On 17 November president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko held a big press conference for over 100 Russian journalists, participants of a traditional press tour around Belarus. “An absolutely honest dialogue”, as he called it, lasted for 5 hours and 40 minutes.
Russian journalists, among other things, were interested in utilities system in Belarus, the quality of tractors produced by MTZ, cultural preferences of the Belarusian leader and hobbies of his younger son.
Here are some of the most stricking and curious statements made by Alexander Lukashenko:
1. Why did the USSR fall apart?
Alexander Lukashenko believes that people should be well provided with a wide range of consumer goods – from clothing to food. Because, as it may be inferred, the lack of those may trigger social unrest.
“Here I am sitting dressed in clothers made in Belarus, and you know where presidents usually dress… And what about your domestic light industry? It doesn’t exist! You do not have your own light industry, but at the same time you are not naked. You know where the clothers you wear are made – and you know, what kind of clothers these are”, president hinted at the poor quality of “you-know-whose” goods.
In Alexander Lukashenko’s opinion, Russia pays too little attention of small everyday issues, while they certainly need to be addressed.
“Do you know why the Soviet Union collapsed? Because there was not enough washing powder! I was young at that time, and I was sorry to look at those women standing in long queues. I myself stood for hours to buy 10-20 packs of imported washing powder!”
However, the USSR could have organized its own production of powder and it wouldn’t have taken long, the Belarusian head of state is sure.
2. Salaries in Belarus may be relatively low, but that’s because the cost of living is cheap
Salaries in Belarus are relatively low, but services are cheap, Alexander Lukashenko said. He cited statistical data regarding the average wages in Russia and Belarus and compared these figures with the cost of services.
For example, an average worker in Belarus is paid a little less than $400 in equivalent, which is about 1.5 times less than in Russia. Utility bills are much lower in Belarus than in Russia, Ukraine, and European countries.
“Let’s look at utilities’ costs. 1m3 of water in Minsk costs 15 cents in equivalent in Minsk, 53 cents in Moscow, 41 cents in St. Petersburg, 36 cents in Smolensk, 27 cents in Kiev, $2.5 in Berlin.
The price of hot water here is 62 cents, and in Moscow it’s $2.61. In Smolensk and St. Petersburg it is three times more expensive than here.”
The same can be said about the prices for other utility services such as water disposal, heating, technical and elevator maintenance. Besides, Belarus has free education (90% of students get higher education for free, according to the head of state) and healthcare.
“People can be paid twice as much, but then they will pay more for certain services,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
3. “Three ostriches, ducks, 25 geese, 10 cows…”
Alexander Lukashenko, who is known for his love of land and farming, said he keeps numerous pets at his farm, including horses, sheep and even ostriches.
In his residence there are three cats and four dogs – they are a shepherd presented to Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow, a labrador puppy gifted by border guards, and two laikas. But the number of pets is much bigger.
“I have many pets. Three ostriches, ducks, 25 geese. I had 70 rabbits, but I’ve given a lot of them away, so now there are only 20 left. I also have 10 cows, 10 goats, 15 sheep, seven or eight horses,” the president said.
He added that he grew up surrounded by animals. “I love animals. Your life depends on the way you treat nature and animals,” Alexander Lukashenko thinks.
4. Gadgets, iPhones, phablets will help Belarus prosper
Oil and gas become a things of the past, the future belongs to advanced technologies, Alexander Lukashenko said. He believes that cutting-edge technologies will be source of wealth in the future.
“It’s good that we’ve created the Hi-Tech Park in the right time. All these gadgets, iphones, phablets will bring wealth in future. Cutting-edge technologies. And we have them, and we must and will be developing them”, the head of state explained.
Alexander Lukashenko mentioned gadgets as he was dwelling about the necessity of the nuclear power plant to Belarus. In his view, the Belarusian NPP is not only about diversification of energy sources, but also the most advanced technology.
“The nuclear power plant, space modules, that we build and launch and so on – these are the latest technologies. We can not live without them today.”
See also: Why is Belarus Tech Booming?
5. The number 13 and luck
Another personal thing that the Belarusian leader shared with the journalists was his favourite number.
“The number 13 is my favourite. When I do sports, ski, I cover the distance of 13 km. When I do exercises, I repeat them 13 times. I like this number a lot though I don’t even know why.”
Alexander Lukashenko confessed that the duties of a president are more about hard work than luck.
6. About social networks, youngest son and the freedom of Internet
Alexander Lukashenko does not have any social media accounts, except for his official website, and is against his youngest son Kolya having them either.
He added that when it comes to surfing the Internet, the boy is mostly interested in “tanks and history”.
“He can say he needs computed for two minutes to look for informations for studies, and then would sit there for two hours playing tanks. My task is to ensure he does not spend online more than an hour a week. So far I succeed”, president said.
The Belarusian leader also expressed an opinion that Belarus is one of the countries with free Internet. For example, in 2010, after the protests that followed the presidential elections, he was offered to “close the Internet”. But he refused to do so.
“I replied: No, fight using their methods. After all, we are a technologically advanced country. And we resisted! We can’t be reproached for limiting anyone”, Alexander Lukashenko concluded.
This year the press conference for the Russian media was held for 13th time. The previous one it was organized in October 2014 and lasted for five and a half hours.
The press conference on Thursday was attended by about 100 representatives of the media and bloggers from 46 regions of Russia. For the first time representatives of four federal TV channels were present at the event.