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Faced with the virus, Belarus acts as if nothing had happened

President Alexander Lukashenko, in Minsk, December 20, 2010, during a press conference. (SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)

In this country of nine and a half million people, between Poland, Ukraine and Russia, almost nothing has changed since the start of the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic. Businesses continue to operate. Shops, bars, restaurants are open. Nurseries, schools, universities are too. Car traffic continues. The same goes for sports competitions: the hockey games (which are very popular) continue. Handball and football matches too. It’s the start of the soccer season over there when winter comes. The second day of the football championship took place on Sunday March 29, the next is scheduled for Friday April 3. And supporters are allowed in stadiums without any protective measures. Belarus is the last country in the world, along with Burma and Nicaragua, not to have suspended its championship. In short, we are very far from confinement, even if the over 65s were still encouraged to stay at home.

This specificity is first of all the consequence of the decision of a man, Alexander Lukashenko, who directs the country with an iron fist, Lukashenko has been the head of the country for 26 years. And he behaves like a despot. Belarus (there they say Belarus) has kept software that resembles that of the Soviet Union. Lukashenko considers that the country has all the means to protect itself against the virus, which he describes as “psychosis”. In recent days, to fight the Covid-19, he has praised, in turn, the merits of steam baths, vodka, working on a tractor and playing ice hockey. He himself participated in a hockey game last Saturday, in which he had these few words, I quote: “Sport is the best antivirus, a skating rink is a fridge, there is no virus here. “Lukashenko is therefore perhaps a little enlightened, but above all he has two simple objectives: to keep the country's economy afloat (it is fragile ) and of course silence any dispute. While building on a health infrastructure deemed relatively good. Officially, the country has 1,052 cases, but in Belarus, they are not called “sick”, they are only called “cases in observation “. And still officially, there have been no deaths in the country.

It is not easy to challenge power in a country like Belarus. On March 25, a journalist, Sergei Satsouk, was arrested after a critical editorial on the attitude of power in the fight against the Covid. He was immediately charged with corruption and faces 10 years in prison. The press, however, started to talk about the virus. The news broadcasts devoted to the epidemic. In public places, some people are now wearing masks. At the entrance to the stadiums, the reception staff now take the temperature of the supporters. Many urban residents have taken refuge in the countryside. Suffice to say that many Belarusians have understood that their President is lying to them. But they have no choice but to shut up.

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