Russia may repeat the destiny of the USSR.
Coordinator of the “European Belarus” civil campaign Dzmitry Bandarenka said this to Belsat, commenting upon the Warning Action which had taken place on September 8 in Minsk.
- What were your expectations regarding the action on the Belarusian Military Glory Day, September 8?
- I remeber the times of perestroyka, the first years of the Belarusian independence, and I want to say September 8 was one of the most important holidays for me then. Because these celebrations have always been the most interesting. They were organized by the Belarusian Association of the Military (BAM). I was a member of the BAM and I’d like to stress that I used to like this organization for its preciseness. When I signed up for the BAM at a demonstration, a military man came to me the following day and said “Thus and thus, wait for more information.”
I participated in the first BAM congress in the Trade Unions Palace, then in the Literator’s House. And then these holidays were somehow forgotten. There have been no actions on that date for many years.
- There were cultural actions.
- Yes, there were. Also, people came to the Krapivenskaye field in Vorsha. And today we see flags in the city center, slogans. Young people came, there were the BAM veterans and this is good.
- However, we see sadness in your eyes. Is it because you feel nostalgic about the massed actions of the past?
- I’m sad because I’m not there, with my friends and brothers. But I am happy that the people gathered together. And hoisted a huge national flag...
The interview with Dzmitry Bandarenka starts at 1:16
- Uladzimir Niakliaeu noted that this action is psychologically very complicated for Belarusians. Do you share the opinion that it is really reckoned to be a Russophobic, anti-fraternal action, or is it not so bad?
- It’s hard for me to understand the people who think that there’s something wrong with this action, because for me, this is the action I feel closest to. And then again, dear Belarusians, these “brothers” broke into the place of brothers-Ukrainians, and there are 10 thousand killed there. Let’s learn on somebody else’s mistakes. However, the Belarusian government makes no conclusions.
Belarusians-men and the army must be ready to defend Belarus from any aggressor. Today Belarus has become the theme number 1 because of the West-2017 exercises. Why? Because the Poles and the Baltic countries are especially afraid for their safety. Because the Russians can come and impose their own order, and the Belarusians "are not afraid", although the Russians are already here.This is a paradox.
- Maybe it’s not a paradox, maybe Belarusians know something, which our neighbours don’t? Like, the Russians will not occupy us, but go further, to the North, West or South.
- I think Belarusians simply don’t know anything, because there’s no television which tells the truth, apart from Belsat, and this propaganda in 25 years (and 75 more years before that) did its thing. In Ukraine, Putin was the most popular politician before the aggression. And now Ukrainians are fighting a war with Russians in Donbas.
- The latest events raise the issue of the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, in particular, the abduction of Ukrainian activist Pavel Hryb. Was this some one-time action of the FSB or was it, like many say, an action of intimidation: like, don’t go through Belarus, it’s bad there, the country’s a Russian foothold, FSB rules there, and thus the wedge between Minsk and Kyiv is driven? How do you assess this?
- There were two news. The first one was that Russia already controlled the air borders of Belarus, and the second one was reported by Radio Racyja, that the FSB controlled the border. And now there has been a statement that the police did not arrest this young Ukrainain, but the FSB did, at the border which it already controlled.
- That is, the internal occupation, about which the organizers of the action speak, is already a reality. Also, the organizers speak about the danger of consequences that Belarus can expect from being drawn into this conflict. What can we be threatened with? Are there any additional sanctions or are they military strikes against Russian bases in Belarus?
- First of all, the loss of independence. This is the biggest threat. And, secondly, on the maps of these exercises we see three "hostile" countries for the Belarusian and Russian general staffs. These are Veyshnoria (part of Belarus), Lubenia (part of Poland) and Vesbaria (part of Lithuania). And if it is planned at these exercises that Veyshnoria will be liquidated, then, probably, these virtual countries, invented by the general staffs, will also be liquidated. And our neighbors should know for sure: the scenario of occupation of these countries or their parts is being worked out during these exercises.
- Or the whole region.
- And then there will be a response from NATO with all possible consequences.
- It makes sense to react to certain words that we heard in the course of the Warning Action on September 8. Let us start from the last – the riot policemen, who observed the action only because they had been ordered to, not even because of some call of duty. As their duty is to protect the public order, not conduct political repression. Was this observation under order, or can we say that the law-enforcers in Belarus are also taking stock of who can become their leader?
- I would single out two aspects. I really do not like the fact that during the streams, all the presenters focus on the riot police. It’s frightening of people. Sometimes it was absolutely incomprehensible. It had anecdotal forms this spring. People were intimidated by Ukraine, the riot police, and the person answered: "I came here, because my family has nothing to eat!"
And today we can note Lukashenka's decision to allow people to gather in the center of the city.
- There’s a reason why I asked this question. Many thought that Mikalai Statkevich would be arrested before the action, as it happened before, but they let him go to the action. The law-enfrocers didn’t interfere either.
- They also didn’t let the Russian agents out of jail. The Belarusian authorities are showing that, see, we have such point of view as well. Maybe, you can give us some money?
- Do you mean all this is for a conversation with Putin?
- Absolutely. “Give us money” remains the main task, look, we have nationalists. They don’t realize though, that maybe a total of a million people are watching and will watch Belsat TV on salellite, and think: am I ready to fight with the Russians if they remain? What will I do? Where will I take weapons? Maybe, it makes sense to look for the comrade-in-arms beforehand? So here, indeed, as Mikalai Statkevich says, the Russians lost the first part of the informational war. Lukashenka understands that he actually does not have power, borders are not controlled, there is no money. But now, he needs to keep his subjectivity somehow, thanks to the opposition.
- Today I recalled the figures from sociological research several times: 53%, as far as I remember, are ready to adjust, 18% are ready to fight with weapons in hand. For example, I do not share such pessimism that this is not enough. In my opinion, there are a lot of people who, in today's conditions, declare that they are ready to fight with weapons in their hands. Those 53% - they are passive and this does not mean that they will oppose.
- I do not trust Manayeu and do not believe in IISEPS data. I know that you can refer to these data as approved "from above." When I was in prison, the KGB men, the head of the prison Arlou brought us the data of the IISEPS and claimed that even the IISEPS said that Lukashenka “got” 51% at the "election". It's just that today Lukashenka shows the Russians that he needs help.
- In this situation, 18% of the 9,5 million makes about 2 million people. Even if these are undervalued numbers, the situation looks rather optimistic.
- I will say what I know - the Belarusian segment of the Internet (even not the complete one, without some leading websites) is 4,5 million people a month. The website Charter97.org has about 1,5 million people. Therefore, we can say that 2 million people are solid patriots who are interested in looking for alternative information.
- I will read out some text messages. One of the viewers sent a message from Belarus: “There’re a lot of people, I can see. Long Live Belarus!” and then the next message comes, “I’ve been texting you for two days, you never read it out. Probably, the MTS blocks it.” Maybe they do. As for the September 8 action, there is a reaction from Vorsha. Aliaksandr writes: “Sadly, but you cannot defend Belarus sitting on a sofa.” Valer Mazynski also said that “Belarusians haven’t woke up yet, they don’t understand.” People again and again turn to the numbers when discussing this action. How important is it now, that not as many people came as we would want it, or it’s not worth paying attention to?
- I recently read an interesting conversation about the media on the website of Radio Liberty, in which Mr Shreibman, Drakahrust and Martsinovich participated, and there was a talk also about the action on September 8. Martsinovich, who is considered the star of the Belarusian journalism, said: "And I will not give information, I will not advertise Statkevich's action, because there are more weighty topics in the country." And Drakharust said that "only the Charter97 gives information about the Day of the Belarusian Military Glory, so let's see how many people will come." Of course, this is not so, but, excuse me, if this is the approach of journalists, then what to expect from the population?
We also remember that when the first Outraged Belarusians’ March was held, then all the journalists said: "The most massive action! The most massive action! ", and then an hour later (perhaps they received instructions), some began to say that 200 or 300 people came.
That is, journalists form a public opinion. And when the so-called stars say that there are more weighty topics than independence - it also affects. People cannot change their opinion, but think: "Here is an authoritative person who said that it does not matter. Today, therefore, I will refrain, I will not go. "
We are all in one boat, do not forget about it. And today was a very worthy action.
- Here is another text message from Belarus: "These exercises are just waste of money, which we have none, but Russia gives us money, gives loans to pay off previous debts." Meanwhile, I wanted to ask about something else. At the action, some people spoke Russian, before that we saw that next to the national flag some people were carrying the current red and green flag. That is, there is no split, independence and patriotism are those values that unite all Belarusians, regardless of political convictions. Can we talk about this as a set fact in today's Belarus?
- I liked what one girl said the action: "If my father was here (I understand that geographically), he would have come." We must extrapolate that if several hundred came out in Minsk, then in each city there are several dozens, out of a hundred cities, in villages, towns there are many people ready to fight. They are talking about the West of Belarus, and there probably will be more people there. I would call today’s event the beginning of the political autumn in Belarus.
- What should we expect next? Will the theme of independence be continued? What is your prognosis? Now the adherents of independence came out, will the “non-parasites” follow? Or maybe they will go together?
- I think that the social theme will dominate, but no one knows how these exercises will end. Everyone must be prepared. However, Lukashenka wants to resume the Decree #3, tax inspectorates got more rights and can inspect any person for the last 10 years, there’s mass unemployment – all these problems do exist. The social discontent is very high. That is why I believe there will be more actions this autumn.
- In the beginning of our conversation we drew parallels with early 1990s, just how September 8 was marked back then. I would like to return to this period again. Can we say that the situation when the social-economic protests destroyed the dictatorship which existed back then, and the real independence came, is returning? Can history repeat now?
- I served in the GSPV (the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany), served as an occupier, as I now understand. And I saw this tremendous power. There stood 50 thousand, maybe even more tanks - it's an armada. I don’t know how many planes I saw for the transfer of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. How many of these troops were in Poland. And it all collapsed. And why? Because the Soviet Union lost the economic race, oil prices fell and there were several local conflicts - Afghanistan, Angola and so on.
Russia is now much weaker than the USSR (for example, Russia's GDP is $ 1.5 trillion, the EU's GDP is $ 17.5 trillion, America is $ 17 trillion, and Japan has $ 4 trillion). What can we talk about? And this country has unleashed several wars - in Ukraine, in Syria ...
- Then again, the history repeats.
- Absolutely, I totally agree with you. A VCR won in the perestroyka times. And now it’s a new technological revolution. Neither Putin nor Lukashenka can conduct manual control from one center.
- Back then, the USSR collapsed, unable to withstand the economic race. Now Russia, which is an aggressor, at least in this region, also moans under these sanctions. Is it possible to break its back?
- Lukashenka is not a guarantor of independence. Putin could do anything. But there have already been statements by the responsible military leaders of NATO, Western politicians who said that if Belarus is occupied, strong sanctions will follow, first of all - disconnection from SWIFT. It is known that some of the equipment will be left in warehouses, some soldiers in the Belarusian uniform will remain. But they are afraid of doing it publicly, in this sense we are under the "western umbrella". But as Brzezinski said to Ukrainians after the surrender of the Crimea, "you will be helped only when you fight yourself." The same can be said to Belarusians: if we resist, if there is a morale, if we can stand up for ourselves at least to a minimum extent, we will be protected.
- In this situation, the Warning Action is addressed also to the authorities, and Belarusians, and our neighbours, both eastern and western ones, are watching the action. Does the Kremlin monitor the anti-Russian actions and other processes, which are taking place in Belarus?
- I think the Kremlin has already been slapped in the face witgh Veyshnoria, as Mikalai Statkevich said. It is believed that Russia is the forefront of a hybrid war. It is a master of information wars. However, Veyshnoria was a real failure for Russia. They do not know Belarusians at all, because people in the east of Belarus will support even Veyshnoria. Russians think that Catholics live there, but there are much more registered Orthodox communities in the west of Belarus than in the eastern part. And Russian generals do not know this. So, look! You need another conflict – here you are!
- Meanwhile, Russia gives no more money. Is it because they changed tactics or because Russia ran out of money, and is balancing on the edge, trying to survive?
- The example of the collapse of the Soviet Union suggests that these exercises, the power, the tanks, the aircraft, 3 million troops – it all disappears all at once. And there comes the need to beg with an outstretched hand. Perestroyka was made only in order to entice loans from the West. Lukashenka uses this model, and Russia is puffing up, shows that it means something. But the technological backwardness of Russia and Belarus in comparison with the civilized world is so obvious that it is the agony of the regimes.
- As for the sudden disappearances and puffing up. Historical parallels again. The USSR seemed to have had a tremendous force, but how many battle-worthy army it really had? We all know the incidents, when tanks were not started, there was no fuel for the aircraft, the hungry soldiers fought with themselves. About modern Russia. It is also known that there are a million military men, although they themselves admit that only about 200,000 of them are combat-ready. The majority of the most efficient are concentrated closer to Ukraine and Syria, probably, this part should be kept in the east, near China. Russia in fact has no strength to do anything apart from these exercises.
- The situation is actually more complicated. I was fortunate to study at the University of Warsaw and defended my thesis on "Geopolitics of Belarus in the conditions of the demographic explosion in Hartland". Hartland is the central part of Eurasia and this is the place because of which the Soviet Union actually collapsed. Because in Germany, for instance, 90% of the soldiers in the Soviet motorized infantry units were Caucasians and guys from Central Asia. And today we know that there is a population explosion. Over the past 50 years, the population of Belarus has not increased, and the population of Uzbekistan has grown 4 times, Tajikistan - 4 times, Kyrgyzstan - almost the same. We also observe a demographic explosion in the Caucasus, and these people have already begun to seize Russia, they are pouring in, first of all, to Moscow, St. Petersburg, to the Moscow and Leningrad regions.
This invasion, intervention from Asia and the Caucasus is already taking place. And so the question is: will Russia stand it or not. The Kremlin has the temptation to switch this tension to the wars of conquest. We see who is at war in the Donbas: Cossacks, RNE, a lot of Caucasian units. Russia repeats the model of the disintegration of the USSR.
- We have been drawing parallels with Russia the whole evening, and here is another one: the USSR collapsed and Belarusians are often reproached, like, independence fell on your heads. Like, if such situation with Russia happens, how can this evil bypass us, and what can we hope for?
- I have already said that in due time the Belarusian independence was defended by Chechens. Now Ukrainians and Belarusian volunteers, who are fighting in the Donbas, are struggling for our independence.
Unfortunately, life is organized in such a way that wars never disappear, and Belarusians should be prepared to defend themselves against any aggressor, also with weapons in their hands. And this must always be remembered.
Switzerland, the army of which is considered one of the strongest in Europe, looks like an acceptable option. There every man should serve in the army for one month in a year, he has a machine gun, ammunition and he is responsible for it. However, there were no wars in Switzerland for 300 years. Maybe we would have joined the European Union, but we have retained military neutrality. Do not force us, the Russian brothers, into NATO, as Ukrainians. This is one of the messages of today's action. You made enemies out of Ukrainians. Do not repeat this with Belarusians.
Think about it! This is your last door to Europe: 70%, and maybe 80% of the entire export flow of Russia goes through Belarus. And if there is destabilization? Think! We are ready to be Switzerland. You like to go there. There will be such Switzerland at your border.
- The organizers said that the Warning Action meant not only the prevention of an external occupation, but also a pprotest against the internal occupation. What is more frightening for the contemporary Belarus?
- Unfortunately, the example of Ukraine showed that the internal occupation (and it was much weaker than in Belarus) was before the foreign occupation, albeit partial. Why do they say this? Because Lukashenka voluntarily carried out occupation functions, banned the Belarusian language in schools, destroyed symbols, planted Russian channels, the generals studied only in Russian academies. Why should not half of the Belarusian officers study in the military academies in the West?
Lukashenka plays the role of internal occupier and policeman. He destroyed everything and only now realized that it is necessary to revive Belarusianity at least minimally.
- I was impressed by an incident which happened in Hrodna, when a journalist filmed a Belarusian Colonel or Lieutenant-Colonel with a Russian flag on his car. A very unpleasant occurrence, considering the fact that the army had such an aura of pro-Belarusianity until recently. They usually said the Interior Ministry would betray their people, and set Ukraine as an example, but we see such incidents taking place. What can be done with that?
- This is a serious problem, in Ukraine this officer would go to prison and lose his epaulettes. But we are not at war with Russia, on the contrary, we invited their troops to visit our country. You said that in difficult geopolitical conditions, such circumstances may happen, when Belarusians will again be lucky. It's not about luck. I was absolutely a Soviet boy, I did not have a national environment, except for the teacher, who then took us to Mir, Niasvizh and told us about the Radziwills. It happened. But there were people like Zianon Pazniak, Ales Marachkin, Uladzimir Karatkevich, artists, writers, young nationalists of those times - Viktar Ivashkevich, Vintsuk Viachorka, Ales Susha, "Talaka", "Tuteishyja." All this became that foundation.
You know, already during the first elections in a completely Russified country back in 1990, the Belarusian Popular Front got 25%, and in some cases won, even though there were falsifications. And this number of people was enough to gain independence. I hope that there will come a time in Belarus when the thirst for freedom will turn into the energy of action.
I believe that, apart from the security services of the president, the KGB, there are no such structures where people want to go to Russia, to surrender their independence, or love Lukashenka very much. Now there is no such thing, the dictator is hated.
- In a situation like this, don’t we come again to the historical parallel, that we must recognize ourselves, our culture, our history, language, return to the understanding of our self-sufficiency and struggle for the minds and hearts of our compatriots?
- I agree and disagree. I agree because this is a basic thing and every family should bring up the children, learn history, language, where practical. On the other hand, a person thinks: I won’t go to the action, I will raise a child, teach language, wear a national embroidered shirt.
Excuse me, but the moment of direct action is coming. I told many Ukrainians earlier that the beginning of your Maidan was an anecdote for us. What scene ?! What screen ?! If we bring equipment - then an hour later they bring us into the ground with truncheons. But now we cannot object to the Ukrainians. They give their lives for Independence. They give the last kopeck. Their volunteers equipped the army and won.
And in Belarus today is the time for direct action. The part you mentioned about is not discussed. It's time to defend the Motherland both in the rear and at the front. Therefore, we must learn from Ukrainians. What they did is fantastic. Not one person supported this, but millions lived by this, they collected money, armed and clothed their soldiers and managed to stop the invasion from the east, which seemingly should have destroyed the corrupted Ukraine easily.
- Dzmitry, it’s a holiday, a great date – the 503rd anniversary of the Battle of Vorsha. Although we are going through the hard times, the nation is getting stronger, so whatever happens, however hard it may seem - will we benefit from it?
- When I was in Washington, a young American told me: "Lucky you, you have the happiness to fight for independence and freedom. We, the Americans, have already done this, and my generation cannot do this. " So, our generation must preserve the independence of Belarus and make it a normal country.
- Thank you for the positive and life-affirming conclusion of our conversation.