Belarus is one of the few countries in Europe that did not take any draconian measures in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic. “The last European dictatorship” – which is the term coined by some Western mainstream media and politicians – did not impose a state of emergency, does not practice social distancing, did not impose a curfew and did not forcibly quarantine its entire population.
Critics argue that President Alexander Lukashenko “does not care about his people” and that Belarusian authorities are “dangerously downplaying the risks”. The Belarusian leader on the other hand, refuses to follow the pattern. In this way he is showing that Belarus, unlike most European countries, is a relatively sovereign state. Almost the same trend can be seen all over the continent — the economy being shut down, people sitting at home practicing quarantine that reminds one of a house arrest, governments implementing restrictive measures, the so call medical experts making contradicting statements on a daily bases, and media spreading panic and mass hysteria. In Belarus life goes on almost as if there is no pandemic. The country did not close its borders, sport events are regularly taking place, public transportation works, and the authorities refused to shut down schools and universities.
“Despite some criticism on my part, I call this coronavirus nothing other than a psychosis, and I will never deny that, because I’ve gone through many situations of psychosis together with you, and we know what the results were,” the Belarusian state news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko as saying after receiving a report on the epidemiological situation in the country.
He also recently said that “it’s better to die standing on your feet than to live on your knee”. In other words, he refuses to implement draconian measures that locked down the rest of the continent, at least to this point. Reportedly, Lukashenko recently met with the Chinese ambassador in Minsk and they discussed the coronavirus pandemic. Given the fact that countries around the world are gradually introducing a total lockdown, which was originally implemented in China’s Hubei province, it is not improbable that at some point, Belarus will have to go with the flow. Still, so far Lukashenko has been sticking to the line that a general lockdown is not the solution.
Even though Belarus has good relations with China, Minsk is not showing a will to completely follow the Chinese model when it comes to fight against the COVID-19. Instead, Lukashenko recently praised the US President Donald Trump for his efforts to preserve the economy.
“I really like his recent statements. He said that unemployment can claim more lives than coronavirus itself unless they reopen businesses and get Americans back to work. Now you have understood why I did not authorize closures of businesses. Although there were many people urging me to close borders, enterprises and begin a nationwide quarantine. Back then I made a principled decision: we will implement a quarantine only when it is really needed,” the Belarusian leader said.
Reportedly, some measures have already been put in place including thermal cameras to check the temperature of fans as they enter stadiums which are disinfected twice a day. At this point, however, comparing to other European countries, Belarus looks like an oasis of freedom. Some critics claim that it looks like an island of inaction in the middle of a nervous European continent. In any case, Belarusian (in)actions are demonstrating the importance of sovereignty. Whether Belarusian policy regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is successful or not, it is clearly a sovereign one. It remains to be seen for how long the former Soviet republic will manage to stay resolutely open for business and if Lukashenko will face a serious pressure from global actors to lockdown the country and shut down its economy.
Finally, it is worth noting that the Belarusian president recently promised that after the coronavirus is tackled and the psychosis is over, he would reveal many interesting things about it. One of them, according to BelTA, is the origins of the virus – did the virus emerge spontaneously or was it man-made, who could benefit from it, who tried to take advantage of this situation in order to further their interests.