A First Female Presidential Candidate In Europe’s Last Dictatorship

Belarus will hold presidential elections in October, and President Alexander Lukashenko will face Tatiana Karatkevich, the first-ever female candidate. That is, of course, unless the all-powerful ruler changes his mind.

Belarus presidential candidate Tatiana Karatkevich
Belarus presidential candidate Tatiana Karatkevich
Nikolai Anishenko

MINSK â€" Since Belarus gained independence in 1991, only one woman had ever flirted with presidential aspirations, and even then she didn't make it past the signature-gathering stage.

Tatiana Karatkevich instead is determined to go farther. "First and foremost, what we want to achieve is for the state to respect the opinions of the people," she says. "To ensure that the authorities do not divide us into good and bad, into enemies, into the capable and the incapable."

The 38-year-old identifies herself as a social democrat after working for many years in the Tell the Truth movement founded by Belarusian poet Vladimir Neklyayev, who was one of 10 candidates to run against Alexander Lukashenko in the 2010 last presidential race, but was subsequently placed under house arrest.

Her proposals are ambitious: She wants to introduce directly elected mayors and says she will fight to institute a two-term limit on the presidency. Also, with 11 years of experience in the education sector, she is acutely aware of its shortcomings and hopes to improve education and training.

She also wants to shift away from posting young graduates to jobs within inefficient state-owned enterprises, where they only earn $200 a month. Needless to say, she has both students and teachers on her side.

Karatkevich says she still recognizes that her country's health care system has achieved some major successes: Transplants are among the best in eastern Europe and have helped develop expertise in other complex operations, boosting medical tourism. But the prevention of common diseases is problematic, and she says the health ministry's move to ban doctors from prescribing foreign medicine is dangerous. "People have to order their medicines abroad and face uncertainty over whether they can cope with their illness," she says.

Foreign policy is a critical test for any presidential candidate, and the dramatic Russian incursion into Ukraine has shaken Belarusian society to the core. Contrary to the Kremlin's position, Karatkevich believes Crimea should remain Ukrainian. "We stand for Ukraine's territorial integrity," she says.

European Union membership for Belarus is unlikely, but she does want closer ties with the Union â€" including partnerships to help improve education and health care and the opportunity for EU citizens to enter Belarus without a visa.

Swissifying Belarus

One of Karatkevich's main ideas is to strengthen the status of Belarus as a peaceful, neutral country.

There are so far no foreign military bases in Belarus, and authorities are in no rush to make a decision about Russia's proposal for Belarus to host a fully functioning military base. "What we want is to strive toward a neutral status so as to ensure in the future that there will be no military bases and that our children will not have to fight overseas," she says.

But the Russian economic crisis next door is a harsh reality for many in Belarus, which produces most of Russia's heavy machinery. Some companies have shortened hours for workers to cut costs, and there was even an employee strike last month at the Molodechno factory â€" something that was previously unthinkable in Belarus.

Karatkevich believes the time has come for the country to modernize. That would mean cutting state subsidies and identifying additional growth opportunities. Investors have fled the country because they face punishment for being involved in civic or political activities. "This must change," she says.

There are questions about whether she would support a "lustration" process, like there was in Ukraine. "Lukashenko will remain the first president," she says. "That will not be wiped from the history books. He will retire and what he does after that is for him to decide." She adds that civil servants currently serving under him will be given the option to work under her administration.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 â€" Photo: Kremlin

What distinguishes Karatkevich from the opposition candidates of previous campaigns is that she has no intention of calling on her supporters to stage mass protests the night after the vote. "This idea is not popular," she says. "People do not trust the current opposition politicians. People are afraid."

She faces a daunting task. Post-election protests in December 2010 saw 50,000 people take to the streets following results that gave Lukashenko nearly 80% support in what international observers called a "flawed" ballot. Some 700 people were arrested, dozens were prosecuted and many others whose mobile phones had been tracked were intimidated by the authorities, who accused the opposition of trying to storm parliament.

One candidate, Ales Michalevic, fled abroad after his release on bail while another, Andrei Sannikov, received political asylum in the Czech Republic. Belarusian Social Democratic Party head Mikola Statkevich is still in prison, a sticking point for the EU and Washington, which have both called for his release.

But Karatkevich hopes that, this time, the election and its aftermath will be different. "The authorities will accuse us of wanting another Maidan," she says. "We are saying that we want peaceful change."

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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