Belarus welcomes RU professor and author
As part of a three-day promotional tour in support of his recently-published book, Grigory Ioffe, professor of geospatial science at Radford University, was taken aback by his reception as he visited Minsk, Belarus, in January.
"The publicity exceeded my expectations," said Ioffe. "I met with President of Belarus, did television and press agency interviews and made two presentations, one at the Academy of Public Administration and one at the National Library."
Ioffe, was in Belarus to promote "Reassessing Lukashenka," an assessment of the long and controversial presidency of Alexander Lukashenka, president of Belarus, an Eastern European country with a population of more than nine million that borders both Russia and Ukraine.
"The book looks at President Lukashenka's presidency largely from a domestic vantage point," he said. "I tried to evaluate his presidency using a variety of cultural and economic criteria as well as historical context. I tried to go beyond just ideology."
Ioffe, who describes himself as "far from the corridors of power," was granted unique access to the controversial four-term head of state. For the nearly 300-page book published in October by Palgrave Macmillan, he interviewed Lukashenka twice, for seven hours in total.
Ioffe said the book's release came at a time when Lukashenka and Belarus are hoping to improve relations with the West. Belarus and its president recently hosted talks in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, on resolving the conflict in Ukraine.
"It is a controversial book on a controversial man with both positive and negative views," he said. "In many ways, my conclusions are out of line with conventional wisdom. Economically, geopolitically and socially, Belarus is distinctive and the Lukashenka presidency is a product of those local conditions."
Ioffe began his study of Belarus in 2001. As he studied the country, the country's president and the environment in which Lukashenka has flourished became a compelling subject to Ioffe, a human geography specialist.
"He is an authoritarian leader who has been in power for more than 20 years and he succeeded in many ways. Any student of the country must acknowledge this monumental figure and the conditions in which he has arisen," Ioffe said.
The whirlwind tour in support of his book's release and his reception in Belarus were unique experiences for an academic author, Ioffe said. A highlight of the tour came when Ioffe addressed more than 300 Belarusian guests at a speech at the Academy of Public Administration. The audience at the National Library was smaller but with several prominent attendees including Minister of Information of Belarus, Head of the Political Section of the European Union's Delegation to Belarus, First Secretary of the Russian Embassy, and quite a few Belarusian entrepreneurs.
"It was unusual and, at times, awkward, but it was enjoyable and eventful," Ioffe said.