MOSCOW – While officials from Montreal to Moscow have blocked the population in some way to slow the spread of the coronavirus, one man continues to believe that the rest of the world has gone mad: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
“It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!” Lukashenko told a Belarusian television reporter on Saturday when he was asked if the corona virus could prevent him from entering the ice rink for a hockey game filled with propaganda.
“Me? Why? I don’t understand There is no virus here,” said Lukashenko, pointing to the arena. “This is a refrigerator, it is the best for your health. Sport, especially on ice, is better than any antiviral drug, it’s the reality. “
Lukashenko, one of the longest serving leaders of the former Soviet Union, has been in power for over 25 years. During his tenure there were brutal raids against dissent.
Both Lukashenko and his nation Belarus played the second violin after their much larger and more powerful neighbor, Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The two nations have a loosely controlled internal border and a common customs area – which undermines its claim to sovereignty.
Lukashenko has been downplaying the COVID-19 threat for weeks. Instead of preparing his nation for the worst, he routinely and openly questioned the world’s response to the virus and used the word “psychosis” to describe the global response several times since early March.
In the meantime, he has made a point of keeping factories, shops, cultural and sporting events open. The Belarusian Ministry of Health reported only 152 cases of the coronavirus. Neighboring Russia reported 1,836 on Monday.
Two weeks ago, he insisted that Belarus survived worse than the new pandemic that hit the world. Saunas, vodka, and field maintenance are the best way for those who fear the spread of the virus, he said.
“The tractor will heal everyone,” he said, “the fields will heal everyone.”
Lukashenko’s folk remedies for COVID-19 are in good agreement with the assurances of other post-Soviet leaders. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, President of Turkmenistan, consulted his own writings on his country’s flora and explained a cure for a local herb.
In his own way, Russian President Putin also downplayed the virus threat and insisted for weeks that the situation was well under control. But Putin began a U-turn last week in a national speech asking the Russians to stay at home.
Lukashenko appears to have been unimpressed by Putin’s admission that the situation is more serious than it first appeared.
“This psychosis has paralyzed economies almost everywhere in the world,” said Lukashenko when he visited a factory on Friday. “Even the Russian Federation, which is similar to us, has started to do business.”