If you think it must be lonely to be the one and only, think of Alexander Lukashenko, the one and only president of the Republic of Belarus. In the first presidential election in post-Soviet Belarus, it took two rounds to get a majority vote for the then barely-known Lukashenko. That was in 1994. Roughly every five years since, he’s been regularly reelected by ever-increasing majorities that are believed to be increasingly fictitious.
His latest victory, with, he claimed, 80 percent of the vote, was such a blatant lie that literally hundreds of thousands of Belarusans in the capitol Minsk and other cities across the country have been turning out in protest rallies to say it isn’t so.
Recently, the portly 66-year-old Lukashenko has presented photo ops of himself in a flak jacket, brandishing his AK-47, the intended spice in his Soviet-style admonitions to the demonstrators to go home and stuff it.
As with most police states, the main product of decades of the Lukashenko government has been fear. That’s why its long record of human rights abuses, regular use of the death penalty, and intrusive internal security network are often put on public display.
As in the recent border station refusal to let the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Minsk back into the country after a few days in Poland. As if publicly exiling the mild-mannered, 74-year-old liberal prelate made him less dangerous or his flock less resistant to the bogus election result.
Of course, only about 15 percent of Belarusans are Roman Catholics, and they are subject to the kind of “Western influence” Lukashenko has most recently been blaming for the rebellion.
Only eight percent of the Belarusan population is ethnic Russian, an even safer minority for Lukasheno to offend with a wild pre-election week conspiracy theory that several dozen Russian mercenaries had been sent to Minsk by “Putin’s chef” to overthrow his government.
But now, that pre-election anti-Putin dog-whistle has turned into a post-election cry for help. To which Putin has responded that he has on standby an armed force ready to step in should things in Belarus go too far out of control.
Chris Livesay is a CBS News foreign correspondent based in Rome, contributing to all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Livesay, a journalist with experience covering hotspots across Europe and the Middle East, joined CBS News in 2020 and began reporting for the Network at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. He provided extensive coverage across that country throughout the pandemic.
In March, Livesay was the first reporter for an American television network to go inside an ICU in Italy when the country was at the epicenter of the crisis and doctors inside the hospital turned scuba masks into ventilators as supplies ran low. He has reported from northern Italy where cemeteries couldn’t keep up with the number of bodies. Livesay also found bright spots amid the suffering; in Venice, he spoke with volunteers who delivered supplies to those in need in gondolas via the city’s famous canals. This week, he reported from Venice that nature is flourishing, with streets and canals nearly empty of people and transportation.
Before joining CBS News, Livesay reported around the globe for NBC News, PBS NewsHour, PBS Frontline, and NPR News. He brings to CBS News a wealth of international experience having covered a number of major stories with global impact, such as the targeted killing of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, the protests in Hong Kong, and the priest sex abuse scandals at the Vatican. In 2018, he was the first American TV correspondent to report from Libya in almost a year and had to flee the country amid government threats for shedding light on migrant trafficking, torture and abuse. In 2016, he was among the first TV journalists to report from Mosul on the front lines of the Iraqi military’s push to remove ISIS.