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The Emperor’s New Clothes

Can an ordinary Belarusian dress just like President Lukashenka?

by Paulina Kaltavicanka 22 March 2017

As anti-government protests look set to continue in Belarus, long-hidden frustrations with increasing poverty and government insensitivity have erupted into the open. But such feelings have been in plain view on social networks and internet forums, with no better example than the reactions to an article about the president’s wardrobe on the popular news and information portal TUT.BY.


For many years, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been trying to persuade his countrymen to buy goods made in Belarus, not abroad. To drive the point home, he has claimed that he wears Belarusian clothes to save money. But ordinary Belarusians doubt whether they would ever be rich enough to wear the same items.


Lukashenka also said that the only suit he bought abroad as president was from Brioni (an exclusive Italian brand of tailored clothing).


“When I was told how much it cost, I said: ‘No, it’s the first and the last one [that I will ever buy abroad]!’”


Now his suits are regularly made by “Line A,” a special dressmaking and tailoring venture that is part of the Main Economic Department of the Presidential Office. As for the fabrics used to make the clothes, they are from Belarus as well as Italy, TUT.BY reports.


“You have seen the model – it is the same as a usual suit, without golden buttons,” a representative from Line A said.


If an ordinary citizen asks for a “suit like the president’s,” the order will be accepted. As for the price, Line A offers three price brackets:


  • “Economic” – 100-150 Belarusian rubles (about $53-80);
  • “Improved quality” – around 200 rubles; and
  • “Luxury” – around 250 rubles.


These prices are for the tailoring alone, and exclude the cost of fabrics.


As for shoes, the Belarusian president prefers Marko, the national brand. According to Mikalaj Martynau, the head of the company, Lukashenka wears a production model – well, a leather-soled one, whereas the usual model has a sole made out of thermoplastic rubber.


Marko was inspired to start producing this model after a meeting with the president, who wore similar Italian shoes before.


Although anyone can buy “presidential shoes,” such customers are mostly government officials, Martynau says.


Miracles of Transformation?


However, a review of various social media accounts and Internet forums indicates that many Belarusians remain skeptical that ordinary mortals are able to wear such “presidential” garb.


“Stop singing, Alyaksandr, son of Ryhor! Don’t pull the wool over our eyes! No doubt you have ordered at least dozens of Italian suits,” writes user Anton__puh on the forum.


“His leather jacket costs not less than $500, and the fabric for a suit may cost up to several thousand dollars. I have never seen shoes like his at Marko. As for me, I buy Polish or German shoes, but in Belarus, in general, prices for clothes are sky-high – not even talking about things for kids, and the situation is even worse for children’s clothing,” Viktoor1981 writes.


The user nick i19705 has seen the president with his own eyes at the ski resort Raubicy, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Minsk:


“He was wearing a Bogner sport coat. It’s not just clothes – it is the status! Such a jacket costs $2,000 or even $2,500. So he has fibbed!” 


Slash2000 is sure all the Belarusian trademarks the president was talking about were actually foreign:


“Brioni costumes have turned into Comintern [Belarusian brand of men’s suits], Аrtiolli shoes are Marko, a Hermes belt passes for Galanteya [Belarusian bag and leather goods manufacturer], a Harley motorbike – ‘Minsk,’ [Belarusian brand of motorcycles] and so on. Such miracles of transformation!”


Custom-Made President


Vadim_Vadim has another argument: the clothes for the president might be made in Belarus, but even his dressmaking establishment says the fabrics are imported.


“I believe it can be true! The suit might be sown here, but the fabric was bought in Italy. A meter of good fabric can cost up to $1,000 – now tell me how much the suit will be! Marko shoes are also made-to-order, not bought in a shop! So the leather is Italian, I guess, not Chinese, like for ordinary people! And these shoes will cost much more than $70. And all the underwear, including T-shirts, are also custom-made – you know individual orders cost much more than precious brands. Oh, yeah, our goods can be high-quality when the president orders something made for him,” Vadim_Vadim wrote.


Lukashenka's Marko shoes


Some forum users don’t understand why the president orders new items so often.


“They say that ‘suit orders for the head of state come in regularly”. Does he need 100, or 500 suits? The tailor does not make a president,” complains Vadimko.


Others are not sure whether ordering suits should be the real role of the presidential administration.


“That’s what they say! Now everything is clear: the presidential office orders the clothes, for official and everyday occasions, orders food, schedules meetings… They are all secretaries, putting things together,” an outraged Alexsyi23 comments.


Don’t Forget the Golden Watch


But forum users are most outraged because of the expensive watches the president has forgotten to say a word about.


“Journalists have photographed the watch of the Belarusian president during one of his most recent visits to Lithuania. On his wrist Lukashenka wore the Swiss model Patek Philippe Calatrava 5120J. Its price is almost $17,000 dollars, or 11,000 euros,” Vlad_Sokolovsky remembers.


However, he is wrong. Made of yellow gold, and with a black crocodile skin bracelet, the Patek Philippe Calatrava 5120J retails at $23,500.


Although the Belarusian leader prefers these alleged overpriced goods, some Belarusians are not convinced by “presidential” wear, on the grounds that Lukashenka’s style is far from perfect.


“Thanks a lot, I wouldn't take [his wardrobe] even for free,” writes Eviltol.


“As for me, I would only wear his boots to a funeral,” Vitalij_Michalkievich adds.


Neither Good nor Cheap


Belarusian goods turn out to be inferior to those made in neighboring Poland, or even to Chinese ones, say others.


“By the way, I wear a suit and tie for work too, because I’m a public speaker. But I only wear Belarusian clothing items at home: a T-shirt and sport pants,” says Anton__puh. 


But even if you like the president’s Belarusian wardrobe, it’s impossible to emulate his style without a government official’s salary, others complain.


“[The tailoring work] itself costs 100-250 rubles, which means that a government official’s made-to-order clothes cost as much as an ordinary man earns in three months! And we haven’t even taken into consideration the price of the fabrics,” jokes Sieryj.


“Can I wear Belarusian shoes? Yes – if the government pays! Buying them out of my own pocket is too expensive and [they are] too shoddy. I have bought Columbia shoes [a U.S. brand of outdoor sportswear] so don’t want even to look at Belarusian ones,” ttolik wrote. 


A large percentage of customers, especially in western Belarus, do their shopping in Poland.


“Our people wear Chinese or Polish items. With the same quality, they are half the price of goods made in Belarus,” according to urgent.


“The rich buy Belarusian goods, but I only have enough money for Chinese or Polish ones,” Leg_Breyker says.


Shoes for Half a Salary


How much are Belarusian goods? The “president’s shoes,” for example, according to the official Marco catalog, are 172 rubles, which is around $90. Unfortunately, for most ordinary Belarusians, even such a price is a mark of unattainable luxury today.


According to the National Statistical Committee, every third citizen has an income of less than 300 rubles per month, although the official average wage before taxes is 720 rubles.


“How many years will a state-paid worker who earns 256 rubles a month before taxes need to save for shoes that cost $70?” sergey_7144940 wonders.


“$70 for shoes? That’s half my salary! If I buy them after paying utilities, I’ll have to stop eating! A Belarusian man can afford Chinese sneakers for $15, nothing more!” saitoman seethes.


“My salary is $120. How can I spend $70 on shoes, having two little children??? It’s a mockery!” Seryj retorts.


“You bet! My budget is only $100 per month. How can I even pay the bills? And what will I eat after buying these shoes?” olesia_g_tutby6 writes. 


“Oh, I work at a collective farm and earn just $70!” writes user id169312643, who lives in the countryside where employment, or rather the lack of, is a much more serious problem. 


“Clothes? What are you talking about! My wife and I have forgotten the last time we bought any. Maybe we got tights for the children,” writes format21.


The only one at odds with the other 153 is Pavark1, who seems fond of working nonstop:


It’s not a mockery! If you are short of money you can always take a second job. I had two or three jobs all my life. Even when I was a student I worked as a watchman, a foreman, and a freight handler. And now I’m retired but still continue to work.”


A Discount for the President


As for other forum users, they are very often looking for sales when they need to buy anything.


“70 dollars??? From Marko??? It’s more profitable to look for sales of brand-name items in Poland. Lower prices, higher quality,” Maria_Metelkina shares her tips for saving money.


“My earnings are not good enough for leather-soled Markos. But at the end of the season I can buy winter shoes discounted at 30 percent, although not every brand gives discounts, so I go for discounts instead of brands. And I have no doubts Marko’s items for ordinary people are different from those ordered by the president,” andr_1979 confidently says.


The forum is full of jokes that Lukashenka is bargain-hunting just like other customers, and on the lookout for sales. That is why his $90 shoes were just $70!


“He has a regular client discount!” supposes malahaa.


“The president has his personal discount rates,” thinks Apimh.


“No, the price was lowered because of his low income,” neva76 writes, coming up with a new explanation.


“You don’t understand! It was a second-hand item,” argues magaz12_magaz12. You know, in Belarus, people don’t boast about going to second-hand shops, and are even embarrassed to shop there.


To sum up the feedback then on Lukashenka’s wardrobe, Belarusians agree that an ordinary citizen would be able to wear what the head of state does if he or she, too, had a presidential salary – or, to be more exact, “if he or she somehow became the country’s president,” as forum user Andrei_art put it.

Paulina Kaltavicanka is a freelance Belarusian journalist.

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