How is Europe’s last dictator faring these days? Not so good. Belarus’s current president, de facto dictator Alexander Lukashenko, has fallen afoul of the Kremlin over his refusal to recognize the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Consequently, Russia is mounting a media barrage against him and agitating in Belarus’s upcoming elections. One possible beneficiary? Jaroslav Romanchuk, one of the opposition leaders, who also happens to be an Ayn Rand disciple. In this 2006 interview with the Atlas Society (which bills itself as “the most respected independent source of information about Objectivism”), Romanchuk discusses his road-to-Damascus moment:
It all started in May 1993, when I met two Americans, Charles and Susanna Tomlinson, in Minsk. They were on a People-to- People mission and they wanted to learn more about post-socialist countries. We talked about the situation at that time in former Soviet countries, and also about deeper ideas. They spoke about one thing that shocked me at that time: the morality of making money and of capitalism. I had never thought of capitalism in those terms. After they returned home, they sent me this big book by an author unknown to me.
My major at the university had been American and English literature, so I was supposed to learn about all major American and British authors. But I had no idea who this author was. So it was like a revelation to me when I read this book, Atlas Shrugged. And I immediately ordered more books by its author, Ayn Rand, and more books about her philosophy of Objectivism.
Also, I began to read extensively—in Ludwig von Mises and other free-market and freedom oriented thinkers—about philosophy, ethics, and economics. And that is what changed my life.
He also suggests that he might be regarded as the anti-Lenin and mentions that people in Minsk “cry like kids” when they discover the existence of other Randians among them. Here’s how he described his program back then:
One of the first decisions of a reform government should be to change the curriculum in schools, at the elementary, high school, and university levels. And to get rid of Marxism and Keynesianism! The ideas promoted by the current regime in the schools will necessarily lead to conflict. They are ideas that pit individuals against one another—that are based on the notion that the interests of individuals conflict, that one individual’s gain is at another individual’s loss. Those ideas are worse than dangerous drugs, because they don’t simply sicken or kill one person at a time; they kill thousands with their effects.
And here I thought capitalism thrived on competition. Clearly I’ve been imbibing the dangerous drugs of Keynesianism. Still, one wonders whether Belarus will become a Shock-Doctrine-style laboratory for crackpot libertarianism if Romanchuk takes command, and how Belarusians will take to being forced to be free.
// Notes from the Road
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