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Belarus Censors Tackle Lukashenka Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
Belarusian media are increasingly stepping in to censor some of the verbal excesses of the country's president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Visiting the BelAZ Minsk Automobile Plant in the city of Zhodzin earlier this month, Lukashenka said:

"We are now thinking about how best to support women, how to support families. A 'great family' project was suggested to me [envisaging] a government stipend of ten thousand dollars for a first child, twenty for a second, and double that for a third. Furthermore, if you make a deposit of your own to this account, we'll double that amount as well."

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:

"In recent months I have noticed how our little nation is running to currency exchanges. So go ahead. They'll be big demand for hard currency. The Belarusian ruble will be devalued, with all the consequences of that. If there weren't demand for hard currency, the market would be calm."

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:

"Hitler built a mighty Germany thanks to a strong presidential power. The German order was formed over centuries and under Hitler it reached its highest point. This is the concept of a presidential republic and the president's role in it."

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."

The author writes a weekly blog, "Ricochet," for RFE/RL's Belarus Service. He is also the author of "Alyaksandr Lukashenka: A Political Portrait"
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    Valer Karbalevich

    Valer Karbalevich is a Belarusian political analyst and a longtime contributor to RFE/RL’s Belarus Service.  A professor of history, Karbalevich has taught at several universities and worked at several Belarusian research institutes, as well as the newspaper Svobodnye Novosti (Free News). He is the author of over 900 publications on Belarusian politics and foreign policy, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka: A Political Portrait.

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