In Belarus there are only two positions that are officially allowed to have a title of “President”. The first one is the head of the state, the other one is the head of the National Olympic Committee. Both posts are taken by the same person — Alexander Lukashenko. But he is not coming to London in either of his roles. He is banned from entering the European Union over the fraud during the presidential election in December 2010 and the subsequent crackdown on the country’s civil society.
“The entry ban will remain in force during the Olympics and the decision on the matter will not be changed,” the UK embassy in Minsk told BelaPAN Information Agency.
Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, said today his organisation respects the decision of the British Home Office to deny London Games accreditation to Lukashenko.
The ban hardly came as a surprise, and Mr Lukashenko, often referred to in Western media as “Europe’s last dictator”, fired back with his ideological response. During the opening ceremony of the Slavic Bazaar festival in Vitsebsk, Belarus, he claimed that event was much better than the Olympic Games.
“The Olympics clearly lack behind our Slavic Bazaar,” the Belarusian dictator stated as he accused the London Games of being politicised, while calling the festival he hosts “an island of freethinking and independence.” Well, he forgot to mention that outside the stages of this “freethinking island” there are his political opponents that are still in prison.
The annual Slavic Bazaar festival is often said to be one of the main mass cultural events in Belarus, which brings together a lot of artists, mainly pop stars from the former Soviet countries. The Belarusian president always uses it for his ideological purposes, and sometimes for dancing with Russian pop stars. It all is meant to add to his image of the great and caring “father of the nation”, who is close to his people and brings entertainment to them.
This year, however, this ideological message from the Belarusian version of “an island of freethinking and independence” was damaged. The troublemaker was pop star Loreen. The Swedish singer, who was invited to Vitsebsk as the winner of this year Eurovision song contest, clearly spoilt the president’s party as she delivered a strong message in support of human rights in Belarus.
Loreen met a group of Belarusian activists and journalists in Minsk, including Natalia Pinchuk, the wife of Ales Bialiatski, one of the most prominent Belarusian human rights defenders, who serves a term in prison.
“Without freedom of expression I would never have been a singer. I wish that there were no political prisoners in Belarus and that human rights defenders like Ales Bialiatski could continue their important work. He and his colleagues are sacrificing everything in the struggle for human rights and they deserve support from the outside world,” Loreen said in a press statement.
After the statements like this Loreen risks to become persona non-grata to the authorities in Belarus — as Lukashenko himself is in the European Union.
The dictator will stay home inventing “Slavic bazaars” to entertain himself, while pretending they are better than the Olympics.
Andrei Aliaksandrau is Index on Censorship’s Belarus and OSCE Programme Officer