Published August 22, 2005

Feature: Belarus' cuddly Stalinist dictator

By Gareth Harding

UPI Chief European Correspondent

BRUSSELS -- He may be an anachronistic throwback to Soviet times, but Belarus President Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko uses resolutely 21st century methods of clinging to power. The Web site of "Europe's last dictator," as the Bush administration dubs him, is updated daily and now available in English for his legions of international fans.

Via the "President's Receiving Room," Internet surfers can even write an e-mail to the 51-year-old leader congratulating him on Belarus' whopping grain harvest - 5 million tons and counting -- and his decision to award the Chinese ambassador to Kiev the Order of Friendship of Peoples "in recognition of his great personal contribution to the strengthening and developing of scientific-technological and cultural ties between Belarus and China."

Lukashenko may be pilloried in the West for rigging elections, brutally suppressing any opposition to his regime, whipping up hostility to the country's Polish minority, fostering a leadership cult worthy of former communist dictator Joseph Stalin and freezing his country in Soviet time, but his personal Web site ( introduces us to a kinder, gentler man who has only the interests of the Belarus people at heart.

We learn that the balding, mustachioed president grew up without a father and had to take care of his family himself.

"That is why it is logical that as early as in childhood such qualities as perseverance, respect to work, sensibility to truth and verity as the main bases of the human soul were being revealed," reads the fawning biography of the president on his Web site.

Lukashenko's "in-depth understanding of events, hard work, sense of duty, realism, fairness and fidelity to principle" enabled the Belarusian Agricultural Academy graduate to rise rapidly through the ranks of the communist system. Before becoming president in 1994, he was active in the All-Union Lenin Communist Union of Youth, served in the Soviet army, managed a state farm and was elected to the Supreme Council of the of the Belarus Republic -- though his Web site strenuously denies that he was involved in the communist party or Soviet nomenklatura.

When Lukashenko, who favors a union with Russia, took over the reigns of state he inherited a country in tatters after its recent divorce from Moscow.

"Pessimism and apathy were dominant in the society, centuries-old morals were being ruined, families were being broken, and thousands were slipping down to the abysses of poverty and loss of their individuality," says his Web site.

Luckily for the people of Belarus, they had elected a leader who was not only willing to toil 12-14 hours a day on behalf of his citizens, but who was prepared to take responsibility for his actions as head of state.

"The activities of A.G. Lukashenko are inseparable from the life of the country, from the life of working collectives and ordinary people," says the president's official biography. "One can hardly find any notable event in Belarus for the last 5-7 years, which was not influenced by the energy and the will of this man."

Forget former Czech President Vaclav Havel -- who spent almost a decade in jail for standing up to the communist regime in Prague -- Lukashenko is "the only politician in Europe who perceives the truth as, above all else, a category of conscience." Also, pay no attention to those U.S. and EU sanctions against the Belarus president, for "A.G. Lukashenko enjoys enormous prestige both in our country and abroad."

The "Father of the Belarus people," as he likes to describe himself, is certainly no slouch. His Web site features pictures of the great leader clad in tight-fitting Lycra shorts at an in-line skating competition, inspecting wheat crops in the Grodno region of the country and wielding a hockey stick in a friendly match between the president's team and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In his spare time, the man the International Herald Tribune describes as the "complete Soviet-style dictator," likes to read classical literature.

Olga Stuzhinskaya, a representative of the Belarus opposition in Brussels, denies the regime in Minsk is communist. "It's Lukashenkist," says the member of the European Coalition. "He may use a lot of the techniques from the Soviet era, but basically he rules the way he likes."

Despite Lukashenko's strong-arm tactics at home and his pariah status abroad, the president has benefited from the backing of a large chunk of Belarus' voters since coming to power over a decade ago. But with elections due next year, Stushinskaya believes the hollowness of Lukashenko's support is about to be revealed.

"To understand the regime in Belarus, picture a balloon -- on the outside it looks OK, but inside it is empty and about to explode."

It is easy to write off Lukashenko as a Stalinist for the Internet age, but as the presidential Web site observes: "Many are captivated by his honesty and openness, will and perseverance, energy, and constant willingness to learn from whomever his destiny brings him in touch."

The soccer-playing, literature-loving, post-Soviet Renaissance man is also renowned throughout the eastern European republic for his modesty, humility and reluctance to blow his own trumpet.