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How everything began about twenty years ago

Alexander Lukashenko tours exhibition dedicated to the establishment of Belarusian statehood and adds his own curious details
By Vasily Khmelevsky

Even the excursion guide admitted that his stories were new to her. The Museum of Modern Belarusian Statehood is located within the Presidential Residence in 38 Karl Marx Street, in Minsk. 

Mr. Lukashenko glanced at the stand devoted to the 1994 elections and interrupted the excursion guide, saying, “I remember this very well.” He indicated a photo showing him simply sitting on the ground surrounded by people with rakes, scythes and pitchforks, explaining that it was his first visit to Polesie. He went directly to a hayfield in which people were working; they stopped but appeared reserved, being reluctant to engage with anyone they didn’t know well. The President suggested that they continue working, which they then did, mowing hard in the hot sun. Locals began to feel tired, while the President left them behind, mowing ahead of them. Eventually, he heard someone mutter ‘this is ours’, which inspired him to sit down on the grass with them for a heart to heart conversation — as captured in the photograph.

“It put an end to all conversations about a ‘Polesie Republic’. At that time, they wanted to divide the country into western Belarus, eastern Belarus and the ‘Polesie Republic’,” Mr. Lukashenko explained to those around him. Soon afterwards, major work was launched in laying gas pipelines across Polesie, and in building roads, alongside water purification and deionising units. These days it would be impossible to lure Polesie away from Belarus; local residents would certainly object themselves.

At each stand, the President revealed little known details: how Gomel produced its first harvester; how it was decided to develop BelAZ; how the Slavonic Bazaar was saved; and shortcomings in supporting young talent.
The museum is already fascinating, although the Belarusian leader notes that more is to come. Of course, it should remain open to all, so that anyone can step in off the street. After touring the museum, Mr. Lukashenko chatted with young social science specialists, tackling various topics.

On statehood
In the early 1990s, on receiving our chance, we used it fully. In just two decades, we’ve created a new European country, despite incredible pressure from outside.

Belarus has shown that even a small country can command respect while pursuing an independent foreign political course. Our goal is to create a state of which we, as well as our children, can be proud. The generations which come after us will be the judge. If improvements are apparent, it shows that this was one of the roads we had to cover.

On satisfaction with results
My character is such that I tend to be dissatisfied rather than content; sometimes, I’m too critical. However, if we don’t raise the bar ourselves, we’ll never progress. We should be straining every nerve.

On responsibility
People say that I’m at the heart of the nation. It’s true. You gave birth to me. I came to power from the opposition. Who would allow me to be here were it not for the nation which elected me in 1994? This is sacred to me. I can’t overstep my position and would never steal anything from my people. I’ll never deceive them or play cat and mouse. I won’t grovel to preserve my authority, as this would be alien to me. I came to power at the hands of the nation so I must work for the nation. Over more than 15 years this is already inside me, as it was 17 years ago.

On patriotism
We can imbue this word with much emotion but, simply, when you live somewhere, even if you aren’t happy about everything, you set your jaw, aiming to improve living conditions. Patriotism occurs when you truly want to be proud of your country and do all you can to achieve this. It’s important.

On SES prospects
Everything should operate as if we are one state [conditions for the work of economies and equal access to products]. It’s not yet clear whether these economic processes will lead to the creation of some other supranational structures, or to changes in policy or state structure. However, we do understand that economy is the basis, forcing politicians to liaise. We’ll have to somehow modernise our political system if we really desire serious relations.

On the nuclear power station
There are some powers [those who are against] whose voices have been paid for. Who is crying out? Mostly Lithuania and Poland. However, looking at the situation from another side… don’t the Lithuanians construct their own nuclear power station? They plan it within two kilometres of our border. The Poles wish to build two nuclear power stations. The problem is that we’ve outstripped them in this area. Whoever is ahead wins. We’ll be the first to receive electricity, which we’ll be able to sell countrywide and to neighbouring states.
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