On September 17, the women’s forum For Belarus was held at the Minsk Arena. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when I looked at the event, I had flashbacks of Soviet times with its grandiose events where everyone fanatically praised the Soviet regime and its heroes. This forum was no different – everyone exaggeratedly celebrated the current Belarusian regime and its leader Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Almost all the speakers belittled and ironically spoke about the people protesting against the reelection of Lukashenko. For instance, women-protesters were called girls in short skirts who roam the streets, as opposed to the strong women who participate in this women’s forum. It was impossible not to notice that this is a clear propaganda event. It is likely that many of the women thought they were attending a concert that in the end turned out to be political agitation.
This article won’t be about the event itself, but – as much as I’m already sick of it – about Lukashenko and what he said. Some may ask – why should we be concerned about Lukashenko or Belarus? Well, we shouldn’t, because Belarus is an independent country and its people have the right to do as they wish. The problem is that, in reality, the Belarusian people don’t have such a right, they can’t even express their opinion if it goes against Lukashenko’s beliefs. The majority of Latvians still remember the times when we weren’t allowed to freely express our opinion.
As much as we would like to, we are unable to directly affect the course of events in Belarus, but we can follow them and make a neutral assessment of Lukashenko’s statements and whether they correspond to reality. And if we notice that something doesn’t add up, we can talk about it and hope that someone hears us.
So, what does Lukashenko have to do with the women’s forum? Nothing, but if we remember Lukashenko’s words that “it is possible that I’m being shown not only on the TV, but also the iron and the teapot,”1 we can conclude that he himself is doing everything in order to be shown not only on the iron and the teapot, but also on the toilet paper holder.
Let’s get to the point. During the forum, the host – with much pomposity and surprise – announced that Lukashenko will take the stage. And he did – Lukashenko appeared and gave a speech, which will be the focus of this article. In order to go step by step, I will provide you with footage of the speech and then we will look at particular parts of it. The full event, including Lukashenko’s speech, can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y65QmOI5PWU.
What did Lukashenko say?
He knew that such a forum is being held but said that “while women were dealing with women’s issues, he had to deal with men’s issues”. He didn’t think the event would go on for so long, but every thirty minutes he was being informed about what was happening. Lukashenko realized that he won’t be able to make it to the forum, so he wanted to at least send a telegram. However, when he called the organizers, he was told that the event hasn’t yet ended. Therefore, he decided to change his clothes on the way to event and at least say a couple of words to the attending women. The first thing he said was that he respects and appreciates everything that is going on at the forum (which was entirely dedicated to him).
When speaking about using force against the protesters, he said: “They say all sorts of things about OMON personnel – that they have allegedly beaten up or even killed people at detainment facilities.” He announced that OMON personnel have never been and never will be present at detainment facilities because that is the responsibility of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Interior. “And all because these people saved the country.”
Next, he said: “We were forced to move our troops away from the streets, give half of our army weapons and close borders with the West, first and foremost with Lithuania and Poland. We were deeply sad to tighten border control with our brothers Ukrainians. For the last couple of days, I have been forced to prepare joint defense plans of the Union State with Vladimir Putin and the Russian minister of defense and we have initiated joint military drills that will be held in two stages, with the second stage being dedicated specifically to women.”
When the camera showed the women listening to Lukashenko’s speech, most of them looked completely uninterested.
First, Lukashenko’s arrival – every event is organized to have a beginning and an end. This is required to solve organizational issues and to ensure that the event takes place successfully. The schedule at such events is so tight that each participant, speaker or performer has a previously established timeframe down to the last minute. This means that Lukashenko didn’t need to call the organizers, because he was well aware of the forum’s duration.
Okay, let’s assume that the event was spontaneous (we can be sure that it wasn’t because Russian musicians were also invited to perform) and that no one knew when it will end. However, security protocol forbids the president from attending an event where the appropriate security measures have not been taken, especially at a time when Minsk is far from being peaceful. Therefore, Lukashenko had already decided beforehand that he will attend, and this means Lukashenko’s statements that he spontaneously decided to arrive are pure lies.
It is, of course, possible that Lukashenko ignores security protocol and goes wherever he wants, but this goes against his usual behavior. Or perhaps it means that he doesn’t understand what he’s doing – is he a fool? And his statement about changing his clothes in his vehicle is complete nonsense. Does he really change his clothes while in a car? And why does he have to change? Doesn’t he spend the entire day in a suit?
And what concerns his justification of the behavior of OMON personnel – what difference does it make which law enforcement authority beat up the peaceful protesters. It doesn’t matter whether it was the OMON or the Internal Troops, and it doesn’t matter if it happened on the street or at a police station. The fact that law enforcement is brutally beating up peaceful civilians goes against common sense. Additionally, Lukashenko deliberately left out the brutal use of force on the streets by OMON personnel. This is a classic propaganda maneuver – yes, OMON isn’t usually present at detainment facilities.
Regarding his statements about closing the border with Lithuania and Poland – either he’s lying, or his subordinates are ignoring his orders. How else would you explain that on Friday 18 September Lithuania and Poland confirmed to the website Tut that cross-border traffic remains normal, while the Belarusian Border Guard Service informed that the security of the state border of Belarus has been “enhanced”.2 Lukashenko also said that he was forced to move troops away from the streets – this just confirms that he deployed the army against his own people.
However, we must take one of his statements completely seriously, and this concerns the future of Belarus. He said that he together with Putin are working on joint defense plans of the Union State. Lukashenko is essentially confirming that a decision has already been made on establishing such a state, i.e. he has handed over Belarus to Putin. If this isn’t the case, we must once again conclude that either Lukashenko is a liar, or a complete fool. Or both…
But I was most confused about the joint military drills, the second stage of which will allegedly be dedicated specifically to women. What does Lukashenko intend to do with the women? Will he allow his troops to do something with them?