It seems that the government has missed the time for a dialogue. However, negotiations on the terms of handover of power to the people are possible.
First of all I would like to tell readers of “Narodnaya Volya” about an episode.
...In a small cell number 6, in the KGB jail, which looked very much like a coffin, after many days with no TV, they finally showed us a “movie”: a video footage from the inauguration of Alexander Lukashenko. It was not a live broadcast, it was recorded. It happened unexpectedly: late in the evening the “feeder” opened and the guard ordered us to turn on our TV. A virtual disk appeared on the blue screen, with the DVD sign under it.
For some reason they decided not to show us this grandiose act during the live broadcast, and ordered to give them the TV remote control, so we could not switch to a white noise. That “movie” is hard to forget. Black cortege drives through deserted Minsk. Empty sidewalks, a posed video footage – camera rolls in front of the cortege. Narrator explains that the name of Blvd. of the Winners gets its special meaning on the day like this... So finally they explained why it was needed to rename Masherov Blvd. in to the Victors Blvd.
Then – walking on the red carpet; the hall filled with the scared public; the hall in the Palace of Republic decorated in the antique style; Mrs. Yermoshina, who apparently is not going to see either Paris or Jurmala in this life.
The “movie” had been run twice. Next day, thinking that the TV is returned to us for good, jail mates tried to turn it on – on the screen, as it was a wild hunt of the king Stakh, deserted streets were haunted by the yesterday’s cortege.
They did not let us; for the third time assure ourselves that the inauguration had not been a dream. The “feeder” clanged – the head of the guard on duty appeared in it: “Who had allowed you turning on the TV?!” The question hanged in the air: no one forbade turning it on before – simply before there was nothing on except white noise. Viewing was forbidden, and later the door opened and we were told that “the TV set should be taken to the stock house!”
That is how Lukashenko sent his stalinistic greetings to the ex-candidates and to the staff of their campaign headquarters jailed in the former NKVD internal jail.
Why do I recall this episode? That’s because this “movie” is how the government conducts a dialogue with the opposition, with people.
Recently the issue of a dialogue with the government has been offered again by several politicians and analysts including those who were prisoners of “Amerikanka” themselves not long ago.
That’s wright: a dialogue is the best way out of a persisting conflict. A dialogue results in agreements about acceptable ways of transformation and about transition to new principles of relations. And yet…
“A peaceful and stable transformation of power is more probable where a dialogue between the government and the opposition and the civil society is possible, then in a country where a crisis emerges and masses start to gather on the streets.” - This weighty opinion of President and Vice-president of Freedom house - David Kramer and Christopher Walker is found in the article “Outpost of tyranny” published in “Foreign Policy”.
It is possible to hold talks with the opposition and civil society, and it is useless to do so with an angry mob on the streets. Romanian tyrant Ceausescu understood that too late. However Wojciech Jaruzelski – the last Communist Polish ruler, was smart enough to sit down to the “Round table” and negotiate with “Solidarnost”, which caused the Polish elite to overcome the crisis and prevent a national disaster. No one lynched the lost side. They formed a new political party and even returned to the government once, however democratically this time. Today an average salary in Poland is more than 1500 USD.
And what do we have?
Talks offer was laid on Lukashenko’s table on 2007. It was made during the first gas crisis. Predictably, there was no answer.
Instead talks about the new format of a dialogue – between the regime and EU the officials, and certainly, with no opposition, started to be discussed. Work was humming. As mirages in the desert, visions of democratic changes appeared in the country. Soon there was a time to satisfy the buyer – in our case western countries, the product called “significant progress in the election process”
Everyone who was familiar with the developments of the election campaign realized that in its effort to solve the Belarusian problem quietly and without strain, the West had closed its eyes almost on everything long before the elections. The country was included in the “Eastern Partnership” programme, Minsk was visited by high-ranking EU officials and by heads of some EU countries. The IMF extended credits. I don’t know anyone who would, until late at night on December 19, could forecast that the relations between Belarus and West could collapse. Quite the opposite, everyone was sure that, with some reservations, the OBSE would declare major progress in the sphere of elections. It seemed everyone was thinking so. But it was not so. Someone expected the different thing: the abyss had opened, and consumed members of the ridiculous dialogue.
For some time it seemed that there was a way back, a release of arrested and jailed prisoners of “Amerikanka” and “Volodarka” after three days – without presenting absurd accusations. However the government has chosen the worst scenario possible – mass imprisonment of the political opposition leaders.
So, the borrowed money has been spent. An unprecedented crisis have erupted. At the same time masses of discontented Belarusians started to gather each Wednesday on the streets of dozens of cities all over the country. Nevertheless the government has not ever mentioned the dialogue with the opposition, it was impossible to swallow its pride. After the events of December 19, trials and harsh sentences, there is an Abyss instead of a potential dialogue partner.
Yet a dialogue was possible. However, it could not be a dialogue concerning the conditions of extending the term of the current government, but on holding new, fair and free elections, about the fate of those government officials who had not been involved in the crackdown on political opponents. All of them after certain negotiations could be able to escape punishment. Fates of those who committed crimes would be decided in court.
There were no negotiations in Belarus, and the opposition is not the one to blame. The opposition was always ready for them – for the sake of the country, for the sake of new generations, it was ready to forget many things committed by the government. But the government today is not ready to restrain its pride and to acknowledge that further concentration of power in the hands of one person and suppression of popular protests by force can lead to a total disaster and to a loss of independence. The crisis is corroding “the Belarusian economic miracle”. It is problematic to acquire new credits; even Russia speaks of reforms as a condition for new credits from the EurAsEc.
Where is the way out? Will the opposition be able to find one after the regime change? Are negotiations needed for that, and if yes, who should initiate them?
Recently David Kramer and Wess Mitchell have given a signal to the Belarusian society, by publishing a message to the West and to the Belarusians in the “Washington Post”. “That is why, while ratcheting up pressure against the regime, the West also needs to prepare a package of economic and political assistance should Lukashenko flee or be removed from power one way or another. Those around Lukashenko need to know that a brighter future lies ahead after he is gone, but they also need to understand that replacing one dictator with another is not the solution. That is not what the Belarusian people will accept or deserve. “
At the same time after publishing of this article, the OBSE accepted a harsh resolution on Belarus. It sets out specific requirements – to release political prisoners immediately, to allow them consulting with their lawyers, to meet with families, to receive medical care; allow the entry of independent experts, appointed under the Moscow Mechanism, into the country; to develop the legislation on the media in accordance with international commitments of Belarus.
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to human rights violations in Belarus after another dispersal of a peaceful rally of civil disobedience through its spokesman Alexander Lukashevich. It is obvious that Lukashenko's regime poses a direct threat to the sovereignty and national security of the state: if situation persists, the tensions inside the country, as well as external pressures will only increase.
Looking for a way out of this situation should not be long.
The leader of the democratic Belarus is now in prison. His name is Andrei O. Sannikov, he is a candidate for the presidency in 2010. This intelligent, highly educated man, the world-famous diplomat, severely beaten, with his wife, a well-known journalist Iryna Khalip – was thrown on the floor of the ice-cold chamber in “Amerikanka” prison in winter, and into “the gas chambers” of rotten “Volodarka” in summer.
It was his grandfather, who founded the Kupala Theater. Two ex-leaders of the Independent Belarus – Stanislau S. Shushkevich and Myachyslau I. Hryb; the first Defense minister of the Independent Belarus Lieutenant-General Pavel P. Kozlovski, a well-known politician, General Valery Frolov, the author of the economic platform of the candidate Sannikov, a renowned economist Leonid Zlotnikov and dozens of people who are famous both in the country and worldwide, are members of his team.
The current authorities have serious problems with legitimacy, this is obvious even without reports of independent observers. That’s what is spoken of globally. But the main proof could be found in Belarus, in my opinion: no one came out to the streets to celebrate yet another “reelection” of the candidate of Power. No one! But soon after his inauguration, streets were filled with people who took to the streets to protest.
The legitimacy of the government can be reestablished through free and democratic elections only. The country will receive international aid, democratic institutions will start their work.
It seems that the government had missed the time for a dialogue. However, negotiations on the terms of handover of power to the people are possible.
Campaign manager of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov for "Narodnaya Volya"