20 November 2017, Monday, 14:26

Natallia Radzina: Unlike Milinkevich, I Believe in the Belarusian People

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Natallia Radzina
Photo by Andrey Dubchak

Lukashenka should not be invited to Brussels, sanctions on him must be imposed.

The EU is ready to "welcome" Lukashenka on the Eastern Partnership summit on November 24, Brussels. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Mackei flirtatiously says that the decision will be made "at the proper time".

Does it mean the recognition of Lukashenka, the continuation of the "dialogue"? What is the price? European politicians have just recently called Lukashenka the last dictator of Europe. Has anything changed and whether any changes in the ruler's course are possible?

Editor-in-chief of Charter97.org Natallia Radzina and civil leader and ex-candidate for the presidency Aliaksandr Milinkevich disputed about in in the Belsat studio.

Belsat moderator: Your reactions to the news about Brussels differ a lot.

Natallia Radzina: Speaking frankly, I felt ashamed when I read the news. Shame on the European politicians, because the eventual invitation of Lukashenka to Brussels is, first, immoral, and second, is a stupid step. Why is it immoral? Because Lukashenka remains the last dictator of Europe. Lukashenka holds power illegally. He is the illegitimate "president" now. The cases of kidnappings and murders of opposition leaders are not investigated in Belarus. No cases of torture against political prisoners in 2010 are investigated. I was also imprisoned then and I know what tortures were practiced there against prisoners of conscience including presidential candidates.

All "elections" in Belarus are fraud. No "elections" have been recognized free and democratic by international community since 1994. Human rights are being violated. Politicians and journalists are being persecuted. Mikalai Statkevich and Uladzimir Nyaklyayew are constantly imprisoned. A stricter media law is about to be adopted.

Belsat moderator: Belsat journalist Aliaksandr Barozenka has recently been tried. Aliaksandr, does it mean that Lukashenka should be welcomed in Brussels?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Facts are absolutely correct. I agree with them. I'd like to say that the first thing to say when answering these questions is that what we want to have in the end. What's the purpose? To let Lukashenka in Brussels or not? What will be in the end? First of all, I think we should give up on the idea that Europe owes to us something and must make a democracy holiday for us. We are the one to do it. Second, if Lukashenka is not allowed to go there, will Moscow be drinking champagne then? It will. And if he goes there, then not. It will be upset.

Belsat moderator: Today Lukashenka flies to Sochi to drink champagne at the CIS and EEU summit.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: He will do it. Of course. What do I mean? If Lukashenka had not been allowed to Europe, the relationship between Brussels and Minsk would not have improved, but would have been tensed a bit. And it's very important for us to be closer to Europe. I believe that the closer we are to Brussels, the more distance lies between us and Moscow which pursues an aggressive neoimperialist policy and poses a great threat to us. Does the invitation to the summit mean the recognition of Lukashenka? Tell me, is Aliyev more democratic than Lukashenka?

Natallia Radzina: It seems that one wants to turn Belarus into Azerbaijan with almost no opposition today, no journalists, and hundreds of political prisoners. As far as I understand, does Aliaksandr Milinkevich want to have a similar situation in Belarus? Today, to say nothing of violation of human rights in Azerbaijan, to get oil European politicians contribute to the situation deterioration in Azerbaijan and carry out the same policy towards Belarus. Until 2010 we had a thaw in relations of the EU and Lukashenka. How did it end in? It resulted in mass repressions the country suffers by now.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I agree that such a position should exist. But there is a question. When we have no good relations with Europe, the United States, do we have less political prisoners or more? When there are none, there are more of them than we are isolated.

Belsat moderator: Does it mean the least evil?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Yes. And Europe decides.

Natallia Radzina: No sanctions were imposed on Lukashenka in 2010, but hundreds of people were thrown into prisons. About a thousand people were arrested. All independent presidential candidates were in prison. People were tortured. Only then Europe imposed sanctions. Aliaksandr Uladzimiravich, you twist the facts or you miss obvious things.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I see everything and agree with it. There's no problem with assessment. But does this the instrument not to let Lukashenka it and isolate the power? Will the society have more contacts with Europe then? No, there will be fewer of them.

Natallia Radzina: How does the society relate to that? Do not play with concepts.

Belsat moderator: Will the society get free visas after the arrival of Lukashenka?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Not yet. We haven't met many things.

Natallia Radzina: The society will just face tougher repressions. Every time when the thaw in relations occur, the situation with human rights deteriorates in Belarus. The imposition of sanctions on the Lukashenka regime does not cancel trips of Belarusians to the EU.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: That's one of the reasons. I'd like to say that when Kazulin and other political prisoners were released it was the start of the dialogue. There were problems both with the democracy and human rights, but there were positive signs and contacts went right.

Belsat moderator: But then Kazulin disappeared from the political scene.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: He made his choice. I do not mean that Europe is to blame for it. Second. When the next part of the democrats was released after 2010, that was also the result of the dialogue.

Natallia Radzina: I recall that Aliaksandr Kazulin was released due to sanctions imposed by the USA. And these economic sanctions imposed by the USA and Europe made the release of political prisoners possible.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I know for sure that American sanctions contributed to it.

Natallia Radzina: It is obvious. I do not understand what is going on with your memory.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: The dialogue promoted it. Articles on the Internet should be written and the calendar followed.

Natallia Radzina: I'm journalist and I am aware of facts and news.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I also read the news and not only on Charter but on other websites as well.

Belsat moderator: Natallia, what's the way out of this situation? Don't talk to the official Minsk and give no invitations? What should be done then?

Natallia Radzina: In this situation Europe must adhere to the principles which it was built on. When we recall the Soviet history, American Presidents also launched a "reboot" and "detente" policy against the Soviet Union. Only when Ronald Reagan came to power, who made the development of economic relations with the Soviet Union dependent upon respect for human rights, the empire turned to decay. In this situation we expect the West practices such an honest, principled policy. To make politicians think about people who suffer from the dictatorship.

Belsat moderator: How should they act? / What activities should be performed?

Natallia Radzina: First of all, if human rights are violated, then sanctions on the regime are imposed. Why are visa sanctions lifted against people who have violated human rights since 2010, who have participated in the organization, on the order of Lukashenka, of hunt on the opposition, politicians, human rights defenders, independent media? Why have none of them been punished?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Uladzimir Mackei, the current Minister of the Interior Affairs Ihar Shunevich who interrogated me at the KGB prison were involved. No one has faced any punishment. Lidziya Yarmoshyna who falsifies all "elections" did not incur punishment. No policeman and riot policeman who beat people including recent events of 25 March 2017 were hold liable. Europe has closed its eyes. We can see that repressions continue amid absence of sanctions. Because a harsh suppression of the protest action of 25 March 2017 was caused by indifference of European politicians.

Belsat moderator: But the situation is as that: repressions exist no matter whether there are sanctions or not. Does it indicate some lose-lose situation in our country?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I do not agree. There are more repressions when sanctions are imposed. It is obvious.

Natallia Radzina: Not at all.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I strongly disagree. The dialogue only contributed to release of people and sanctions mitigation. Not because the power was better but because it doesn't want to spoil relationships with Europe it considers important. I repeat again. We have to talk about independence. Independence today is point No.1. Aggressive Moscow ...

Natallia Radzina: Is Lukashenka now the "guarantor of independence"?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I never said that. And I don't know people in Belarus who tell about "guarantor." It's just a stamp in the press. He's not a "guarantor". But he is interested in independence because he can maintain power.

Belsat moderator: Is it possible to speak of independence in Belarus while there is Putin in the Kremlin?

Natallia Radzina: Everything today depends on Putin. Lukashenka himself put our country in a situation when the fate of the country depends on this person. Since Lukashenka only took these endless loans from the Kremlin. He received oil and gas almost for free, feathered his nest, did not take reforms and made Belarus absolutely economically dependent upon Russia.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I have a question for you. Speaking of independence. Do sanctions contribute to independence?

Natallia Radzina: Aliaksandr Uladzimiravich, I can say that in 2006 you used to be a true leader of the opposition. We including me worked for you. You had the popular support, you had an incredible support of the European leaders, but somehow, I'm sorry, you abandoned it when you became the attorney of Lukashenka.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: But would you please answer the question whether sanctions contribute to independence?

Natallia Radzina: I am convinced that sanctions for violation of human rights in Belarus should exist, and the guarantor of independence in Belarus is free and democratic forces. Only democratic forces. And today we need the solidarity of the West, the solidarity peculiar for Poland fighting with communism, the solidarity that exists with Ukraine today. Belarus now misses it.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I do not agree that the solidarity is needed to build democracy here. Solidarity is needed today primarily to preserve independence. And do not have have any contacts with the power after any imposed sanctions, restrictions. This is what Russia strives for.

Belsat moderator: But does it the very instrument Lukashenka practice?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: He does. But there are things he does for himself, and it's good for the society and the country. The protection of independence today is task No. 1. We may lose our independence overnight, and then we will have no democracy, no freedom, no human rights. And there will be a lot of prisoners. Then the West order "isolate them", and let us live with Russia.

Natallia Radzina: Let's think logically. Lukashenka is not a guarantor of the independence of Belarus, he is a puppet of Putin today. The last West-2017 exercises confirmed this.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Not for sure, as the situation shows.

Natallia Radzina: How can his meetings in Brussels strengthen independence in Belarus? I don't understand your logic. If there is one.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: It is very important for Belarus to maintain a chance for political integration, economic integration with Europe, and that's how reforms will be ensured.

Belsat moderator: But specific documents on economic integration and the same political integration prove integration with Russia, and these are facts.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: It's inevitable. Because we have a huge economic and military dependence, but if we don't talk to Europe, can we fly high with one wing? We're going to fall then.

Natallia Radzina: Europe must interact with the democratic opposition today.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: It doesn't owe anybody anything.

Natallia Radzina: Why then should it cooperate with power?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I'll explain why it's doing it. It is done because the power keeps control of the country and it wants the country not to go eastwards. It wants to get Belarus closer to the West. I want this as well as, I think, you do.

Natallia Radzina: And this power kills opposition leaders today, exposes hundreds and thousands of people to reprisals.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: You didn't answer my question. Will sanctions ensure more independence and democracy? My final answer is No.

Natallia Radzina: You're tying up concepts that are different. Because you always think in the Lukashenka-style: I'm the dictator, I'm the one to keep it afloat. It's not true! If we have the solidarity of the world community, it will be the key to stability in the entire region. A free democratic Belarus, not the dictatorship supported by Moscow. In this regard the independence issue of Belarus will be resolved, but Lukashenka's visit to Brussels will no way strengthen the independence of Belarus, because at any time Putin decides to overthrow him he will do it.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: What do I mean? First of all, the West bet on the democracy. The democracy is the guarantor of independence.

Natallia Radzina: Yes.

Belsat moderator: But there are no elections and democracy in Belarus today.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: But there are trends and developments. The West is now openly bet on security. It says that human rights are very important. Your democracy is also of interest to us, but this guarantee lies in the future.

Belsat moderator: Who is Lukashenka then if the West failed to recognize any "elections"?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: He performs as the state leader. And the opposition press and we on the Belsat say he's not the president, but he is, because there is no choice, the head of state. Tell me, was Stalin who killed tens of millions in Siberia ignored in Yalta? He wasn't because Hitler had to be defeated. Now Putin is pursuing a policy of aggressiveness, and at any moment he can "invade" Belarus. Lukashenka has indeed brought us to vulnerability.

Belsat moderator: Do we return to point when Lukashenka and the power are the guarantor of some independence?

Natallia Radzina: Why do you act like a real devil's advocate? I am upset to see this.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I totally disagree. Only a democratically elected parliament will guarantee independence. And we understand that. And now processes we have to influence on occur. If you say that everything depends on Putin, let's throw up our hands and go to Putin. Let's do it.

Natallia Radzina: Today you think the way employees of the State Security Committee do.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Perhaps, somehow our positions interrelate.

Natallia Radzina: Through their mentors they try to throw such an attitude into independent media.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: There are things said by Lukashenka I accept, and there are some that I do not.

Belsat moderator: How does your position differ from that of Andrei Dzmitryeu and Tatstsyana Karatkevich who promote peaceful changes in Belarus?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: I want peaceful changes. The same color revolution Natallia spoke of happened in 2006, I participated as a single candidate. Even then I did everything to make that revolution peaceful. And this is very important. If we don't want to lose people, positive thoughts about us, we allow blood conflicts occur. Therefore, peaceful changes are indeed very important.

Belsat moderator: By waiting?

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: No, by means of active efforts including communication with the West.

Natallia Radzina: I haven't noticed the For Freedom movement in acting.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: These are ad hominem arguments; I don't consider it an argument.

Natallia Radzina: Why not? I see no active efforts on your part. You were active 10 years ago. Later your activity was poor. You only agitate the West for the dialogue with Lukashenka.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Dear Natallia, I keep saying that there is a need in contacts both with the authority and the Belarusians. It's very important. Otherwise, we have no chance of independence. This position will remain.

Belsat moderator: You have mentioned that the majority of Belarusians miss the will for changes we are talking about.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Yes, they have fear after events in Ukraine.

Natallia Radzina: I believe unlike Aliaksandr Milinkevich in the Belarusian people and I know that Belarusians have their right to freedom. Events of this spring shocked me a lot because I could see how much people hated Lukashenka.

Belsat moderator: But it does not happen in the fall.

Natallia Radzina Naturally, repressions suppressed it, and Aliaksandr Milinkevich is also guilty for it together with those European politicians who today support a dialogue with the dictator.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: Natallia, I'm going to start to comment on what Charter97.org is doing. When we say bad things, it's no the way out. We're neither at Solovyev's nor at Kiselev's. We are in Europe. The option "you're bad and I'm good" does not work.

Natallia Radzina: I just respond to your personalities. I believe that your current position makes you accomplice of future crimes of the Lukashenka's regime. I am convinced that after Lukashenka's invitation to Brussels repressions will be tightened.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: The opposite is true. There will be no repressions.

Natallia Radzina: I am convinced they will. Because it has been practiced during the entire reign of Lukashenka.

Belsat moderator: It's time to make conclusions of our conversation. I see that no consensus can be reached on this issue.

Aliaksandr Milinkevich: It is normal; different goals bear different points of view. The goal to beat Lukashenka and do not let him in means to hurt him and be glad of it. I'm speaking about getting closer to Europe.

Belsat moderator: The issue whether Lukashenka leaves or not is still questionable. We will follow the situation and will inform being independent journalists. And we will keep the issue open whether it is done on public or behind the closed doors. Thank you, Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter97.org, and Aliaksandr Milinkevich, civil leader and ex-candidate for the presidency, for your visit to our studio.