A conversation between two dissidents and former political prisoners Vladimir Bukovsky and Andrei Sannikov.
Leader of the civil campaign European Belarus Andrei Sannikov and legendary soviet dissident, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition Vladmimir Bukovsky met in Cambridge to talk about the recent events in the East-European region. This interesting conversation was recorded on request of charter97.org and today we publish its script on our website.
It is always interesting to talk to Vladimir Bukovsky, a person who rejects halftones and has his opinion on every question which he defends skillfully. Nothing makes him change his views on the nature of power in the post-soviet region. His opinion is always worth attention.
Today he often says, “Do what you have to do, and whatever will be, will be”. This phrase sounds optimistic coming from a person who revolted against the all-mighty USSR with no hope to win – and yet saw the collapse of the totalitarian monster.
- Vladimir, let me begin with history. We had a conversation for about 15 years ago and I remember one thing. Russia still had Yeltsin, there was no trace of Putin, in Belarus dictatorship was already in the upstart, but the political killings had not happened yet. Back then you said that we would get rid of this regime perhaps in 10 years, perhaps earlier. For me, this seemed to be an incredibly long time. Lukashenka has been ruling for 20 years now, exceeding even your prognosis. Why is it so?
- Maybe revolt is not in Belarusians’ nature.
- How about Belarusian guerillas during the WW2?
- Guerillas were mostly NKVD people, NKVD army. Belarusians are a very law-abiding, calm, hard-working nation. Oddly enough, I have met a great number of Belarusians in my life.
- So you mean that we will tolerate the dictatorship until its time is over?
- Yes, you will go on with your lives. A bad peace is better than a good quarrel.
- Or can it be the Kremlin’s support of the dictatorship?
- Of course, they do support a great deal, but it is not the only factor. Lukashenka is working his maneuvers and gets perks both from Russia and the West.
- Can’t Europe get rid of the dictatorship? Today Lukashenka’s model is applied in Russia and the risks to Europe are obvious.
- It’s more than that. In Russia, everything is built on the KGB. Lukashenka cannot rely on the KGB as much as Putin does in Russia, he is a populist. He creates a picture that people can actually live in his regime. In general, freedoms is nothing for peasants. They are not particularly interested in freedoms as they are in taxes on cattle.
Russians are different. Of course, I am speaking about the national character very generally. Well, Russians’ typical reaction is to flee, while Belarusians work hard and don’t look aside. In the political jail in Pierm, where I was a convict, 80% of inmates served their term for trying to escape, and only 20% were there because they had been charged and found guilty on article 70. This is so typical for Russia. According to historian Kluchevsky, this is how the Russian Empire had emerged: chased by the government, people tried to escape from recruitment to the army, church reforms, serfdom. That’s how Siberia became a colony; they fled till they reached the Pacific Ocean.
Millions have fled during the past 20 years.
- We can already talk about millions who fled Belarus.
- Yes, but in Russia it is a mass phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands flee as soon as near-totalitarian movements activate.
- Do they take the money with them?
- It depends. Those who take their money flee to London with its City where you can use your money. Common folk flee with no money.
- Now let’s talk about the sore question. Did you expect that the situation would become what it is today?
- I have repeatedly spoken about Crimea, even on the Ukrainian TV. They kept on asking me during the last Maidan if Russia would intrude. I replied that the army itself would never intrude, because there is no army. But there will be provocations in Crimea.
I myself have been to Crimea several times and I saw what was going on there. Firstly, the anti-Ukrainian spirit is indeed strong there. However, it doesn’t mean that they wanted Russian intrusion, no, I doubt it. But this spirit was there, and it was so tempting for the Kremlin. Secondly, they give away Russian passports. And we know very well what will follow – from Ossetia’s case, for example. I have been warning for provocations in Crimea for many years.
Frankly speaking, what I did not expect was this whole Maidan scenario, that the people would be so determined and ready to walk the whole way. It made me glad to see.
- Will they go further?
- Neither to Ukraine, nor to Transnistria, nor to Georgia?
- No. The thing is that Transnistria is already theirs. But I don’t know if they really need it.
- I mean Moldova, through Transnistria and Gagauzia…
- Nor do they need Moldova. What they do has no connection to the land. It is pure politics. Russia already has plenty of land. It is about restoring the Soviet Union, and we constantly raise this issue, since 2000 when Putin emerged.
I can even show you a tape with my speech at the award ceremony of the Truman-Raegan Medal of Freedom in December 2001, when Jesse Helms received the medal. In my speech, I explained everything about Putin. It has always been crystal clear for us. You need not be a fortune-teller. This is the KGB.
The KGB has come to power. We all know very well what the KGB is, what they will do. They have never been able to understand and accept the unavoidable collapse of the USSR. They believed in legend and myths about the CIA’s clandestine activity that they had created themselves. When I hear these tales, we say “I wish”.
- What was the trigger?
- Putin himself was the trigger, without even realizing it. What was the problem with Yanukovich signing this association agreement? How could it harm Putin? It didn’t lead to any obligations. Europe is absolutely impotent; on the contrary, Europe would press the Ukrainians to convince them to become friends with Moscow again. This is the only thing Ashton is doing. Yanukovich was Putin’s protégé even though he was the head of a neighbor state. Putin would never get anything better than that. What’s with all that pressure then? No matter what the Ukrainians did at that time, they never wanted their elected president to grovel before the president of another country.
- Indeed, they were ready to accept an independent master, ringleader, but never a vassal.
- Why would Putin stop now? The people support him as never before…
- This support means nothing. All surveys made in Russia are not even worth the paper they’re printed on. Our people say what they are expected to say. In Russia, there is no such term as “public opinion” because the public has no opinion, there is no public at all. If they ask an old lady in a village “Would you like…?” her reply will be “Yes, sweety, of course, they said so on the TV”. That’s what all these surveys are.
- Don’t you think that Putin met this “empireness” of the Russians that we can see so well? Even the majority of democrats today still say “the Ukraine” instead of Ukraine and “Belorussia” instead of Belarus.
- It doesn’t matter. Personally I don’t like changing of names. Let’s leave it for now, I hate political correctness.
- Will they succeed in restoring the empire?
- No, they won’t (Bukovsky’s reply is quick and sharp). Mark my word. Nobody wants it.
- When will the Kremlin overstrain?
- Now, for example, they are caught in their own trap. They can neither move forwar