17 January 2018, Wednesday, 4:15

Andrei Sannikau: Political prisoners cannot be released without serious pressure


And bargaining with the dictator only worsens their position.

A former presidential candidate, leader of civil campaign «European Belarus» Andrei Sannikau, at present living in Great Britain, calls the current relations of the EU and Belarus abnormal and not serving the interests of Belarus. He sees the Eastern Partnership as s beautiful dream which “may still be filled with content”. However, according to him, while the EU flirts with authoritarian regimes, difficulties in relations with countries like Belarus will pop up on a regular basis.

In an interview to ru.delfi.lt the Belarusian oppositional politician noted that “Lithuania found itself on the verge of the EU’s relations with the dictator and in some cases it will not be able to pursue the EU policy without the help of the European Union as the whole. It is particularly true in regard to the issue of sanctions”.

In Andrei Sannikau’s opinion, in the course of Lithuania’s EU presidency the country could suggest the EU a strategy of towards Belarus together with Latvia, Poland, Sweden and Germany – the countries, which express the highest interest in Belarus.  Speaking about Russia’s influence on the Belarusian establishment, the politician noted that Kremlin’s geopolitical projects are destructive for Belarus as well as for Russia itself.

- How would you characterize the relations of Belarus and EU and the West in general?

- As abnormal and serving neither the national interests of Belarus nor the interests of Europe. I could argue that Belarus is not Lukashenka, that democrats have good relations with Europe and the West in general. This is actually true and it is a good groundwork for future.  However, the dictatorship impedes the development of the whole spectrum of relations with Europe and, to our shame, a huge potential of neighborliness and Europeaness, which is rooted in the nature and character of Belarusians, is not being realized today and being swiftly destroyed.  

- Do the sanctions produce enough effect on the Belarusian leadership?

- The sanctions would produce an effect, and we would have all noticed that, had they existed. However, the first EU’s attempt to introduce sanctions against the regime’s sponsors has not seen any continuation and that is why the political prisoners remain in custody today. The tough statements of 2011 should have been followed by tough measures for forcing the dictator to fulfill his obligations. But as it is now – even the visa restrictions are not followed, as we saw on the example of Anatol Kulashou’s travel to Lyon and Lidzija Jarmoshyna’s trip to Vienna.

- What do you think of Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership initiative and that they do not expect the Belarusian party at the official summit, but it was  invited to the informal meeting of the heads of the MFAs of the EaP countries in Tbilisi?

- A beautiful name, a beautiful dream… which can still be filled with content, but only firmly standing on the principles on which the European Union was built, but not drifting towards the demands of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. The EU should learn the lessons of its analogous initiative – the Union of Mediterranean, which saw a powerful wave of revolutions. The idea was also nice – to create a safe, stable neighborhood for the EU in the region. However, the attempt to invest into the stability of authoritarian regimes in today’s world inevitably leads to such shocks. One may and should only invest in democratic movements and independent media even more so in countries with authoritarian rulers.

It looks like, the dictator’s lobbyists in Europe have become more active, including in order to ensure his presence at the EaP summit in Vilnius. But in general the point is not what ministers are invited there, but in that the Eastern Partnership unites the countries that are closer to authoritarianism than to democracy. When protecting their own authoritarianism each one of they are rather inclined to support the dictator Lukashenka, than the principles of democracy. In different words, until the EU firmly takes the stand of democracy, assistance to democracy and freedom, but not pretended stability in the region, there will constantly remain problems with participation or non-participation.

- The head of Freedom House David Cramer confessed in an interview to DELFI that he does not envy the situation in which Lithuania found itself in regard the relations with its Belarusian neighbor. How do you see Lithuania’s position?

- I totally agree with David Cramer. A small country found itself on the verge of the relations of the EU and a dictator. Sometimes we sharply criticize Lithuania for the inconsistency of the behavior towards Lukashenka’s regime, but to fair we should admit that Lithuania sometimes simply cannot pursue the EU’s policy without the help of the whole European Union. Let us take the issue of sanctions. The EU should have a mechanism and a fund for compensating for the consequences of sanctions for businesses in countries like Lithuania or Latvia. Then the issue of sanctions would be resolved faster and simpler and the effect would be more tangible. In general, despite the difficulties, caused by the evil neighborhood of Lukashenka, Lithuania has shown a highest degree of solidarity with Belarusian democrats in the period that has been the hardest for us. I want to express my sincerest gratitude to the now former minister Audronis Ajubalis, former ambassador of Lithuania to Belarus Edminas Bagdonas, the Member of Parliament Emanuelis Zingeris, Vilnius’ mayor Arturas Zuokas, Lithuanian politicians, statesmen and diplomats for the support.

- What Lithuania could do about the Belarusian vector of the EU-Belarus relations in the course of its presidency in the EU Council?

- It is exactly Lithuania that could offer the EU a strategy towards Belarus. Together with Latvia, Poland, Sweden and Germany – the countries, which express the highest interest towards Belarus. But a strategy of consistent support for the democratic movement, support for independent media in Bealrus and counteraction to the spreading the dictatorship’s influence in Europe. In that the interests of the bordering countries could be considered – Lithuania, Latvia, Poland – and the interest of the Belarusian nation, and the interests of the EU.

- What can you say about the increasing Russia’s influence and its pulling Belarus into its geopolitical projects?

- Russia’s plan as to Belarus remains unchanged: to totally subordinate Belarusian economy. The realization of these plans only becomes possible because there is a dictator in power in Belarus, who does not care about the national interests of the country and who have put the country into a position, when Russia is able not only buy everything, but buy everything for dirt price. In the post-Soviet areas Kremlin is acting today contrary to common sense, contrary to the logic of the world’s development, the times of confrontation with the West have returned. For such a policy vassals are needed in order to show at least some power. Unfortunately, Kremlin’s geopolitical projects are destructive for Belarus, and they are destructive for Russia as well.

- Do you consider a possibility of the release of political prisoner by the Belarusian regime?

- I do not discuss this topic. I know only one thing: without a serious pressure the political prisoners cannot be released. And the bargaining with the dictator only worsens their position. Had Europe been more decisive last year, everyone would have been released by now.

- Should Lukashenka’s statements about the possible reorientation of Belarusian cargo traffic to Russian ports and his intention to bring Georgia back to the CIS be taken seriously?

- Of course they should. Lukashenka cannot live without a confrontation with everyone. That is why due to his whims he would ignore economic practicability, the established connections and will act according to the principle: “I will prick my eye out so my mother in law has a one-eyed son in law”. There was a swindle with Venezuelan oil, for which we paid three times more expensive in order not to pay the debts.

It is a different story with Georgia. He needs to emphasizes his importance and from time to time create an illusion of a significant figure in the world’s politics. Remember, there was time when he absolutely seriously claimed that he was building the axis Tehran-Minsk-Moscow-Beijing-Delhi. Apart from that, having made the statement about Georgia, he tried to show his usefulness to Kremlin. What if he could get something for it…

- A number of experts tell about the neutralization of opponents by the Belarusian authorities after the events of December 2010. Do you agree with such statements?

- Lukashenka has long, back during the elections of 2006, stated that his goal is the complete annihilation of the opposition. And before the elections of 2010 he believed that he succeeded with this task and that everything was under control. But during the elections he saw that not only the opposition was alive, but that the whole nation joins the opposition. That is why he has started the war against the nation which keeps lasting till today. One cannot call the regime’s actions differently. That is why the number of the regime opponents only increases.

- You are in emigration, what do you do and do not you worry for your colleagues and the close ones in Belarus?

- Of course I do worry about them. And what I do is mostly what I did before: I bring attention to the serious problems in Belarus. I see my task in that the problem of the dictatorship in the center of Europe does not disappear from the international community’s agenda, in helping the opposition in Belarus. And the whole our team is now studying the experience of reforms in Eastern Europe.

- What would you call the most important for the Belarusian opposition at the moment, what should it focus on?

- Today the opposition in Belarus is in the hardest conditions in the whole period of Lukashenka’s rule. Not only is it difficult to work, but to survive. Nevertheless, no one cancelled the purpose of the existence of an opposition – the change of power, the release of Belarus from a dictatorship. The main task today is to take a principled position as to the dictatorship, do not yield to false democratization promises in exchange for the loyalty to the regime, to help each other, to help all the political prisoners and their families, to persuade our friends not to deal with the dictator. One should not underestimate the role of an opposition and civil society. The situation may change at any moment.

- What is the robustness of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime and what are the possible variants of the course of events in Belarus?

- It is believed that Lukashenka’s regime stands only due to the help of Kremlin. This is only partly true. The regime also stands on the nation’s tolerance and the western money, the share of which is only increasing in the trade balance. The regime also holds due to the fact that someone is always trying to negotiate with it, contrary to their principles western politicians also help him.

As to the robustness: in 2010 it was seen how the regime started to shake politically and it is still surviving only due to the repressions; in 2011 the country’s economy was on the verge. The dictatorship will inevitably fall, the modern history does not know any other variants. One should remember that and not only should the opposition emanate from that but also the today’s henchmen of Lukashenka’s regime.