Exclusive Preview Screening: Europe’s Last Dictator
By Nicky Armstrong
Europe’s Last Dictator is a thought-provoking film about Belarus and its president Aleksander Lukashenko. The panel gathered to discuss Lukashenko’s brutal authoritarian style of ruling and what the future holds for Belarusians under a state that actively carries out torture, state-sponsored murder and kidnap as part of a crackdown of the opposition.
Stephen Sackur of the BBC’s Hard Talk was joined by directors Mathew Charles and Jean Passarelli and The Economist’s International editor, Edward Lucas. The panel was also comprised of two prominent activists who gave a very real insight into what is currentyl happening in Belarus.
Lukashenko has held power in Belarus for 18 years now. His power has turned more and more brutal. Freedom of speech is suppressed and the foreign media banned. Lukashenko himself describes his style of ruling as authoritarian:
“They tell me: you are a dictator. Am I a dictator? My position and the state will never allow me to become a dictator… But an authoritarian ruling style is characteristic of me, and I have always admitted it.” (Belarusian radio, August 2003)
The elections of December 2010 saw Belarusians rise up against the government after the elections were rigged, with Lukashenko declaring victory before the ballots had even closed. The crowd, chanting "leave office now" was brutally repressed by riot police and the KGB.
When asked by the audience how Lukashenko had been able to hold power for so long, Lucas responded by drawing similarities to Putin and his control of the media and in that respect Lukashenko did, and perhaps still does hold a chunk of the population that support him.
The panel touched on some of Lukashenko’s ‘bizarre & disturbed’ behavior and its relations with Russia. Described as the “badly behaved dog”, Russia needs Belarus to carry out activities that Russia wishes to be indirectly involved with.
The prevalence of the night seemed to be how the activists’ and political prisoners’ plights could be made more vocal and what the west can do to stop Lukashenko. Visa sanctions have already been placed on Lukashenko but not all the panel agreed that further economic sanctions would be the best way forward, Lucas’s opinion was that more sanctions was not for the best:
“I don’t want tough sanctions, I’m in favor of having as much co-operation as possible with the lower levels of the Belarusian government to show them the way the European Union works …Lukashenko’s narrative is very much they don’t need us and we’re different anyways.”
The future of Belarus seems bleak, whilst the KGB continues to act as Lukashenko’s loyal dogs not much will change. Sackur asked the activists present at the event whether people would take to the streets again, the answer was a flat no.