Staunton, September 17 – Alyaksandr Lukashenka has continued the Soviet model of propaganda with only one difference: the chief ideologist is not part of the non-existent communist central committee but rather a deputy head of the presidential administration. And while in office, he has had nine such officials, all of whom were known to be pro-Russian.
Now, he has appointed a tenth, Andrey Kuntsevich, 40, the former deputy head of the Mohylev oblast executive committee and someone whose career and views appear to be very different, according to Denis Lavnikevich, the Minsk correspondent of Moscow’s New Times (newtimes.ru/articles/detail/184966?fcc).
If it has been relatively easy for Lukashenka to retain a Soviet-style ideological operation, the journalist says, it has been far more difficult to articulate an official ideology. Indeed, Lukashenka himself has regularly complained in recent years that his country does not now have an official ideology.
The reasons for that, Lavnikevich says, are “the changes within Belarus itself and around it are occurring ever more rapidly, and the former ideological themes about ‘a special Belarusian path,’ ‘a social state,’ and ‘a unique Belarusian economic model’ no longer correspond to present-day realities.”
Svetlana Grechulina, a Belarusian political analyst, says that “one must keep in mind that Aleksandr Lukashenka himself in the past was not only the director of a soviet farm but also a party and Komsomol workers, a political information officers and a lecturer for the Znaniye society.
Consequently, his approach to ideology has remained “quasi-Soviet” and like its predecessor evolved as the situation changed. “In 1994-2000, its focus was on unification with Russia and/or the restoration of the USSR. In 2000-2010, it shifted to ‘the unique Belarusian model.”
When the economic crisis led to the collapse of that idea, she continues, Lukashenka offered instead “a social contract” in which the regime would guarantee a certain minimal level of well-being in exchange for agreeing not to get involved in politics and leaving things to his regime. That approach worked until the beginning of 2017 when the imposition of taxes on those outside the state sector led to protests.
Beginning at that time, Lukashenka started to say that the country lacked an ideology and that one had to be developed, something complicated by increasing pressure from Moscow for integration and the intensification of the divide in Belarus between those who wanted that and those who wanted to join the West.
The Belarusian leader’s problem now, Minsk political observer Anton Platov says, is that “neither the first nor the second want to support Lukashenka in the 2020 elections,” the former because it wants a more consistently pro-Russian one and the latter because it wants a more consistently anti-Russian and pro-Western one.
That makes Kuntsevich’s task extremely difficult; but in a recent interview, he made some remarks that none of his predecessors would ever have made. Specifically, he said that he follows social media and is ready to use them because he doesn’t consider himself “pro-Western” or “pro-Russian” but only “pro-Belarusian” (news.tut.by/economics/650225.html).
“If the chief ideologue had acknowledged a year ago that he reads the most prominent anti-Lukashenka bloggers and is not pro-Russian, he would instantly have been dismissed and would have been happy if he hadn’t been put in jail,” Lavnikevich argues. This is a real change, but it is as yet impossible to predict how long it will last.