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Lukashenko has begun preparations for the elections

Pavel Latushka: Deputy Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, Head of the National Anti-Crisis Management, Ambassador

After the New Year, it appears that the dictator has chosen to dedicate more time to alcohol. This conclusion can be drawn from the new amendments to the law on advertising. These amendments, signed by the dictator himself, increase the amount of time allocated to advertising beer, low-alcohol drinks, gambling establishments, and gambling. Interestingly, advertising for education and employment abroad is now prohibited. This raises questions about the dictator's sudden interest in alcohol and simultaneous aversion to education. Who are these amendments targeting, and who stands to benefit from them? In our investigation of Lukashenko's amendments, we will also shed light on the consequences of the dictator's “excessive alcohol consumption”.

A. Lukashenko
A. Lukashenko Source:

Lukashenko has clearly gone too far this time. He is now actively suppressing knowledge and education. It is not difficult to guess why education abroad doesn't please the dictator. Limiting Belarusians’ access to knowledge has become a disturbing trend. For instance, the recent designation of the European Humanities University as an “extremist organization” and the current restrictions on advertising education abroad depict the regime’s stance on the education of its citizens. Investing in education is not profitable for Lukashenko. Educated individuals tend to have a better understanding of economics, law, sociology, and public administration, which exposes the failures of the regime’s policies. Convincing educated people of the regime’s narratives becomes an uphill battle.

P. Latushka
P. Latushka

This brings to mind a personal story from my school days. I received an invitation from San Francisco College to enroll in the United States. I managed to deliver a letter to the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus, who was leading the country at the time — Comrade Sokolov, if I recall correctly. Subsequently, I was summoned to the head of the International Relations Department of the Central Committee. I distinctly remember an elderly man with glasses sitting across from me, asking with curiosity but a hint of negativity, “Why do you need to study in the United States? I believe that in our country, you can receive a decent education.” Naturally, my request to study in the United States was denied. History seems to be repeating itself during the reign of the Lukashenko regime.

The regime is well aware that foreign countries are interested in highly qualified personnel from Belarus. This presents a significant challenge for the regime. However, instead of investing in experience and education to retain these skilled individuals, the regime resorts to its usual approach: bans, limitations, and closures. Unfortunately, this fundamental mistake fails to increase the country’s attractiveness to specialists; rather, it diminishes it. Restrictions do not inspire motivation to remain in the country; they dampen it.

The attack on the realm of knowledge has extended to other areas as well. According to media reports, approximately 10 Polish language schools in Belarus were closed down in December and January. Security forces conducted searches and detained several teachers and school directors. This widespread assault on foreign language schools is a concerning trend, leading to questions about the legal basis for these closures and the underlying reasons behind them.

Speaking of such incidents, I recall a story from my time as the Ambassador of Belarus to France. There was an initiative, primarily from the French side, to establish a French institute in Minsk. This institute would have represented French culture in foreign countries, but at that time, there was neither a French institute nor a representative office of this important organization in Belarus. However, Lukashenko responded negatively to two reports on this matter. Subsequently, a meeting was convened by Andrei Kobyakov, who was the head of the administration at the time. The meeting included the Minister of Education, the Minister of Culture, the Chairman of the KGB, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and several other officials, including myself. During the discussion on the feasibility of opening a representative office of the French Institute in Minsk, one high-ranking official, Mr. Baranovsky, the former Ambassador of Belarus to Lithuania, said, “So, in a nutshell, the plan is like this: the French will open French language courses for Belarusians, and later Belarusians will leave for France?”

In response to this argument, I suggested, “Let's ban the study of English, otherwise, everyone will leave for the United States of America.” This anecdote highlights how absurd the regime’s thinking can be, even today.

The regime's battle against “brain drain” is being waged on multiple fronts, ironically by the regime itself. Propaganda plays a significant role in this endeavor. A systematic information campaign against Poland, where a significant portion of the Belarusian IT sector has relocated, has been initiated by the regime. Take a look at how regime propaganda portrays Poland.

Representatives of the regime believe that launching a propaganda offensive against Western countries will improve the situation of education in Belarus and make it more attractive. However, this assumption is far from the truth. While discouraging Belarusians from seeking education abroad, the regime shows little concern for improving the quality of education within the country. Evidence of this can be seen in recent years. The Belarusian State University (BSU), the largest university in Belarus, proudly mentioned its inclusion in the list of the top 300 universities in the world, specifically the authoritative QS World University Rankings. However, in 2023, BSU experienced a significant decline, dropping 100 positions from 288th to 387th. This decline can be attributed, among other factors, to the decrease in international scientific cooperation—an obstacle created by the Lukashenko regime within the Belarusian higher education system.

The increase in alcohol advertising appears particularly ironic in this situation. It is evident that the regime is desperately in need of money in the year leading up to the elections. Regime representatives understand that advertising stimulates demand for products, thereby contributing to increased revenue for companies that pay excise taxes to the country's budget. Since January 1, 2024, Belarus has raised excise taxes, which are included in the price of goods. Consequently, it is expected that these goods will become more expensive, serving as another source of budget replenishment for the regime. The decision to intensify advertising aims to boost demand for these products.

Lukashenko at a meeting with riot police
Lukashenko at a meeting with riot police. Source:

To be fair, it is common for any state to replenish its budget through excise taxes. However, there is a crucial nuance. Not every state inflates its security apparatus by allocating substantial budgets solely to ensure the retention of power for an illegitimate dictator. Not every state needs to finance lobbyists to evade sanctions because, at minimum, not every state faces sanctions. Not every state allocates substantial funds to support a repressive machinery's operation.

The money added to Belarus’ budget will not go to help needy, low-income families as the regime does not care about them. There are numerous examples that support this claim. A clear illustration is the abrupt termination of funding for the Belarusian Red Cross by foreign donors, which the regime calmly accepted. The Belarusian branch of the largest international humanitarian organization lost its funding due to Secretary General Shevtsov’s refusal to step down following a gross violation of the movement’s principles. It is astonishing that a single regime representative, Mr. Shevtsov, cost Belarusians millions of dollars in foreign aid for humanitarian purposes. Meanwhile, the same regime is shutting down civil society organizations, including charities and humanitarian groups. The cost of maintaining the repressive apparatus and the regime itself, as well as the havoc and terror inflicted by the security forces on hundreds of thousands of Belarusians, is also worth considering. How much does it cost to maintain the regime and the repressive apparatus? How much does Lukashenko cost us? The answer is clear: Lukashenko costs Belarusians far too much.

In such circumstances, how can the regime explain to Belarusians that these expenses are made with “good” intentions? The answer lies in further increasing the state budget expenditure on propaganda costs. Consequently, we, the Belarusian people, will have to contribute to anti-Polish narratives on television, the PR campaign advocating for the placement of nuclear weapons in the country, and the restoration of the dictator's image. Even Azarenok, who utters offensive remarks on state television, needs to be sustained. Propaganda serves as a tool employed by the regime to prevent people from noticing the evident and unequivocal events unfolding in the country. It is propaganda that is prepared to justify the killing of peaceful protesters in 2020, the closure of schools, the branding of universities as extremist, and Lukashenko’s war crimes. However, the regime must remember that propaganda justifications do not absolve Lukashenko himself of responsibility for his actions and his accomplices.

Regime propaganda often accuses the Belarusian democratic forces of engaging in destructive activities. This is a classic propaganda technique — to accuse one’s opponent of actions in which you are deeply involved, effectively launching a “pre-emptive strike”. 

Meanwhile, as Belarusian-language publishing houses are closing and the Belarusian language and culture face oppression, at a time when the Belarusian language and culture are being oppressed, after 7 people were fired from the Braslav Museum of Traditional Culture, the Free Belarus Museum, a project of the National Anti-Crisis Management team, continues its active work in Warsaw. In 2023, the Museum hosted over 150 cultural and educational events, with more than 8,500 participants involved. While private schools are being shut down in Belarus and the promotion of foreign education is prohibited, the “Personnel Reserve for New Belarus” program operates abroad, preparing educated and experienced professionals to contribute to the development of New Belarus. Despite the regime labeling higher education institutions as “extremist”, the democratic forces of Belarus are working on a project for the Belarusian National University in Warsaw.

So, who are the real extremists? Who is carrying out destructive activities?

While Lukashenko expands alcohol advertising and raises excise taxes to replenish his budget, we aspire for our children to receive quality education, for Belarusians to become skilled professionals, and for Belarusian universities to be recognized worldwide. Millions of Belarusians desire the restoration of the rule of law in the country and the release of political prisoners — thousands of innocent individuals who spoke out against violence and injustice in Belarus. This represents our positive agenda. What does the regime offer to the Belarusian people?


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