Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Europe’s brutal last dictator, has been named 2021’s Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in recognition of all he has done to advance organized criminal activity and corruption.
A panel of six journalists and scholars who study and report on corruption had no trouble selecting the post-Soviet autocrat, despite a record field of 1,167 nominees. It is the first time in a decade of handing out the Person of the Year global awards that the decision was unanimous.
2021 Finalists for Person of the Year
(Nominations are accepted from readers/listeners, journalists and editors of OCCRP and partner organizations)
Winner: Belarus President Alexsandr Lukashenko
- Former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani
- President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad
- President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan
- Former Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz
"It was a banner year for corruption, but Lukashenko stood out from the crowd," said Drew Sullivan, a co-founder of OCCRP who served as a judge on the panel.
Over the past year Lukashenko has generated headlines for:
- Channeling state money to a series of oligarchs close to the Lukashenko family
- Intercepting a Ryanair passenger plane carrying a Belarusian dissident and forcing it to land in Minsk, in violation of international laws on aviation
- Manufacturing a border crisis with the European Union by luring thousands of refugees to the borders of the bloc
- Promulgating misinformation and fake cures for Covid
Louise Shelley of George Mason University, another judge on the panel, said that by playing politics with vulnerable people whom he lured to Belarus under false pretenses, Lukashenko had broken new ground in cynicism and cruelty.
The Belarusian leader, Shelley said, "used the criminal and corrupt networks of the Belarussian state to foster a mass migration, leading to desperation, violence and endless cruelty."
Lukashenko, 67, has clung to power in Minsk since 1993, rigging elections, torturing critics, and arresting and beating protesters, all with the aid and approval of the Kremlin. He fashions himself "Batka," the "father" of the Belarusian people. Anyone who challenges that image faces the same fate as dissident Roman Protasevich, who remains behind bars seven months after he was pulled from that Ryanair plane, or Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was just sentenced to 18 years in prison for organizing anti-government demonstrations in 2020.
Lukashenko enjoys unlimited power at home and sniffs at international opprobrium. Indeed, it was EU sanctions against his country that prompted his retaliation via refugees. He seems equally unbothered by the suffering of his own citizens and desperate migrants, including children, shivering, hungry and barred from settling in Belarus.
Runners up for the annual Person of the Year award included deposed Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Syrian dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, and disgraced Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
"Ghani certainly deserves an award, too. He was breathtaking in both his corruption and his gross incompetence. He deserted his people, leaving them to misery and death so he could live among the corrupt former state officials in the moral cesspool that is the UAE," said Sullivan.
Assad led Syria into a destructive civil war and has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars while clinging to power. Erdogan has overseen a corrupt government that has laundered Chinese funds for Iranian oil using state-owned banks. Kurz was the leader of Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) who, along with nine other politicians and newspaper persons, was accused of embezzlement and bribery.