The leaders of the resistance managed to change the people’s opinion in their favour.
Lukashenka repeatedly stresses that the main reason why Belarusians should be proud of their country is “stability and confidence about tomorrow”. However, in the opinion of ex-presidential candidate, Lukashenka’s rival in 2010, ex-political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich, the state institutions are nothing but the “Russian affiliates” in fact, while the independence of the country remains under a threat.
Mikalai Statkevich was freed from prison, where he had spent about five years, in 2015. In fact, right after the release of Statkevich and five more political prisoners, as well as due to Minsk’s mediation in the negotiations related to the conflict in Ukraine, sanctions were lifted off Belarus. The mentioned sanctions were related to 169 people, including Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his sons. During this time, the Belarusian ruler travelled to the West himself and received the European colleagues at home. However, Lukashenka refused to go to the Eastern Partnership Summit which took place in late November in Brussels, Belgium. Minister of Foreign Affairs Uladzimir Makei attended the Summit instead of the Belarusian ruler.
Statkevich believes that the Belarusian governor declined the invitation because of the failed agreement for the meetings with influential European leaders in the framework of the Summit, and Lukashenka decided not to provoke his key ally— Vladimir Putin. The oppositionist is convinced that the dialogue between the European Union and Lukashenka undermines the trust of the Belarusian people towards the EU and only increases the popularity of the Kremlin. In an exclusive interview for the UNN, Mikalai Statkevich also told who is the most popular fugure in Belarus, who the local KGB is subordinate to and why no military turnover is possible in Belarus.
— Before the Eastern Partnership Summit, you criticized the leaders of the European countries for having invited Aliaksandr Lukashenka to the Summit. Can you explain your position: why criticism, not suggestions? Please give us more details on this.
— The points is, the so-called dialogue between the Belarusian regime and the European Union and the West started after the West had declared that the Belarusian regime had started “liberalization”, having released several political prisoners, including me, and stopped arresting the participants of mass street actions and protests for a while. Simultaneously, it turned out no one was fully released. They preserved my record of criminal conviction for 8 years, I cannot even run for a deputy of some rural council, and the preventive surveillance can be replaced with imprisonment any moment.
In addition, the participants of the actions are now fined for huge sums of money. In the spring of this year, when social tension exceeded the limit, people took to the streets, even in the district centers — that never happened before. The authorities reacted to this by inadequate repression — arrests, beatings and so on.
It became clear that the Belarusian regime does not conduct any liberalization, again did not change anything in the law on elections, in the electoral practice. Again, since autumn, the authorities have been studying attentively enough the moods of the people and they have not been enthusiastic about the results. So, they have started pro-active pressure on the protest leaders, on the Belarusian National Congress, on a number of national organizations and regional coalitions of all democratic forces.
Some brutal methods upon arrests came along.
For example, they arrest a person, like Uladzimir Niakliaeu, the presidential candidate. After the brutal detention by the SWAT police last spring, he has had a serious health issue, a hypertensic crisis. So, they didn’t give him medicines, simply to wait till he dies during another arrest. They even tried to put a man with an active form of tuberculosis to the cell with me, during one of the numerous arrests. Moreover, according to him, they told him not to mention his disease. They also tried to put the activists of our party to mental hospitals, etc.
So, at the background of the above-mentioned facts, of which they (the EU — edit.) are well aware, as they know about it, monitor it. Our street activity maybe fading away, but the activity online never stops. When several hundred people protest, they are supported by 2 million. Of course we feel the support of the majority, it revealed itself in spring, and now it is a silent support again. All these people — about 80%, confess to the sociologists that they do want changes. The absolute majority of Belarusians hate Lukashenka, but at this background, he is being received by the leaders of the democratic countries, thus showing that he is right, that his words about freedom and democracy being just some lies the Western countries made up and never abide by them, are true. For us, it is highly unpleasant, because these are our ideals, we base on them. A dialogue means two parties should move towards each other. We are not against the dialogue, but there are only one-sided concessions here.
I had a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor of Germany Sigmar Gabriel on November 18. He came to personally invite Lukashenka to the Eastern Partnership Summit, so he met with Lukashenka, and he also met with me. I explained my position to him. I told him “If you want to deal with this whole country beside you, and this is understandable, than deal with the so-called Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is a KGB Colonel at the same time, Makei (Uladzimir Makei – edit.). But these symbolic meetings, when you invite a murderer, a criminal, shake hands with him, sit at the same table — you approve repression and undermine the reputation of the European Union in the eyes of the ordinary Belarusians. Some 5-7 years ago, 50% Belarusians wanted to the European Union, and now this index decreased to 20%. This is the result of their policy.
I think this influenced the fact that Mr. Lukashenka was denied personal meetings witht he EU leaders in Brussels — I mean, Chancellor Merkel (Angela Merkel – edit.), President Macron (Emmanuel Macron – edit.) etc. Without this, Mr. Lukashenka could not go there, as when he goes there, he has problems with his master Putin without getting anything in exchange. So, he was helped to have no meetings with the real EU leaders, thus making his journey impossible, as he wouldn’t dare to piss off his “master” for nothing.
— For example, in Ukraine, sometimes politicians and public activists also urge the EU to suspend the dialogue with our country, until, for example, certain conditions are fulfilled. Such situations happened in our country, and the people perceived them ambiguously. Do you think that if the West starts to ignore Lukashenka, will not it give Belarus into the "embrace of Moscow" to an even greater extent?
— You know, this regime is not in the embrace of Moscow, it already got into Putin’s ass, if you excuse me. Moscow controls everything here. Lukashenka has been purposefully destroying all the basic concepts of the Belarusian independence, he thought it will be Russia’s affiliate here forever. But, when Russia runs out of money, it’s like when any company runs out of money — a question what to do with an affiliate comes along. To lay off everything there? To adjust it totally? He (Aliaksandr Lukashenka — edit.) got scared and rushed to the West, but he cannot be any guarantor of independence as he is the key enemy of this independence.
— Protecting independence is very easy— do what your politicians require, that is, carry out political and economic reforms. But he cannot make political reforms. Only honest elections are required of him.
At least an honest vote count. Our elections are not falsified, they simply do not exist. We do not have ballots thrown — the appointed, totally controlled elections commissions write protocols in advance and sign them.That's what is required of him. I'm not talking about economic reforms.
Do you want to reduce dependence on Russia? So do not beg for money in the West, you just need to conduct economic reforms, give more freedom to business. But 80% of the economy is state-owned, of course, this is very inefficient. Such an economy produces only losses. However, such an economy is very politically beneficial. It allows you to control every Belarusian at the workplace. We have annual contracts that can be suspended without explaining the reasons for everyone: from a cleaner to a minister. Everyone understands that the contract may not be renewed. This economy is terribly inefficient.
Of course, we are not against the dialogue, but the West must also fulfill its own conditions — political and economic reforms. But when they come into contact with him without fulfilling any conditions, they do not help independence, they just undermine its foundations, they will not give money anyway. Simple Belarusians look and see: yes, they and this "jerk" — they use different words — they are friends with him, we have one hope for Putin and Russia. This led to the fact that today less than 20% are for the European Union, and before it was 50%, and more than 60% for integration with Russia. This is what this policy of the West has led to. They do not help independence, pleasing Lukashenka, they undermine the basis of independence in the minds of the people. Because only the people can protect our country. The Belarusian army has long been a branch of Russia, our special services — the KGB — for a long time has been a branch of the FSB, a loss-making economy is a branch of the Russian one and so on.
Judge your situation yourself, but it seems to me from aside that only the European Union can force your corrupt society, your corrupt political elite to make some kind of reforms. Only this way. Many understand that only some alien can solve it. Because from within you are incapable, it seems to me, to cope with corruption. Because most people who condemn corruption, get into power and begin to reproduce it.
We have a slightly different mentality, believe me, although we are brothers and are close in culture. But you have this problem, we have another problem. We have a problem of preserving the country. And the solution to this problem begins in the minds. And now the European Union, bending down before Lukashenka, humiliates the ideals for which we stand. They in fact push Belarus into the "embrace of Putin." Because Putin is more popular in Belarus than Lukashenka, and first of all among officers of the law enforcement agencies. This is the situation.
— Yesterday, Garry Kasparov in an interview with the UNN also talked about the regime, but with regard to Vladimir Putin. In his opinion, the regime collapses when the leader loses popularity among the law-enforcers. How would you comment on this idea, since you say that in Belarus Putin is more popular than Lukashenka? It turns out that Lukashenka is weak in the eyes of his power structures, right?
— Yes, he is unpopular. Moreover, he is hated. In order to make a turnover successful, it needs to start from the above. Meanwhile, he, like any other sophisticated dictator, shuffles the law-enforcers with regularity. He even throws them from one structure to the other, for instance, a MIA man may find himself in the KBG, etc. He makes them exchange places. Moreover, he doesn’t trust Belarusians. It’s tradition here that the MIA is headed by some Russian representative, and now it is headed by a native of the Lugansk district. He is scared, and that is why we have 8 special services with the right to conduct operative activity, and they are watching each other. It’s very brutal over there. For them, Putin is more intelligent, smart, well-spoken, the man who wrenched the Crimea in a cool way and resists the West. They are brought up in a spirit of anger at NATO. Any wishes of Lukashenka to maneuver are perceived as weakness.
— As for our common Ukrainian-Belarusian issues — the disappearance of Pavlo Hryb in Homel, the accusation of journalist Pavlo Sharoiko in espionage, Oleksandr Skiba is accused of bribery and arrested. And all this for a couple of months. At the same time, a citizen of Belarus who was charged with espionage had been arrested in Ukraine. What do you think is really happening? Do we see a complete picture of the events?
— The arrest of your (Ukrainian — edit.) youngster, who was later found in the Russian remand prison, — this is just a manifestation that the FSB is free to do what they want here. Thi is a confirmation of my words: the KGB is an affiliate of the Russian FSB. And this was done by the “fighter for independence” Lukashenka.
Do you remember how he was willing to merge into Russia under any conditions back in the 1990s? Dozens of thousands people took to the streets, there were stones, road tiles. He was scared then, and he gave up that criminal idea. Nevertheless, we now have what he built. The FSB branch in Belarus called the KGB arrested a Ukrainian citizen, following Moscow’s order. As for your journalist and the director of the plant, I will remind you about one more occasion — a young man in Mahiliou was jailed for 6 months for having posted something pro-Ukrainian on the internet.
— Was he a citizen of Ukraine?
— This was a citizen of Belarus from Mahiliou. He got 6 months in prison for having posted something in support of Ukraine, against Russia. It all happened within a very short period of time, and this was not accidental. Lukashenka hoped he would be allowed to meet with Merkel and he wanted to show Putin, like “I did not betray you”, or “see, I press Ukrainians over here, I even had no pity for my own citizen, put him in jail”. However, no meeting was allowed, the people remained in jail. I do not want to judge the reasons under which our people get jailed. However, if this opportunity, this journey, these hopes for a meeting and probably for some money afterwards, this is how he prepared an excuse for Putin in advance.
— After the meeting of the CSTO the media discussed with a predilection the officials of the protocol service who accompanied the presidents at the event. Do you also think that this is a very important point or is it an attempt to divert attention from something more significant?
— Apparently, this summit did not end with anything concrete, so they showed these girls. It means that the CSTO exists. There, an agreement was concluded that, in the event of an alarming period, Russia could give us military equipment and enter its troops. In the event of a war, conflict or threatening period, but not deciphered, what is the "threatening period".
They will say: "This is a threatening period and we are going to help you." We will say: "There is no threatening period." And they will say that there is. That's what it can lead to. This is again about independence — there is only independence to give. This, by the way, directly affects Ukraine. They will say that this is the threatening period of the war with Ukraine, and enter troops.
— As a leader of the Belarusian National Congress, what can you offer to the EU as aplan for a dialogue, given that you believe that meeting with Lukashenka are no good? According to you, it reduces the popularity of the European idea in Belarus, how can you resist it then?
— I think that the dialogue should continue, but everything shoud be done in accordance with the principles. Lukashenka needs the European Union much more than the EU needs Lukashenka. That is why a tough position should be taken.
Roughly speaking, they jailed-jailed-jailed us, and then started to fine us after the American and the European Ambassadors came. I had a funny situation, there was an action of October 21, and I gave an interview near the prison gates after yet another arrest. They called this interview a non-sanctioned picket. I was given 10 days of detention for that, and a fine for the action itself. These 10 days are still pending. All this says that Lukashenka obeys. If he did not need the EU, they would have prolonged and prolonged our arrests while we would be still in jail. I said many times — either you are a dictator, or a beggar — you cannot be both.
The EU needs to take a principled position, as Lukashenka will not make any changes voluntarily, but he will make concessions. In addition, if we already have a dialogue with this side (with the West — edit.), then we need to maintain a dialogue with you (with Ukraine — edit.). Unfortunately, now the EU’s priority is Mr. Lukashenka and his team, this also applies to the third sector — the West is working with the organizations, appointed by the authorities, which imitate some kind of social activity.
Our third sector in Belarus is going through very difficult times. You see, the situation has changed dramatically since the 90s. Previously, if you go, dozens of thousands follow you, you are met by presidents, but you know that you are a minority in Belarus, and the majority is on the side of Lukashenka and he thinks you are an agent hired for some grants and so on. Now the Western politicians condescended to Lukashenka, now the wave has fallen, the people are frightened — the decades of repression, you go, and three hundred people follow you, but you know that this is the overwhelming majority of the people. And this is the most important thing. This is what I would change for everything.
We will stand on our ground until this silent majority again becomes active. We, unlike Ukrainian politicians, clearly understand that the bear is breathing in the back. We never try to overturn power, we try to press, frighten. In 1999, we succeeded, although it's a pity, because there were dozens of wounded from both sides, at the March of Freedom of 1997. We forced Lukashenka, and he realized that if he continues to hand over, it will end badly.
Now we want to force him to begin to gradually give the people their freedom, give back their choice. Give us a choice and we will have another country. But, unfortunately, we have to fight not with this ridiculous collective farm man, but with a much stronger state. Because he is only a dummy and a grumpy puppet of Moscow. We cannot beat this huge empire with their subsidies and billions of dollars and so on, but we will fight. Although I criticize the brotherly Ukrainian people, we understand that if you give in, we will not have a chance. If you build a normal country, including under pressure from the EU, then everything will be fine with us.