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If you litter, Europe’s last dictator may confiscate your car

Wearing Soviet-era fatigues, teenagers take part in a military game simulating special operations at their "Spetsnaz" (Special Forces) military adventure training camp near the Belarus village of Talka, about 55 miles southeast of the capital, Minsk, on July 6. (Sergei Gapon/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Belarus's long-ruling president, Alexander Lukashenko, is sometimes referred to as Europe’s "last dictator." But while he is frequently criticized abroad, Belarusans are the ones who feel the effects of his laws and policies. According to the state-run news agency BelTA, the president warned of drastic punishments for offenders polluting the environment, including the "confiscation of vehicles."

In other words: If you dump trash in Belarus, you may lose your car.

To many, Lukashenko's latest remarks come as no surprise. Here are two other examples of the Belarusan president's notorious interpretation of justice.

Don't clap your hands

In 2011, protesters in Belarus adopted an uncommon way to protest Lukashenko's policies: They clapped. Thousands of people were consequently arrested for applauding. One of those accused of having committed the offense had only one arm. He was fined anyway.

Ban on teddy bears

A year later, the capital, Minsk, was bombarded with 879 plush teddy bears by members of an advertisement agency who were inspired by democracy activists. Attached to them were small signs supporting free speech. Although the government decided to ignore the airdrop at first, photos soon began to emerge.

Finally, Lukashenko condemned the violation of Belarus's airspace. But he didn't stop there. He continued to fire several of his generals for failing to uphold national security and threw Swedish diplomats out of the country.

The group responsible for the teddy bear spat had been based in Sweden. It commented on its Web site: “A dictator can be hated, despised or feared. The only thing he cannot survive is being laughed at.”

However, many Belarusans don't have much to smile about. After a period of growth, their country has faced economic instability since 2008. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 in an oppressive and often brutal manner — imprisoning opponents and silencing journalists. He was quoted by several media outlets, including Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, as once having said: "I won't let my government follow the civilized world."

Rick Noack writes about foreign affairs and is based in Europe.



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