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Faces of Belarusian Politics: The Faceless Makey

The oppositional analysts used to hope that the head of the Presidential Administration of Belarus Uladzimir Makey would establish better relations with the West. His background created the impression of a sophisticated politician familiar with the West. He made it to the...


The oppositional analysts used to hope that the head of the Presidential Administration of Belarus Uladzimir Makey would establish better relations with the West. His background created the impression of a sophisticated politician familiar with the West. He made it to the top of the Belarusian regime from a small Belarusian village and shabby army positions.

Indeed, he became the head of Presidential Administration, effectively Lukashenka's right hand in 2008, to lead the new rapprochement with the EU. He then survived a new wave of confrontation with the West after the last presidential elections and then launched the wide-scale offensive against Western sanctions. On Friday, Makey again urged to restore dialogue with the EU, saying that nobody in Belarus doubted the aims of establishing independent democratic state with a strong civil society. 

Belarusian Dream”

53-years-old Makey comes from a village in western Hrodna province. He has ambitions and talents but apparently lacked connections and he studied at Minsk Foreign Languages Institute. In late 1970s it was a place with best prospects of working with foreigners in Soviet Belarus or abroad.

However, after graduating with a double major in German and English he chose a military carrier. Despite speculations, there are no reasons to say he became a "spy" working for Soviet military intelligence GRU. More probably, he served as a military interpreter or in similar minor position in 1980-1992. 

Russian newspaper “Krasnaya Zvezda” published memoirs of a colleague who worked together with Makey in 1980s in the Group of Soviet Troops in Germany. Their unit was based in Wünsdorf conducted surveys of military and political situation in Western Europe, apparently using open sources. In other words, Makey served as a lower-ranked officer. It was Lukashenka who promoted him to the rank of colonel.

After dissolution of Soviet Union Makey quit the Red Army and went to work for the Foreign Ministry of now independent Belarus. In early 1990s, any person having decent knowledge of foreign languages might immediately get such a job as the ministry was in the process of formation. Then he was sent for a short-term training in Diplomatic Academy in Vienna in 1992-3.

In 1993-1995, he worked at the Foreign Ministry in Minsk, mainly in analytical and protocol sections. In late 1990s, Makey briefly became Belarusian representative at the Council of Europe. In January 1997, the Council of Europe effectively broke even minimal relations with the country and Makey stayed in Paris as an adviser of Belarusian embassy.

Glamour Under Dictatorship

After returning to Belarus, he headed the European Cooperation Department of Foreign Ministry and then became in 2000 an aide to the president. Belorusskaya Gazeta reported later the rumours that Lukashenka just had liked one of Makey's speeches at the Foreign Ministry conference.

In Belarus access to the ruler is key to career success. In July 2008, after explosion at the Liberation Day festivities Lukashenka appointed Makey as head of his Presidential Administration replacing the once powerful Viktar Sheiman. After 1996 constitutional coup, the Administration emerged as real centre of power in Belarus which controls all major decisions in the country.

In 2008, Lukashenka brought into power a new group of people while getting rid of old cadres including the once powerful No. 2 – Viktar Sheiman. Analysts relate the purge to the influence of the president's son. There are undoubtedly good relations between Makey and Viktar Lukashenka. However, they belong to different generations and have too different backgrounds to presume equality between them.

Makey's son from the first marriage works in Belarusian Foreign Ministry in good positions. In 2007, Makey-senior married for the second time – his new wide is a much younger actress and TV presenter Viera Paliakova. She is known for her celebrity talk show “Life as It Is” on the state TV which started at the time when she got engaged with Makey.

The Jungle Law

One of Lukashenka closest associates does not look ideologically charged. He calls the Soviet Union a “great country” but does not display any nostalgia for Communist rule.

He refers to Lukashenka in every second sentence, and even emulates his boss' rough talk. But he also cites Karel Čapek and Nikolay Berdyaev, and rather enjoys recalling the squares and fish markets of Brussels in his interviews.

Makey is a representative of opportunistic political clique which just wishes that the West leaves it to its own devices. Speaking at Belarus-German forum in 2009 he rebuked the West that it was wrong to assess the situation in Belarus considering only the scale of reforms only in political sphere.

Later on, he outwardly dismissed Western moral foundations, declaring in 2011, “A jungle law effectively dominates the world. “Everyone for himself”, i.e. the rule of stronger functions, i.e. the stronger has the right and will dictate his will. It causes a series of armed conflicts. How to survive in this situation, preserve the country, multiply its wealth – that is the question.”

But these words do not make him a hardliner. Chairman of the United Civic Party Anatol Lyabedzka recalled his contacts with Makey in late 1990s: “He never averted meeting representatives of political opposition, was rather open to talk, demonstrated some adherence to European values.”

Already as the head of Administration, Makey regularly used at the meetings of Public Consultative Council the Belarusian – something extraordinary for regime's officials. Last time Lukashenka officially spoke in this language was in 2003, and Belarusian is permanently under persecution of state authorities. Chairman of Belarusian Language Society Alieh Trusau emphasised that at the meetings of all officials only Makey switched to the Belarusian – rather unconventional behaviour for the nomenclature.

Makey's dry and inarticulate public speeches are remarkable even among other such Belarusian officials. The Moscow-based web-site Belaruski Partyzan called the usually gloomy-looking Makey “a man without face.” And yet, he is one of the faces of the Belarusian regime and one of its key decision-makers.

Indeed, Makey may facilitate transformation of the current regime and make deals with the West. Of course, he demonstrates no firm adherence to democracy, and he has no vision of his own and no great political ambitions, unlike for instance much younger Viktar Lukashenka. In this regard he resembles the Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich. Makey will be able to remain a shadow analyst and executive secretary under any Belarusian ruler.

Siarhei Bohdan
Siarhei Bohdan
Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.
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