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Fashion Statement: Lukashenka's Top Cop Wears NKVD Garb At Parade


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) chose the standard military garb, while Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich (left) decided to go with something a little riskier.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (right) chose the standard military garb, while Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich (left) decided to go with something a little riskier.

It's Victory Day, there's a parade, and you're a top Belarusian official. What do you wear?

If you're President Alyaksandr Lukashenka or a member of his entourage, you go with the reliable standard: olive drab military garb, preferably with lots of medals. Barring that, a no-fail navy suit, red tie preferred. (And don't forget the new ribbons of compromise -- Belarusian colors on the right, Russia's St. George colors on the left.)

But what if you want to stand out?

That seemed to be the dilemma facing the country's interior minister, Ihar Shunevich, who showed up at the May 9 festivities in vintage attire: a deep-blue uniform from the NKVD, the Stalin-era secret police.

The 1943 model worn by Shunevich features a belted shirt with a stiff upright collar, a cross-shoulder holster, voluminous breeches, jackboots, and a blue cap with distinctive turquoise trim.

The press service of the Interior Ministry has declined to comment on the thinking behind Shunevich's outfit.

But Mechyslau Gryb, a retired lieutenant general with the Belarusian police, said Shunevich may have sought to honor the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany by adopting a World War II-era silhouette.

"It's the first time I've seen such a thing," Gryb said. "Usually, the police and the military stick with their new uniforms because they're considered more prestigious and more attractive than the old ones."

Others had stronger feelings about the minister's getup, recalling the NKVD's execution of hundreds of thousands of "enemies of the people" during Stalin's Great Purge.

"Of course, Minister Shunevich's unusual uniform is kind of a costume, something to have fun," said art and culture expert Syarhey Khareuski. "But when someone turns human suffering and death into a costume party, it means that society has reduced the value of human life."

There was no public word on the issue from Lukashenka, who has displayed strong nostalgia for the Soviet era -- the country's internal intelligence agency is still called the KGB -- and has faced questions over the disappearance of critics earlier in his 21-year rule.

-- By Uladzimer Glod & Daisy Sindelar

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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