First Click: Getting naked for the president of Belarus

July 5th, 2016

Here’s something you may have missed amid the July 4th festivities last weekend: people in Belarus have been getting naked at work, at the orders of their president.

It all began last week, when the country’s authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, delivered a speech about innovation and technology at the Fifth People’s Congress in Minsk. At one point, Lukashenko called on Belarusians “to get undressed and work till you sweat." Some have speculated that the president misspoke, perhaps intending to say “develop yourselves,” which apparently sounds similar to “get undressed.” But Belarusian social media took him at his word.

A photo posted by @ssnnooppooyy on

Since the speech, thousands have taken to Instagram and Twitter to post photos of themselves working in the nude. Some were playing instruments; others were at their desks; all were carefully positioned to evade Instagram’s trigger-happy nipple censors. Users posted their images under the hashtag "#раздеватьсяиработать" — roughly, "#GetUndressedAndGoToWork" — and the hashtag has since spread to other countries across Eastern Europe, according to the BBC.

For Belarusians, the gaffe provided a rare opportunity to poke fun at Lukashenko, who has been in power for 22 years, overseeing what some call "Europe’s last dictatorship." Lukashenko has been accused of a wide range of human rights abuses, and he’s taken a particularly iron-fisted approach to internet censorship. According to Freedom House,  Lukashenko’s government has tightened its grip over the web over the past two years, expanding its authority to block websites without oversight and ramping up prosecutions against journalists.

There’s no sign that Lukashenko has sought to quash the naked-at-work hashtag, and that’s a good thing. The country’s economy has stagnated in recent years, and Belarusians certainly deserve a moment of levity. They also deserve our solidarity. I offered mine this morning, while writing this essay.

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