Sunday, April 5, 2020

Lukashenko’s Response to Pandemic Transforming ‘Crisis of Trust’ into ‘Crisis of Loyalty,’ Nesterenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 2 – Because of his unwillingness or inability to respond to the pandemic in ways that at least are designed to protect the population, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka is transforming what had been “a crisis of trust” in his regime into “a crisis of loyalty, a shift with profound consequences, Arkady Nesterenko says.

            Belarusians have become ever less trusting of their president in recent years because of his arbitrary actions and dalliance with Vladimir Putin, the Belarusian commentator says; but now, his decision to go ahead with public functions during the pandemic is snapping the ties of loyalty that they nonetheless had retained (

            Lukashenka’s behavior is very much at odds with that of leaders in Russia and other neighboring countries. They are clearly ready to “bear economic and financial losses” but not to sacrifice the population. But the Belarusian leader seems quite willing to “sacrifice human resources,” that is the health and even survival of his people.

            Not only have officials been ordered to go ahead with public functions that make such losses more likely, but the Belarusian government has lied about the presence of the coronavirus in the country and ascribed to other causes, such as pneumonia, deaths that almost certainly are the result of the virus.

            Students who have called for distance learning lest they be exposed to the virus have been ignored, and quarantines, school closings and self-isolation have not been called for by the authorities. Instead, the latter continue to act as if nothing serious is wrong. But Belarusians have their own sources of news and know that is dangerous nonsense.

            Minsk in the course of the pandemic has “lost control over the information sector” and that in turn has exacerbated the lack of trust many Belarusians feel about their rulers into an increasingly disloyal stance. Why should they follow those who lie in ways that threaten them with serious illness or death as a result?

            As a result, Nesterenko says, “the epidemic can have direct political consequences,” some of which are on view now given the independent actions of teachers and others to protect themselves from infection but far more of which will become evidence once the pandemic begins to ease and people feel freer to return to the public sphere.

            Thus, with only five months to go before the presidential elections, Belarusians “have a unique situation. Certainly, for the first time during his presidency, Lukashenka has demonstratively ignored a problem which concerns absolutely all residents of Belarus.” If he doesn’t change his ignoring or downplaying of it, Belarusians will remember.

            That could cost him his electoral base, the Belarusian commentator says.

            “Citizens can’t count on full information, defense against the epidemic (there are no quarantines), financial assistance in the event of business bankruptcies (no government anti-crisis plan has been announced) and what is more important, it is now difficult to count on competent medical assistance from the government.”

            “If everything continues as it is now,” Nesterenko says, “post-epidemic Belarus will be a country in which trust and loyalty to the institutes of power will be replaced by subordination to the force structures alone.” That would make Belarus like Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. And that has the following frightening consequence:

            With this destruction of the social contract between the state and society, he concludes, “the 2020 elections could become the last which will occur with even a hint of the imitation of democratic procedures.”

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