Alexander Lukashenko, the "president and autocratic leader" of Belarus, "has had quite a year," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight — his first show with a live audience since the pandemic started. "You might have noticed stories about Belarus popping up with increasing regularity, especially since last August, when they had a highly contested election which made international headlines."
Belarusians are "furious at Lukashenko for his handling of the coronavirus," including claiming COVID-19 was a psychosis that could be treated with vodka and saunas, but their grievances run much deeper, Oliver said. "He's described himself as 'the last and only dictator in Europe,'" which is "an amazing thing to say," like "bragging about being the last Radio Shack or the last person to make a movie with Harvey Weinstein." In May, Lukashenko personally ordered fighter jets to force down a commercial airliner so security agents could arrest a dissident journalist.
"Given how much things seem to be spiraling in Belarus, we thought tonight it would be worth giving you some context for what is happening over there and taking a look at exactly who Alexander Lukashenko is," Oliver said, running through the president's history as a "common-man" political star and short-lived anti-corruption crusader who then took control of the national media, cemented his power, and now micromanages news coverage so closely, cameras can't show his bald pate, only his obvious comb-over.
But as delightful as it is watching Lukashenko "force-feeding Steven Seagal raw vegetables" and other "bizarre behavior," Oliver said, "for nearly three decades now, Belarus has experienced a brutal cycle of oppression in which Lukashenko wins elections that are neither free nor fair, locks up his political opponents, people take to the streets in protest, and he violently cracks down. It is no wonder the Belarusian people seem to have had enough."
So what can we do? "Sanctions can only do so much here, and Lukashenko does not seem keen to end his reign," Oliver said. The only way out would be for the Belarusian people to reform their Constitution to ensure free and fair elections, "but there may be one extremely small way that we can actually help here — or if not help, at least annoy the s--t out of Lukashenko." You can watch (and order Oliver's special teddy bears) below.