Visiting the BelAZ Minsk Automobile Plant in the city of Zhodzin earlier this month, Lukashenka said:
The independent newspaper "Nasha Niva" calculated that such a proposition would cost the government more than $2 billion annually -- a tall order in a country with a $63 billion economy.
Authorities perhaps realized this themselves, since Lukashenka's remark, which was broadcast live, appeared in none of the usual state outlets -- the presidential website, the state news agency Belta, and the state newspaper "Sovetskaia Belarusia."
It's not the first time that presidential utterings have been censored by Belarusian state media.
Just recently, Belta ran a story about how Belarusians are increasingly exchanging their rubles for hard currency because they fear a devaluation is imminent. The report failed to include a Lukashenka remark -- which had been televised -- about how the "narodzec" ("little nation") has been running to currency-exchange offices:
It is a situation typical for non-democratic regimes. Hard as it might be to believe, in the Soviet Union, even Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin himself was subjected to censorship, with regime publishers leaving out texts -- even from editions of Lenin's "complete" works -- that were deemed too sensitive.
Lukashenka has a long track record of plain-speaking.
In 1995, he said that "not everything connected with that well-known figure, Adolf Hitler, was bad," a comment his admirers have since tried their best to disavow:
Then there was his remark that the Belarusian language is so poor that one "cannot express anything great in that language." Two years later, the president categorically denied having made such a statement and promised $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate where and when he had said anything disparaging about the Belarusian language.
Responding to a journalist's 1997 query about why Lukashenka called the then-66-year-old Russian President Boris Yeltsin "an 80-year-old," the Belarusian leader said: "Don't you understand? It was a lapse.... I blurted it out. I added 15 years to his age, who knows why.... But one has to attract attention somehow, and [see!] you guys immediately took the bait."
Occasionally, Lukashenka has rued some of his comments.
After threatening last month to impose a $100 "exit tax" on anyone who left the country to shop for better-quality goods abroad, Lukashenka lamented: "Ok, so I blurted something out, and it was probably not for my own good."