A Look into the Covid-19 Pandemic from the Perspective of a Belarusian Liberal

The Belarusian Flag

Kseniya Oao, the first and only child of Alena Novikova and Aliaksei Oao, is a 22-year-old Belarusian. Although she now studies at the Belarusian State University in the capital city of Minsk; Kseniya was born and raised in Barysaw, -though considerably smaller than its European counterparts- the second largest city in Belarus population-wise.

Alena and Aliaksei, avid supporters of the regime back in the Soviet days, are remnants of the past as far as Kseniya is concerned. Despite having had slight adaptations in their mindsets to fit into the 21st century, they are still lost in an ideological maze. They have no belief in individuals’ intelligence and are astonished by charismatic leaders and sharp hierarchic establishments. “State knows better.” was their go-to phrase for answering any opposers, at times including Kseniya. Hence, they have always admired the strong-handed, glorified leadership of Alexander Lukashenko, the first and only president of the Republic of Belarus. Lukashenko is a hero in their eyes for standing up to European westernization efforts and protecting the traditions of his homeland.

Conversely, Kseniya is a head-strong liberal. Having grown up in this atmosphere of strong parental political beliefs, she turned out to be everything her parents are not, opposing everything they supported. Since her early childhood, she always liked to make her own decisions and not have anything imposed on her. To try and equalize the injustices she encountered gave her joy. She believed in people and their intelligence. For all these stances and more, she always despised everything Lukashenko stood for. Nonetheless, for the first time in her life, she finds himself approving of his policies.

It would only make sense to start with some context. The epidemic of the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in early March 2020[1]. Thereupon, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Belarus was only 21[2]. Less than two months later, by May 9th, that number had skyrocketed to 22,052 verified cases. Therewithal, that day had another significance as the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War Two. Notwithstanding the cancellation of all events in the neighbouring Russian Federation; Minsk was a place of celebration and lack of social distancing[3], drawing the attention of many international media outlets such as but not limited to the BBC and Al Jazeera. With no significant enforced precautions in place, it was as if Belarusian authority was ignoring a pandemic.

Kseniya, as aforementioned, was and still is to this day pleased with this policy. Her belief in the people’s choice and individuals’ intelligence was adamant. Right after the declaration of the pandemic, she put herself into a self-imposed quarantine. She goes out only for urgent needs as her university puts into place a postponement of lecture courses[4]. She would prefer having the option to attend her courses in a way of her choosing, be it virtual or physical. Under any circumstance, she now spends her time keeping tabs on her country’s situation. She despises Lukashenko’s recommendations for battling the pandemic with vodka, tractors, and saunas[5]. Be that as it may, she is in deep appreciation of her country’s citizens’ efforts in battling the pandemic. She feels that this never-seen-before unified work of people[6] proves her point about the power of individual intelligence in separating right and wrong. As for those still resuming their day-to-day living, she respects them because she believes in the people’s choice. She admires that the Ministry of Health is working day and night to provide the people with necessary resources for battling the epidemic, without restricting their freedoms.

Life is at times hard for Kseniya as a liberal living in “the last dictatorship of Europe”[7]. Therefore, she takes pleasure in consuming content about the predominant actors of the world. Nowadays, international news makes her question the integrity of leaders she once so dearly looked up to. Previously, she would look up to the freedom-upholding and equality-promoting policies of the Scandinavian nations so much as to ignore their so-called modernized version of socialism. However, their deployment of mandatory lockdowns and social restrictions — excluding Sweden, who chose a different approach — tore down their image in her eyes in their entirety.

On the other hand, her view of Donald Trump has gone for the better. For sure, she still looks down at him for his ignorance in suggesting that the virus could be eradicated by drinking disinfectants and his ultimately conservatist policy of “America First” that despises years of globalization efforts. However, she grew fond of his actions in resorting to the choice of the public and being against the imposition of a lockdown on his citizens. In this interesting period of world politics, she finds him to be one of the few world leaders to hear the voices of their people.

She fears that in the aftermath of this pandemic, international support for vastly authorized regimes will soar, with their leaders iniquitously taking the credit for the battle of their nations against the virus. Her truth is far from those of the authoritarians. She believes that the countries that dealt with the pandemic subjectively successfully could have done so without the mandatory imposition of freedom-restricting policies. What made them successful was the intellectuality of their people, as she believes will be the case for Belarus as well in a few months.

To this day, she always stood against the justification of restriction of freedom by those resorting to the phrase “Desperate times require desperate measures.”. This pandemic is a test of her values, and she is determined to preserve them under all circumstances. In the end, that is what keeps her sane and determined to wake up every day. Her evaluation of lax measures as a derivation of the free spirit may not be embraced by all, but that all can think freely is the beauty of her version of liberalism.

Coming is a new era for her voice, waiting to be heard protecting individual freedoms. Working hard to expose those who undermined the intelligence of their society. The pandemic might as well be the end of the world as she knows it. Henceforth, she is determined to build the next to be a more equal, a freer one.

[1] For the full declaration text: World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe, 2020. WHO Announces Covid-19 Outbreak A Pandemic. [Online] Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/news/news/2020/3/who-announces-covid-19-outbreak-a-pandemic [Accessed 21 May 2020].

[2] Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus, 2020. StopCOVID. [Online] Available at: http://stopcovid.belta.by/ [Accessed 21 May 2020].

[3] Melnichuk, T., 2020. Coronavirus: Belarus WW2 parade defies pandemic and upstages Putin. [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52574749 [Accessed 21 May 2020].

[4] Belarusian State University, 2020. BSU decided to move the lecture courses for all faculties to a later date. [Online] Available at: https://bsu.by/en/news/bsu-decided-to-move-the-lecture-courses-for-all-faculties-to-a-later-date-d/ [Accessed 21 May 2020].

[5] Brown, L., 2020. Belarus president believes vodka and saunas will cure coronavirus. [Online] Available at: https://nypost.com/2020/03/30/belarus-president-believes-vodka-and-saunas-will-cure-coronavirus [Accessed 21 May 2020].

[6] Bienvenu, H., 2020. Belarus: Life as normal despite ravaging coronavirus epidemic. [Online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/belarus-life-normal-ravaging-coronavirus-epidemic-200507104734893.html [Accessed 21 May 2020].

[7] Bennett, B., 2011. The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus Under Lukashenko. 1st ed. New York: Columbia University Press.



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Ufuk Karaca

Ufuk Karaca

GIRVAK Fellow | Microsoft Student Ambassador | SDSN Youth SDG Coordinator