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Political Biography: Incoherence, Contestation, and Elements of the Hero Pattern in the Belarusian Case

Anastasiya Astapova
Journal of Folklore Research
Vol. 53, No. 2 (May/August 2016), pp. 31-62
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/jfolkrese.53.2.02
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jfolkrese.53.2.02
Page Count: 32
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Political Biography: Incoherence, Contestation, and Elements of the Hero Pattern in the Belarusian Case
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Abstract

Abstract This research focuses on Belarus, a former Soviet republic that elected its first president, Alexander Lukashenko, in 1994. Lukashenko has ruled ever since, causing the country to become notorious as the last dictatorship in Europe. Having inherited a state system that was still socialist, Belarus enthusiastically preserved numerous Soviet elements of economics, politics, and everyday life. Within this context Lukashenko’s official biography portrays him as the people’s president: a peasant child, born to common people, who achieved his goals through diligence, simplicity, and modesty. At the same time, however, the intended audience for this biography often rejects its propagandistic elements in favor of a folk response in the form of an alternative biography. Ultimately, Lukashenko’s life story as understood by Belarusians is highly ambiguous and incoherent, resembling a blend of legends rather than a monologic narrative. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted since 2011, this essay compares the official and alternative versions of Lukashenko’s birth story and examines the broader vernacular picture that results from their intertwining. It also focuses on the various uses of Lukashenko’s biography, paying particular attention to how certain details become relevant and assume different meanings within a contested political environment.

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