Will Women Overthrow Europe’s Last Dictator?
Since 1994, Belarus’s quinquennial presidential election spectacles have invariably begun with hope for change, only to end with opposition candidates jailed and Aleksandr Lukashenko re-elected by a wide margin. But maybe – just maybe – not this year.
PHILADELPHIA – Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’s first and only president since 1994, claims to love women. But, like most conservative dictators in the former Soviet bloc, he thinks they have a specific role in society, as mothers or arm candy. In his bid for a sixth consecutive term on August 9, Lukashenko may find that he underestimated Belarusian women, a triumvirate of whom are gunning for his job.
Like US President Donald Trump, Lukashenko does not hide his fondness for attractive women, whom he believes he may treat or favor with impunity. After he was seen dancing at the State Ball with a former Belarusian Miss World contestant, she won a seat in Belarus’s rubber-stamp parliament. Meanwhile, Lukashenko never appears with his wife in public and does not feel the need to inform the electorate of the identity of the mother of his teenage son and presumed successor, Nikolai, who accompanies him to public events.
But while Lukashenko frequently boasts of Belarus’s “beautiful” women, Belarus’s women are angry this year. After the #MeToo movement, Lukashenko’s terrible performance on containing COVID-19, a decade of economic stagnation, and the jailing or disqualification of three leading male candidates for the presidency, women stepped up to lead this year’s revolt.