Diktat: Living Under Lukashenko { 119 images } Created 23 Nov 2009

Labeled by many western politicians as "Europe's last dictator," Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is serving one of the longest continuous leaderships of a post-Soviet nation. First elected in 1994, Lukashenko has maintained his control by winning two more controversial elections - the latest in 2006. Although he receives international criticism for his strong-armed rule, poor human rights record, suppression of government opposition, control of the media, lack of economic reform and re-nationalization of private companies, internally, Lukashenko stills garners widespread support from the population. Promoting himself as a "man of the people," the former collective farm manager dismisses scorn over his authoritarian rule, claiming it to be his country's only alternative to instability and from slipping into the same dark period of social dislocation seen in Russia in the 1990s.

But Lukashenko's grip on power and his vision of "market socialism" has made his country a political, economic and information island within Europe. More than 27 percent of a population of 10 million live in poverty. Belarus is not rich with natural resources. Much of its economy is supported by the subsidized import and re-export of Russian oil and gas at market prices. But Russia, which has the greatest political and economic influence on Belarus, has dramatically raised its price for gas and oil going to its western neighbor.

Belarus today has retained the strongest connection with its Soviet past. Statues of Lenin loom over city and town squares; collective farms employ thousands, although under miserable conditions; May Day parades continue in Minsk with workers and athletes now carrying Lukashenko portraits; most of the economy is state owned; the national security force is still called the KGB; and most of the population plods along in an information black hole. In many ways, Belarus still is the Soviet Union.
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