particularly late at night. This is the main thing. And then we groan and moan and cannot breathe, weigh 130-150 kilograms and cannot walk, while women applaud Western men."

Lukashenka is also known for using highly offensive language with regard to his opponents, be it specific people or political organizations. This time was no different. He referred to his political opponents in Belarus as "otmorozki" (which can be translated as "bastards" or "thugs") and "soplivye" ("the snotty ones"). And he publicly advised the defense minister to draft opposition politicians and their children into the army, in order to "clean out [their] brains."

Taken as a whole, Lukashenka's address on March 2 was rather typical for him, in both content and style. But it was evidently more emotive than on other occasions, which can be explained by his stress connected with the upcoming presidential election on March 19 and the political stake involved in it. This, incidentally, was admitted by Lukashenka himself.

"This election campaign costs our armed forces, our security forces a lot of nerves and health," he noted at the end of his speech. "The tension is so high, you cannot even imagine."