The Makings of a Grandiose Dictator

In attempting to get somewhat closer to understanding what on earth could possibly be going on inside the head of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s last dictator, RFE/RL interviews two analysts, Uladzimir Padhol and Leonid Radzikhovsky, and produces a very interesting discussion. 

RFE/RL: Lukashenka seems to enjoy acting as though he is bringing his interviewers in on a big secret — real or imagined. “Did you know that it was thanks to me that there was no blockade of Abkhazia under [former Georgian President Eduard] Shevardnadze?” “Did you know that Russian [Finance] Minister Aleksei Kudrin’s dire forecast about the Belarusian economy was meant to create panic?” Is this a tactic, or a philosophy?

Padhol: This is not only a philosophy but a self-preservation instinct as a politician. Being a supra-authoritarian dictator, he is constantly making mistakes in the course of governing. For instance, trade with Russia resulted in the construction of over 100 new dairy plants. And what’s to be done with them now?

He constantly has to conceal the fact that he’s the one who’s the source of these mistakes. And he’s constantly inventing these conspiracy theories to create a picture of the world in which he is always the infallible one, the one who made the best decisions. This secrecy thing allows him to constantly perform his “I am the best” shtick. Why’s he waging such a battle with the independent media? Because they immediately expose him: “There you said one thing, here you say another.”

Radzikhovsky:Like all grandiose dictators — and Lukashenka certainly is that,albeit of a small country — he combines two personas. On the one hand,he is the clear, rational, straight-thinking guy, and on the other, thehyperemotional one. These personas somehow become fused together, andhe is adept at alternating from one mode to the other.

Youcould never make it as a grandiose, charismatic dictator if you’relacking in this skill. Like any great actor, you have to make yourselfbelieve the play is real; otherwise, your audience won’t believe iteither.