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Belarus: 'To Praise Lukashenka, That Is The Only Ideology'

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ordered that deputy directors for ideology be introduced into all of the country's enterprises. The new officials will be responsible for explaining Belarusian state ideology to workers. There's just one problem. Neither analysts nor officials seem able to articulate the substance of this ideology.

Prague, 16 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently ordered the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to ensure that all state-owned and private enterprises in the country hire an officer responsible for ideology.

Ministry of Labor and Social Security spokeswoman Galina Trofimenko told RFE/RL that the order came as a result of a March conference on ideology organized by the Ideological Department of the presidential administration. She said deputy directors responsible for ideology will be introduced into all companies with more than 300 employees.

What should the CV or resume of a deputy director of ideology look like? Trofimenko said a deputy director should have a higher education, at least five years of experience working as a manager, and should know the fundamentals of Belarus's state ideology.

There's just one hitch. There appears to be no clearly articulated Belarusian state ideology. Analysts say Lukashenka simply wants to suppress the critics of his policies and control society in the way Soviet leaders once did.

Valery Karbalevich, an analyst with the Strategic Center, an independent Minsk-based political think tank, said there is no definitive Belarusian ideology and that those responsible for overseeing "ideological work" in Belarus will have to praise Lukashenka and his policies and report to authorities on those who disagree with the official line.

"I think that people who are responsible for ideology clearly understand one simple and foolish idea -- you need to praise Lukashenka and his policies and curse all his enemies -- the West, the [Belarusian] opposition," Karbalevich said. "Depending on the [political] situation, they must also curse Russia, but if the situation changes, they should support integration with her. To praise Lukashenka, that is the only ideology."

Karbalevich said Lukashenka outlined some vague guidelines on Belarusian ideology during the March conference but that his speech was confusing. He said Lukashenka suggested what amounts to a mishmash of Soviet-style communism and modern Western ideologies.

"It is clear that this mix cannot constitute any articulate system and that it will never work," Karbalevich said. He said a clearly defined Belarusian state ideology has still not been presented in a book or article, despite the fact that it must be studied in schools and universities from the beginning of this month.

Tatsiana Protska is the head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on human rights. She told RFE/RL that although Lukashenka has not articulated an official ideology, the structure for promulgating such a belief system is already in place. This structure, she said, is an exact replica of the Soviet-era mechanisms of imposing communist ideology upon society.

"The Soviet system is taken as a propaganda model. At that time, the [Communist] Party organizations always had deputy directors for ideology. Now, party organizations have been practically replaced by presidential 'vertical power,'" Protska said.

Karbalevich said Lukashenka seeks to control Belarusian society through such a "vertical structure." He explained that this ideological control structure begins at the presidential level and trickles down to the smallest factories. Lower officials report to their superiors about the ideological situations in the sections of society they are responsible for.

"Every local council has a deputy chairman responsible for ideological work. Every regional council also has a deputy chairman responsible for ideological work, and so on. The vertical chain of responsibility is already in place. The officials will control each other from the upper echelons of power to the lower," Karbalevich said.

Karbalevich said there are officials responsible for ideological work in the presidential administration. The system may look effective, but Karbalevich said it will not work. "The efficiency will not be high," he said. "The efficiency will be weak because to begin with, Belarus is not the Soviet Union. Belarus is more or less an open society, with an independent mass media, where people can watch Russian television, where citizens are allowed to go freely abroad."

He said that what is lacking in Belarus is an effective KGB-style secret service. Nevertheless, deputy directors for ideology will be able to make life hard for employees. The most severe punishment might be firing.

Practically speaking, many reasons can be found for firing a "faithless" employee. For example, once a month, all employees will be required to attend an hour of political briefings, where they will be informed about recent actions by Belarusian authorities. "As during Soviet times," Karbalevich said, "it will be an indoctrination hour when questioning official policy would mean revealing oneself as an enemy of the state. It would eventually lead to being fired."

Alyaksandr Buchvostov agrees. He is the chairman of the Trade Union Association of Tractor and Agriculture Machines Manufacturers in Belarus. He said the new deputy directors for ideology are already seeking to root out "sinful" thoughts from the minds of workers and reduce the influence of the country's independent trade unions. He accuses the authorities of searching the personal belongings of workers for items not in line with the official ideology.

The decision is intended to affect foreign companies working in the country, as well. But Alyaksandr Denisov, a deputy director for Coca-Cola Beverages in Belarus, said he does not understand what the authorities are looking for and said the company tries to distance itself from ideology wherever possible.

(RFE/RL's Belarusian Service contributed to this story.)