17 February 2019, Sunday, 22:04
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Matthew Charles: harsh sanctions should be in place until Lukashenka leaves

The British director of the film “Europe’s Last Dictator” commented on the situation in Belarus.

Matthew Charles insists that the Europeans have no clue what is actually going on in the country. According to him, the EU should negotiate sanctions and a facilitated visa regime for the Belarusian people to make it easier for them to travel and see how life is outside Belarus and use this knowledge in their country. He admitted that the European audience was shocked by his film.

Residents of Minsk never got a chance to see the movie. Belarusian spetsnaz burst into the premises rented by the Free Theater where the film was to be showed to the public. Two dozens of the detained viewers were taken to the district police department.

Matthew Charles’ film won the Best Documentary award at the London Independent Film Festival. The film tells about tortures of the political prisoners, murders and kidnappings under Aliaksandar Lukashenka’s rule in a country that borders on Lithuania.

The producer explained to ru.DELFI why he is interested in Belarus and how he believes Europe should act. He admitted that the Europeans don’t have a clear idea of what the modern Belarus and its president are.

- Why did you choose to make the film about Belarus?

- I came to Belarus as a BBC reporter. I made a film about the Free Theater and got acquainted with lots of people, including Andrei Sannikov. I interviewed him and his sister Iryna Bagdanava, and we showed this film on 19 December 2010 during the demonstration of the opposition. This is when Andrei Sannikov was arrested. That’s why the movie turned out to be good; it comes directly from that situation and from my friends.

- Do you think that people in Great Britain and the rest of Europe realize what is going on in Belarus? Are they familiar with the situation in the country?

- No, nobody knows where Belarus is and what is happening there. Belarus doesn’t appear in the headlines of British media, but we’ve got a very good response to the movie. People said “WOW” – they had no clue what is going on there. We made an experiment in a local paper: a journalist with a map asked people in the street: “Where is Belarus?” One out of fifty could locate it on the map. As a journalist, I think it is a problem, and my key motive was to show what is going on in Belarus. People were shocked.

- What do you think, is ”Europe’s last dictator” a better name than Aliaksandar Lukashenka?

- It is, because people know what a dictator is, but they have never heard of a Lukashenka. I don’t think that many know who he is. The title of the film is a well-known phrase, and he is Europe’s last dictator anyway. It has a powerful implication in English as well as in any other language. But the initial title was “Lukashenka and I”, but Iryna Bagdanava (sister of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov) and Eva Niakliayeva (daughter of a former presidential candidate – DELFI) found it too difficult for a European audience, since nobody knows who Lukashenka is.

- As a journalist and as a citizen of a European country, how do you see the situation in Belarus?

- As a journalist, I find the situation in Belarus very complex. The film was made for Western Europe, not for the Belarusians. The interpretation of the political situation is probably too simple, but this is a next step for the Western audience. There is no freedom of speech in Belarus and as a European citizen I am ashamed that we don’t do enough to support freedom in Belarus.

- What was the audience’s response?

- They were shocked. They don’t understand that to speak one’s mind can be forbidden. The voting was faked, and Aliaksandar Lukashenka has a real control over the country. We’ve got a very positive feedback; we even joined a campaign around the world championship in ice hockey, and showed the film in Helsinki within the campaign. I was surprised by the positive response from the viewers, including the Belarusian Diaspora in Britain. They thanked us for making a film about the country they had to leave due to various reasons.

- Is it correct to say that the situation in Belarus is getting worse also because the Western society is unaware of the actual state of things in this country?

- I believe that the situation is getting worse because Aliaksandar Lukashenka is constantly on the brink testing his limits. It is dangerous today. Let’s take the liberation of Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bandarenka: Europe is convinced that the sanctions bring results, and that it’s time to draw back. In Europe, there is no common position on Belarus and Lukashenka. And he is using it, playing his games with Europe and Russia. Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bandarenka still are political prisoners, but European politicians say that he (Lukashenka – DELFI) stands for what he says and that there’s no need to be hard on him anymore. But I am positive that harsh sanctions should be in place until he leaves. Somehow he must be forced to leave.

- Do you think that the sanctions are effective?

- We need economic and visa sanctions. I’d like to say: let’s send troops there. But this is just a fantasy that will never come true. The only thing we have left is political pressure. But it doesn’t happen since when under pressure, Lukashenka gives something back – for example, releases Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bandarenka. I believe it is a strategic movement, but Europe shouldn’t let him win. Not only should the pressure continue – it should be enhanced. But it doesn’t happen, probably because European politicians never include the problem of freedom in Belarus in their campaigns.

- The Belarusian opposition often criticizes Europe for how it treats values and solidarity…

- For me, it is a basic thing. Europe’s foundation is peace and freedom, and this is what the European Union should be about, beyond economics and politics. One can be cynical saying that the EU has enough resources to make Belarus a free country, because basically nothing can be done in Belarus without Russia. The relationship of Russia and the EU is not in its best phase, judging by Ukraine, Georgia etc. Geopolitically Belarus is not crucial for Western Europe, but no matter what happens in the European economy, weakness in fundamental issues is unacceptable. Europe is a huge ship, but when similar situations in Belarus and other neighbors are concerned, the EU shows its weakness rather often.

- Has Belarus lost its chance to join this ship?

- I don’t think the chance is gone, but while Aliaksandar Lukashenka rules the country, it will never happen, he doesn’t want it.

- He has an illusion of independency, but there is an actual “independence” from the European values…

- Aliaksandar Lukashenka has many false illusions.

- The film has been shown in Helsinki; it will be shown in Barcelona at a major movie festival on human rights, on Polish and Croatian television, in Great Britain, France and Lithuania. What is the main purpose of the film?

- I just want to show what is happening in Belarus, who is Aliaksandar Lukashenka. At the moment this is my only intention.