Alexander Lukashenko said in televised remarks that he did not want to cancel the parade in part because people “would say we were scared”.
Russia and other former Soviet countries have cancelled this week’s commemoration to slow the spread of the virus. Last month, more than 10,000 Russian soldiers who took part in rehearsals were quarantined.
Belarus has almost 17,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, giving it one of Europe’s highest per capita infection rates. Lukashenko, president since 1994, has publicly said the danger from the disease was exaggerated and avoided instituting physical distancing guidelines.
The country has continued to hold football matches and kept its churches open for Easter services, despite closures throughout the rest of Europe. Volunteers have helped crowdfund necessary PPE as hospital workers have been told to do without. One hundred and three people have died of the disease in the country.
Speaking about the parade, Lukashenko said it should not be cancelled because it was “an emotional and a profoundly ideological thing”.
“We should remember that some of those people [who fought in the second world war] might have died of viruses or other diseases, but didn’t always feel that, and they died for us, no matter how pompous this might sound,” Lukashenko said in the remarks, which were translated by the Interfax news service.
“And just think what people would say. Perhaps they would say it, not immediately, but a day or two days later – but they would say we were scared.”
On Monday, Lukashenko also said he planned to hold presidential elections before August. “We have no grounds to delay this election, we cannot do that by constitution,” he said.