One wouldn’t expect the presidents of France and Belarus to have much in common. Yet they do, very much so.
But before we explore the similarities between Manny and Alex, it’s only fair to point out the differences.
Manny would like to become a dictator, but can’t. He is looking wistfully at the French political system that seems to offer no loopholes for governing by fiat. True, a French president has more clout than, say, a British PM, but his powers still don’t quite reach dictatorial level.
Manny’s dream is Lukashenko’s reality. He has been a dictator since at least 1995 and by now has planted his feet firmly under that desk. His power knows no internal constraints, which Manny can only envy.
However, Manny’s power sits on a much stronger historical foundation. France’s history of statehood is measured in many centuries; Belarus’s, only in a few decades.
Moreover, France relinquishes much of her sovereignty to the EU voluntarily and, one hopes, reversibly. Belarus’s sovereignty is largely contingent on Russia’s munificence, and Lukashenko doesn’t really have much choice in that matter – without Russia’s cash, resources and, if needed, bayonets he can’t survive.
Then France is considerably stronger than Belarus in every respect: economically, militarily, culturally and every which way. She boasts 71 Nobel laureates (15 for literature), to Belarus’s two (one for literature). And the salient difference is that France is a nuclear power and Belarus isn’t, although Alex has aspirations along those lines.
France’s economy isn’t doing particularly well, if we are being totally honest. Still, it’s far from being the basket case that Belarus is.
Given such differences, one wouldn’t expect to find too many similarities. Yet they exist, unfortunately.
Both Manny and Alex seek to punish Britain, although Lukashenko casts his net wider. If Britain provides the sole outlet for Manny’s bile, Lukashenko also sees in his crosshairs all other Western and semi-Western countries.
Where the two presidents really converge is in the methods of punishment they seek to mete out. The methods are twofold in both cases: a rapid increase in the export of undesirable aliens and a threatened reduction in the export of desirable energy.
Almost half of our electricity (and 95 per cent of Jersey’s) comes from France, which makes Britain vulnerable to pressure, if not outright blackmail. France is alive to the ensuing possibilities. Hardly a month goes by without a French official, often Manny himself, threatening to cut the supply off should Britain refuse to play ball by the rules Manny and his German friends lay down.
This is accompanied by branding Britain as a “historical enemy”. The history in question is quite ancient, considering that the two countries have been allies since 1815. However, undeniably more history happened before 1815 than after, so perhaps Manny has a point.
Lukashenko doesn’t invoke history because his country has little of it. But he makes similar threats to Europe, which includes us – having left the EU, we still can’t change the hard geographic reality of being European. Since a Russian gas pipeline runs through Belarus, Lukashenko has the technical means to act on his threat, especially if Russia gives him carte blanche.
Such a measure would hit the EU directly and Britain by ricochet. If the French can raise their room temperature a few degrees by lowering ours in equal measure, it’s hard to see them acting in the spirit of Christian charity. More than a century of laïcité would have put paid to such impulses.
Then there are undesirable aliens, whom both Manny and Alex are turning into punitive scourges. Lukashenko is getting most of the publicity this month, but Manny deserves his fair share.
Last week some 1,200 illegal Muslim migrants were shipped to our shores by the French, with about as many expected this week. All right, putting it this way admittedly bends the truth a little, but not too much.
The French didn’t technically put those wild-eyed Musl… sorry, I mean poor refugees on boats and escort them to the Kent coast. However, the French did little to prevent the boat people from making that voyage on their own, and their current threat is to do even less in the future.
Neither Alex nor Manny is likely to run out of Muslims soon. So far they’ve mined mostly Iraqi and Syrian resources, but Afghanistan boasts a vast reservoir yet to be tapped fully.
Lukashenko gets higher marks for honesty though. He openly talks about his intention to “flood Europe with migrants”, whereas Manny approaches his task with stealth. While closing his eyes on the thousands of Muslims boarding cross-Channel boats in Normandy, he laments fulsomely his unfortunate inability to stop this transmigratory outrage – and the French call us perfidious.
Manny’s disgruntled former employees, however, are openly talking about his intention to punish Britain with an influx of illegal Muslims. After all, we committed the sacrilege of leaving the EU, which these days more or less circumscribes the French political outlook.
Institutions that have few rational reasons for their existence often try to survive by self-sacralisation. The EU is one example of that tendency, our own dear NHS is another. And sacrilege is a greater crime than mere dissent, one to be punished more severely.
Lukashenko seeks to punish Europe for taking a dim view of his regime’s brutality and air piracy. He also acts on behalf of his puppet master Putin, who is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to destabilise the West.
There we have it, two presidents of two very different countries embarking on punitive missions simultaneously, and using similar weapons, logistics and threats.
I’m sure neither Manny nor Alex would welcome being likened to each other. Both see themselves as sui generis, if for different reasons. Yet the similarities are glaring.
Since Lukashenko isn’t exactly a free agent, he can’t do much to stop acting like Manny. On the other hand, Manny could easily stop acting like Alex, but I’m not sure he can help himself. The desire to punish Britain is too overwhelming.