The Belarusian dictator is the product of the Soviet Union, the most miserable part of it.
The leader of the European Belarus civil campaign, presidential candidate of Belarus, Andrei Sannikov, took part in press-conference organized by Gravkom information source in Kyiv. Charter97.org provides its readers with verbatim record.
- Ukraine plays a significant role. The Belarusians wish Ukrainians all the best. We need to break out of our common thraldom. But we need assistance of Ukraine and an understanding of the situation in Belarus, Andrei Sannikov stated at the beginning of the press conference.
- What role does Ukraine play for Belarusians? Revolution exports?
- Perspective of the situation and the fact that the path to democracy is a hard one and we need support. Perhaps, you will agree that Belarusians made up the majority of foreigners who participated in the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity. And the first tragedy happened with the Belarusian - Mikhail Zhyzneuski was killed. We are grateful for the memory of his deed. But, unfortunately, there is no understanding on the part of Ukraine that we need support, to say nothing of the revolution exports, or at least the end of friendship with the dictator.
It's time to break out of illusions. In Kyiv I talk to many people, meet with them and see that Ukrainians think we're all right, that we have some sort of order, that there's no revolution or Maidans, that Lukashenka controls everything. They do not see that almost all rights are neglected, the population slides into poverty and it takes the streets to protest.
We are in the same boat. Absence of democratization in Belarus obstructs Ukraine's way towards independence and creation of a democratic state.
Today Ukraine can do a lot for Belarus regarding support for pro-democracy activists, media publications on the real situation in Belarus, support for our political prisoners and our leaders.
I'm often asked in Ukraine: "Why don't you carry out the Maidan as well?" We had few of them and all of them were severely suppressed, I experienced it. Belarus has developed an extremely effective model of suppression of any ideological dissension. Sometimes, when we observe the criminal prosecution of the political opposition and public activists in Russia, we understand how it resembles things Lukashenka do in Belarus. These are strict systems providing with no ability to stay in the streets for a while, because actions are immediately dispersed. We dream to have a screen and a podium during an action; it's a luck if we can have a megaphone there.
Unfortunately, the situation in Belarus today is being ignored not only by Ukraine but also by Europe, which has begun to forget its values.
- Today's Belarus is an authoritarian state. When was that point of no return reached, why has Belarus not entered the Democratic transit?
- Let's start with definitions. Belarus is the authoritarian state. In 2003 I wrote a work on totalitarianism in Belarus, and since then it has only strengthened. When we call a regime authoritarian, it doesn't sound so awful. You'd better ask people who are in jails, and who are deprived of rights; and they will say it's totalitarianism.
The point of no return happened in 1996. When Lukashenka amended the Constitution as a result of a falsified referendum, and actually usurped power. And the most important thing is that he has ruined the separation of powers. The legislative, executive and judicial branches are in the hands of Lukashenka today. All judges are appointed, the puppet Parliament has no authority and deliver decisions made in the Lukashenka Administration.
In November 1996 Russia had its finger in the pie as well. It was a political crisis. The opposition group in the Parliament protested against such a scenario. But the Russian delegation with the President of the Council of the Federation Egor Stroyev, State Duma's Chairman Gennady Seleznev, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Belarus to allegedly settle the crisis. In fact, they helped Lukashenka to usurp power. That was the point of no return that backpedaled movement of Belarus towards democracy.
I used to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and held the position of Deputy Minister. We prepared strong documents, the same partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union, which, by the way, was signed by Lukashenka. After the referendum a close integration process with Russia was launched. Lukashenka demanded financial assistance from Russia in response to demonstration of loyalty.
- Do you think Russia will stay for long in Belarus?
- Russia has never left the territory of Belarus. we had a short period of a relative liberalization, but democrats have never been to power. in 1996, six months prior to the referendum, documents on the establishment of the so-called "Union" of Belarus and Russia were signed in favour of Boris Yeltsin. It has started not under Putin, but under Yeltsin. Belarus played its role as "Gathering of the Lands".
In military terms Russia has never left Belarus as well, because interaction, I would say control over Belarusian Armed Forces is quite noticeable. But at the same time, all these years Belarusians have felt themselves independent. When we held sociological surveys (and under the dictatorship they are not possible),only 3% of respondents voted for reintegration into Russia. I guess this figure has not changed. Who wants to be in close relationship with the country that is waging war with its neighbours?
- Is this Lukashenka's "time to shine" in the situation of Russia-Ukraine conflict? He's not the last dictator of Europe, but next-to-last.
- I cannot recognize Russia as a European state either in terms of geographical position or it behavior. It's still Eurasia. Yes, it's Lukashenka's "time to shine", he battens on misfortunes of Ukraine. But I think attitude towards Lukashenka must change following voting against the resolution on the Crimea when Belarus actually recognized the annexation of Crimea, the right of Russia to foreign territories. And especially after kidnapping of Pavel Grib by Russia's FSS in the territory of Belarus. Now he is in Russian correctional facility after a spy scandal and so on.
And the main thing that should give pause for thought is the military exercises "West-2017", which took place in the territory of Belarus. They were more large-scale and were carried out not only in the territory of Belarus, and also involved even more troops and equipment. And they posed a direct threat to Ukraine and our neighbours in Europe. I think the demonstration called preparations for an offensive by the military and politicians should bring all our neighbours down to earth. This is the essence of the regime — the provision of a ground and eventual involvement in Russia's military plans.
- Do you think the invasion is possible from the direction of Belarus?
- Is it possible from the direction of Russia?
- Everything's clear with it.
- Yes, the Russians have already invaded Ukraine. Russia and Belarus conduct exercises, a great number of troops, equipment is deployed, an offensive operation is being exercised. Of course, it is possible.
- Will Lukashenka accept it?
- Yes, of course. Who else from former republics does carry out such large-scale maneuvers that jeopardize the entire region? Just him. The dictator can say that he abides the neutral position and offer Minsk as the negotiation ground. But let's take a look at Minsk talks: Putin chose Minsk, not Lukashenka. It was the only place to somehow legitimize criminals from Luhansk and Donetsk. And Ukraine got stuck in the process. Probably only a lazy person does not say how useless that process was.
His rhetoric which is often accepted at its facedown is all lies. Lukashenka intends only to serve Russia's interests. And the Kremlin provides him assistance. A good enough.
- However, Europeans start negotiating with Lukashenka, although all contacts were cut off. Does he not see that it's better for Belarus to develop together with Europe that to join the hopeless union with Russia?
- I also used to fing logic in the Kremlin's and Lukashenka's behavior. But I have not done it for long. He's forced to communicate with the West because he has no money at all. Moreover, this communication, I think, has been sanctioned by the Kremlin, because the Kremlin has not as many resources as it used to provide Lukashenka with because of sanctions and the war in Ukraine. The dictator is not going to change anything, the system remains, repressions are only intensifying, the economy is going up in smoke. So we had mass spring protests triggered by the so-called "decree on spongers". But people took the streets speaking out political slogans and requiring Lukashenka's resignation.
In spite of this, Europe continues its dialogue with Lukashenka in hope to take advantage of the geopolitical situation and explain Lukashenka that he may attain happiness in Europe. He will never get it. The only hope is that there will be some changes in the country and we will get the things we demand - free elections. And if we get it, then the opposition will have at least communication channels. There are none of them now. The only opportunity to sound demands and say that we do not accept the regime is to take the streets.
- You said you didn't consider Russia as a European country. If we look at Asian countries of the post-soviet camp, as well as Belarus they have the dictator at the helm. What is the position of Belarus then? Is it turning into savagery?
- I would say it turns into Latin America. It is a regime of Latin American type where the ruling clan owns all resources and carries out repressions. Regarding the geographical position, we belong to Europe.
Please note, Lukashenka has built his gerime on denial of Belarus. It's a paradox. When he came to power, he immediately stated that he was internationalist. Persecution of the Belarusian language, culture, rewriting of history was launched.
Belarus is a European country. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we began to learn and scrutinize what was hidden: our real story which starts not from 1917 or 1919. That is why we celebrate our Freedom Day, the day when the Belarusian People's Republic was proclaimed. By the way, next year BPR celebrates its 100 years. We found our European roots and understood that our history had ties, except for the period of the Russian Empire, with Europe.
There is a regime, and there are Belarusians. The regime is rightly called the occupation one. Lukashenka denies the real Belarus and the Kremlin orders him.
- How are things with the self-identification of citizens today? How popular is the Belarusian language?
- The discrimination of the Belarusian language and history is going on. Here is an example: no university holds lectures in Belarusian only; that is, there are no specialists taking courses in the Belarusian language. They learn it on their own and then work with it. There is a persecuted lyceum that provides excellent education in the Belarusian language, but it's not the state level. The state still adheres to the Soviet policy of russification of Belarus. Nevertheless, over the past few years, the interest in the Belarusian language has drastically increased: more cultural events, books, music, films have been issued. Prohibitions have increased the interest in Belarusian. Belarus will stay alive!
- Why is Lukashenka so afraid of self-definition of people? This is normal.
- Lukashenka is the product of the Soviet Union, the most miserable propaganda part of it. He doesn't exist in the real world. I can see the same in Putin. They believe the world is controlled by bribery, lies, negation of values. Unfortunately, there is some truth in regard to some European politicians and officials. There is one system of promotion Lukashenka knows since the Soviet times. There is a ground to call his regime a collective farm system.
- How does the opposition live today under such circumstances? Are its members exiled or jailed?
- We suffer hard times, but the opposition is alive and it operates. Yes, there are a lot of problems. And don't blame us for any division.. There are simply a large number of organizations that voluntarily or not are under control of special services.
- Is this a controlled opposition?
- You can call it the way you like. But I can't consider it an opposition. If it were some kind of communication channel that would allow me to find a way out, I would have no objection. But they only work on the bleaching of the regime. But there are those who are at risk and show that Belarus continues fighting for freedom. First of all, it's the Belarusian National Congress, its leaders Mikalai Statkevich, Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, the activists of European Belarus Jauhen Afnahel, Maksim Vinyarski, politician Paval Sevyarynets, public figure Volha Mikalaichyk and many others.
- Will the opposition participate in local elections of 2018?
- The true opposition will not. There will be a fake one.
- It does not make sense at all. Local councils have no authority, they can decide nothing. Even parliamentary elections are senseless. I will cite only two facts. The "Parliament" of Belarus is not entitled to a legislative initiative. "Deputies" are paid in the Lukashenka Administration. So they're directly dependent on power. So the "Parliament" is completely puppet.
All "elections" follow the same scenario. No one disloyal is allowed. The involvement in it is dangerous, because it bears wishful thinking. And when it has no result, it causes regret and apathy among people including activists.
– How, then, can changes take place?
– As soon as there is an opportunity to carry out real elections. This is what we are trying to achieve. So that the government eventually start talking to the opposition. Not to Brussels or Washington to ask for money, but to the opposition.
The power is in a very difficult situation. Probably, like all dictators, Lukashenka believes that he is eternal and infallible. But the situation is very difficult. In particular, regarding his security, which he can obtain only inside the country, if he starts a dialogue with the opposition on how to organize transparent elections under international control. I will take part in it as soon as I can.
– Do you think that Lukashenka will agree?
– If we had help from Europe, Ukraine – he would have to.
– Recalling Marquez, when will the fall of Patriarch Lukashenka come?
– He's already beyond this autumn. His behavior, his demands, even to loyal officials, are similar to clownery. Therefore, I think, the autumn has passed – and his idiocy is getting stronger.
– And what will happen next?
– I'm a historical optimist. The natural state of Belarus is to be a democratic, European, independent country.
– And under what conditions will the country enter the "democratic transit"?
– There are different circumstances to create these conditions. I hope that we will take advantage of these circumstances. Probably, if in 1991 we had been told about the dangers we might face, we would have been in the EU before Poland and the Baltic States. But they decided somewhere that it would be possible reach an agreement with Russia, that strong economic ties were needed. The bitter experience can make us not miss our chance.
Today much depends on the Western policy towards Russia. If sanctions continue, then Belarus and Ukraine have chances.
– If Ukraine becomes successful, will it affect the Belarusians?
– I remember very well how our Western friends have once said that democracy will come to us from Russia. As if it was in one step from becoming a democracy, after which it, of course, would not tolerate Lukashenka’s regime. We must ourselves seek freedom and democracy without becoming attached to anyone.
Obviously, Ukraine is important for us. Not just for us. It is important for Europe, it is important for neighbors who border Ukraine. And it is important for Russia, if Russia ever becomes a normal state. We can talk about the interconnection, but so far I do not see any attempts to understand it from those who can help, who can influence the processes.
Your authorities have also taken the position of pragmatic friendship with the dictator, but democratic values are not upheld in supporting the dictatorship. It is possible to work strategically at the level of people, leaders, analytical centers, independent media, civil society, youth, and so on. There are so many points of contact here.
– Ukrainians actually live by myths, that Belarus has excellent roads, that everything is good in Belarus, the best products are from Belarus.
– But myths are not even created by the power. Myths are created by media. I’ve heard them, too. I don’t want Ukraine to resemble the distant western societies who know nothing about Belarus and are very surprised.
I can give an example. After I got out of prison and came to London, I talked to students about what had happened to us, including the dispersal of a peaceful demonstration on December 19, 2010, when more than a thousand people were imprisoned. And then a young man got up, he was listening very attentively, and said: "I do not understand why did not you call the police?" This phrase shows what a gap of misunderstanding exists.
– Putin scares his fellow citizens with a revolution in Ukraine today – see, how badly do they live? – he calls it a coup. Does Lukashenka frighten his fellow citizens with Ukrainian problems?
– Of course. Even not Lukashenka, but Putin. Because the Russian propaganda and Russian television dominate here. Therefore, I think the majority of the population shares Putin's attitude to Ukraine. And play into the hand's of Lukashenka. Like, let them scare – it only helps me. But this is all from the category of a hybrid war. Therefore, it is also important for you to develop and strengthen contacts at the level of people from Belarus and Ukraine.
– To make the word of mouth work? As our media do not reach you.
– Therefore, we really need a Ukrainian television channel. And there is an agreement between Lukashenka and Poroshenko, that this will based on the principle of reciprocity. The Belarusian propaganda channel broadcasts on the territory of Ukraine. Where is Ukrainian one?
– How could Ukraine and Ukrainians help Belarusians and Belarus?
– We need to understand how important Belarus is to Ukraine, so that there is an understanding that Ukraine will not be supported under the dictatorship. One can only expect meanness from Lukashenka's regime.
And Belarusians are with you. When you say "Glory to Ukraine", remember that "Belarus Lives Long!" next to you.