Nicknames like "Europe's Last Dictator," as Lukashenka is routinely labeled in the press, do not normally endear one to members of the Nobel Committee when choosing nominees for the annual award.
So news from Harvard University on September 12 that Lukashenka had won the not-quite-coveted "Ig Nobel Peace Prize" for 2013 may have gone down much better than expected in Minsk. After all, Belarus doesn't usually get much media attention in the United States and any publicity is good publicity. Plus the word "Nobel" is, technically, in there somewhere.
Of course, the Ig Nobel awards, which date from 1991, are intended to be a parody of the real Nobel prizes. The awards are organized by the "Annals of Improbable Research," a decidedly tongue-in-cheek scientific journal whose stock in trade is to lampoon overly obtuse academic writing. The motto of the Ig Nobel awards is to "first make people laugh, and then make them think."
In Lukashenka's case, the organizers must have been going for laughs. The Belarusian president was "praised" for making it illegal to applaud in public. The Belarusian police even merited special mention for once arresting a one-armed man for applauding. You can't make this stuff up.
The incidents in question go back to the opposition protest rallies in 2011 during which participants simply clapped their hands to express their opposition to Lukashenka's nearly 20 years in power.
In lieu of access to more conventional, legal methods of expressing their opposition, anti-Lukashenka demonstrators that year were forced into adopting a host of offbeat, nontraditional forms of protest. In addition to clapping (no matter how many hands you have), these included things like bike riding and even deep breathing.
Beyond the laughs, though, one would hope that the Ig Nobel organizers were also aiming to make people think.
The 2011 protests, and the admittedly silly laws that followed, were originally provoked by Lukashenka's reelection in December 2010 in what was widely believed to be a rigged vote. A brutal postelection crackdown on the opposition followed and many demonstrators suddenly found themselves facing prison sentences on largely trumped-up charges. Some of those oppositionists are still in jail.
And the lunacy continues. Recent weeks have seen a Belarusian doctor and activist remanded to a psychiatric hospital against his will and claiming he's receiving unnecessary -- and unwelcome -- psychotropic injections. Other dissidents are still being harassed and arrested on a daily or weekly basis.
If there's any lasting value to mock awards like the Ig Nobels it's that the audience will move beyond the chuckles and ask themselves what kind of regime would make it illegal to clap?
At just 59 years of age, Lukashenka shows no signs of relinquishing power or even slowing down. Many weary Belarusians must now be thinking the only way they will ever see a change in leadership is when "Daddy" (another nickname) eventually, many years from now, qualifies for that ultimate international parody award: a Darwin.
-- Mark Baker