24 May 2018, Thursday, 17:02

Andrei Sannikov: We Need Free Elections


Only democratic Belarus can be truly an independent state.

"Belarusians are angry, they don't see an opportunity to improve the situation under the current regime," the leader of the European Belarus civil campaign, ex-candidate for the presidency Andrei Sannikov shared his opinion on the situation in Belarus in an interview to Polskie Radio (translated by Charter97.org).

Since 17 February Belarus has been taking protests against Decree No. 3, according to which people unemployed for 183 days within a year are obliged to pay the tax. People are brought to the streets by a disastrous economic situation; they demand new jobs and fair elections.

Andrei Sannikov, former Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, former political prisoner, the leader of the European Belarus civil campaign, says that the Belarusian National Congress representing the Belarusian democratic opposition advocates a negotiable solution of the situation.

-How would you describe the wave of protests in Belarus? Is it an awakening of the society?

- I'd say the situation is really revolutionary. If you use a classic definition, it means when lower classes no longer want the current order, and the top classes can no longer run the country in an old way. You may notice that people are outraged by absence of recent benefits, prices are rising, and wages are declining. There is no job, no funds to feed the family. The situation in the regions is a complete disaster. People see no way out of the situation. There is no chance that the situation can improve until the regime is in power. On the contrary, officials look for more ways to put pressure on people, introduce new taxes, collect money.

-What are possible scenarios for the situation?

- Scenarios can be different. For me, the most acceptable scenario is the fair and true elections with the participation of the opposition. Elections must be taken under international control. Unfortunately, the scenario of Russia's interference is possible as well. I'm afraid this may be related to the military exercises West-2017 prepared by Russia. Then it would be a serious threat to the security of Europe, Poland and not only to the independence of Belarus.

Therefore, Europe should take appropriate measures to prevent it, after all, to understand the difference between independent Belarus and the illegal regime of Lukashenka. Only a democratic country can defend its independence.

The social upheaval scenario is also possible. This may happen if the authorities of Belarus and Europe do not take appropriate measures to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner in the near future.

I support the scenario of holding free elections. As a member of the Council of the Belarusian National Congress, I can assure we offer the understandable peaceful way out of the situation. Organization of free elections will solve the existing conflict.

- What is the chance that this scenario will be put into life and become a reality?

- This probability is growing now. Lukashenka yielded in the end, when he took the decision to suspend the decree. Most likely, it will not happen all at once. Nevertheless, the chance is great, if the pressure on the regime is continued, it will start bringing results.

I cannot predict for sure how Lukashenka will act. Meybe he wouldn’t give up the state power voluntarily, trying to stay on top with every effort. However, this would only worsen his own situation andf the economic state of the country.

The decision that we are talking abvout may become an acceptable way out for him. However, I don’t know how he will act.

- During the discussion at the Warsaw University, dedicated to Belarus, you talked about the Polish-Belarusian relations, about the fact that the West has an opportunity to help Belarus to become a democratic state.

- Yes, sure.

- Could you clarify under which circumstances it can happen?

- Supporting the scenario of the dialogue inside Belarus. First, the West should not support Lukashenka. All possible loans should be connected only with the concrete changes in the country and termination of all represssions. The West will have to react to the repressions. The people are beaten, hunted in the streets, there are many convicts again.

Europeans should give a harsh reaction to what is happening, so as not find themselves in a situation where Europe will not know what to do again. This will only worsen the situation.

I would like to stress that the situation is much more dangerous than in 2010, because Russia can take advantage of this moment for a new aggression against Europe. At the same time, it should be emphasized that the chances for change in the current situation have increased. And the people are interested in them.

- You are a member of the Belarusian National Congress. Does this organization feel that it plays the leading part in the ongoing events? Does the West consider the Belarusian National Congress a serious political subject, see its mission and position?

- The society and the people reckon us as such subject. The West is still trying to cooperate with Lukashenka, as well as with the groups, subordinate to the regime. I don’t remember, for example, Mikalai Statkevich having been invited tot he meetings of high level in Poland (Statkevich is a former political prisoner, the opposition candidate for president — edit.).

- What is the activity of the Belarusian National Congress?

- For example, the Outraged Belarusians’ March was organized exactly by the Belarusian National Congress. On February 17, the demands to the regime were set — to abolish the decree, to agree to conduct negotiations with the opposition and to hold fair elections.

I believe that this strategy is absolutely clear and understandable for everyone.

- Lukashenka made a step backwards, speaking about the decree. However, the protests continue.

- They will continue further on. Taking a look at the situation, the decree seems only an excuse. What were the slogans under which the people came out to protest? “Go Away!”, “Basta!”, “Change the Regime!”, “Enough!”

The people are unstoppable now as they know, if they calm down, even given the abolition of hte decree – nothing is going to change. There will be dozens of similar decrees. And then it will be worse.

Agnieszka Kaminska talked to Andrei Sannikov, PolskieRadio.pl

Andrei Sannikov (Belarus) is the founder of the civil campaign "European Belarus". He worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus until 1996, when he resigned from the position of Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus. As a diplomat in the rank of an ambassador, he was responsible for disarmament and international security. He headed the Belarusian delegation at the talks in Vienna, Geneva, New York, Moscow and Kyiv. After his leave, Andrei Sannikov began active opposition activities. In 2010, he was one of the presidential candidates. He was beaten on election day, got to the KGB prison, was sentenced to five years in prison. Prisoner of conscience. After his release in 2012, he was forced to leave Belarus in order to be able to continue his activities on behalf of free Belarus. Now he works with his colleagues abroad. Andrei Sannikov regularly publishes articles about Belarus, the events in Central and Eastern Europe, and international security.