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Alexander Friedman: Lukashenka’s In Zimbabwe Is Like Late Brezhnev

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Alexander Friedman: Lukashenka’s In Zimbabwe Is Like Late Brezhnev

The "mugabization" of the Belarusian ruler is going on.

Was Lukashenka's trip to the UAE and Zimbabwe just a tourist trip or could there be real consequences?

The Charter97.org website talked about this with Alexander Friedman, PhD, lecturer at Heinrich Heine University (Düsseldorf) and Saarland University (Saarbrücken).

– There were no details about Lukashenka’s purpose of visiting the Emirates. We don't know who he actually met there. Therefore, it is difficult to say something about the Emirates.

As for Zimbabwe, a number of economic agreements have been signed there, but Belarus and Zimbabwe are not important economic partners. Therefore, I would not overestimate the value of the agreements reached.

As for all the speculations or versions that have been expressed, namely some kind of informal agreements on diamonds and other minerals, this is possible. Moreover, the Zimbabwean press periodically writes about the corrupt nature of the contacts between the two countries. We can be sure so far. We just do not have information. It may surface soon.

In general, there is no significant international breakthrough or anything like that of course. We can only observe the tourist, folklore, and ethnographic parts of Lukashenka's trip, getting acquainted with life in Zimbabwe, and so on.

– Considering frequent power changes in African countries, can deals with countries like Zimbabwe be reliable?

– There is one interesting detail in this visit. Lukashenka travelled to Zimbabwe during the election year. Still, they conduct elections in a completely different way than Belarus. For example, Mnangagwa won the last election with a score of 50.8%, and the opposition accused him of manipulation, falsification, and so on. The opposition candidate then gained about 40% of the votes.

If you look at the publications of the Zimbabwean press, especially the opposition, then the incumbent president is perceived very ambiguously there, his victory in the upcoming elections is not something taken for granted. It is quite possible that there will be a change of power in Zimbabwe this year if the elections are more or less transparent.

This is what Lukashenka hinted at, namely, the fact that he is already almost participating in the election campaign of the current president of Zimbabwe.

This often happens in African countries, they change partners like socks, depending on who comes to power. The Zimbabwean opposition criticizes deals with Lukashenka and highlights the corrupt nature. If they come to power, then all this can be reviewed. I think that Lukashenka is in a hurry to conclude these deals now, without waiting for the elections, so as not to waste time on launching the development of Zimbabwean resources, if there are any serious plans in this regard.

Theoretically, a very quick change in foreign policy orientation is quite possible in Africa in the event that elections are held and another president comes to power. Maybe not global, because Zimbabwe is very much oriented towards China and cannot refrain from ties with it. They do not consider Lukashenka a serious partner. He, talking about tractors, emphasized that Western, African and even Chinese producers could simply replace Belarus in the Zimbabwean market if they want to.

Here we can add that the Belarusian state propaganda paints this whole situation as a breakthrough in the African direction. And Lukashenka personally emphasized that it was about Zimbabwe, but suddenly Mozambique surfaced in the conversation. This country is very interesting in terms of resources. Lukashenka is not averse to developing relations there as well. But so far, it doesn't even look like a kind of a breakthrough, and his trip to Africa is limited to Zimbabwe. Although Lukashenka said that he discussed Mozambique issues with the President of Zimbabwe, this should not be taken seriously until Mozambique representatives arrived in Belarus.

– Zimbabwe is a definite symbol of economic disaster. Why does Lukashenka not think about PR when visiting such countries? Does he no longer choose where to fly?

– That's true. Zimbabwe is a country with a very bad reputation. Unfortunately, even according to the standards of the African continent. Because of corruption, dictatorial regimes, human rights violations, economic problems, and so on. In many ways, it's an ordinary phenomenon in Africa. But even against the background of many other poor countries, Zimbabwe looks very deplorable. This country has long been considered a symbol of devastation, collapse and inability to build a state. At least in the last years of Robert Mugabe's rule. After Mugabe was removed from power, during the period when Mnangagwa was in power, the situation there slightly improved. But it has improved compared to the state of affairs in 2017-2018. This is a very interesting country in terms of resources, of course, it is also an interesting potential market, but this country certainly does not have any outstanding successes.

Lukashenka is happy there, because European politicians, and foreign politicians in general, visit it very rarely. The country has a very bad reputation. Zimbabwe was even a kind of laughing stock for a long time. It's because of all sorts of Robert Mugabe's tricks.

Therefore, they are very happy about Lukashenka's visit. They are glad that a person came from a completely different part of the world, a politician from Europe. Therefore, it is in their interests to exaggerate the importance of Lukashenka.

As for Lukashenka, he goes wherever invited. There are few opportunities. He was tired of flying in the direction of Azerbaijan-Russia, and he was flattered to fly to Africa and show himself, plunging into positive emotions from the local people.

Moreover, its reality is unpleasant. He will not have exotic trips abroad in the near future.

– You mentioned Mugabe's tricks that made the country funny. Is there anything in common between the Lukashenka regime and the Zimbabwean one?

– Let's just say that Mugabe was extravagant even among other dictators. It means that he was remembered for very strange statements, insane hyperinflation, racism against the white population, which he expelled. Mugabe used violence against opponents of the regime and there was a cult of personality in the country, which, of course, still remains.

You can find a whole bunch of different statements by Mugabe online. For example, he said that he died and was resurrected.

I would even say that Lukashenka becomes "mugabized" with age. When Mugabe was still in a normal physical condition, and he ruled until his advanced years, he behaved more calmly and with dignity.

Mugabe and Mnangagwa are educated people, they studied in London and lived outside the country for a long time. Lukashenka can’t say the same.

Zimbabwe has its own features. On the one hand, it is a terribly poor country, and on the other, the young wife of Mugabe travelled around Europe and bought designer clothes in boutiques in London and Milan. Apparently, he even expected to make her his successor.

In this sense, the Belarusian ruling elite does not behave so openly. As for extravagant statements and actions, then, of course, they play in the same league. There is a video with Lukashenka, where he celebrates the victory of the tennis player Sabalenka. It hit all the prominent Western media?!

Western media seizes on such exotic shots. A person, the head of the state, is sitting at the table, drinking vodka and celebrating the victory of a tennis player. In general, as exotic dictators, they play in the same league. It is inappropriate behaviour from the point of view of the West.

Therefore, Lukashenka's trip to Zimbabwe looks logical. I think that he felt at home there in many ways. This is expressed in a specific detail - a gift that was given to him there. Naturally, when they decided to give Lukashenka a stuffed lion, which is one of the symbols of Zimbabwe, they wanted to please him. This is a very respectful gift by their standards, as I understand it. Judging by Lukashenka's reaction, it did not inspire him, but that's not the point.

It would be impossible to make such a gift to a European leader in Zimbabwe. A scandal would arise after such a gift in any European country. After all, in order to make this stuffed animal, the animal had to be killed. There is a completely different attitude towards animals in European countries, and such a gift would be absolutely unacceptable.

Apparently, the Zimbabwean side agreed on this gift with the Lukashenka administration and perceived it as an absolutely normal thing. Although, this is strange on the part of Lukashenka, who loves animals so much that he puts his dog at the table and on the table. The very fact that such gifts are given to him and he accepts them suggests that he is perceived there as one of them.

I would also like to add that the presence of today's Lukashenka in this way is very stylistically reminiscent of visits to Africa by such Soviet leaders as Brezhnev. The late Brezhnev went on a tour of the fraternal African countries: the way he behaves, the way he talks to them. He did not use even the simplest expressions in English. Even when he communicates with them, he speaks Russian. He can't even say the common "bye bye". This visit shows the Sovietness of Lukashenka very strongly.

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