The dictator is a hostage of his own system.
10 years ago a political conflict broke out between Belarus and the United States. It caused a prolonged freeze in interstate relations.
Former Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer told about democratic prospects of Belarus in an interview to Radio Svaboda.
On 6 March 2008, the U.S. government issued an explanation of sanctions on Belneftekhim imposed for unwillingness of the Belarusian authorities to release Aliaksandr Kazulin and other political prisoners. On March 12 U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart was said that her stay was not welcomed in the country. Since then an American ambassador has not returned to Belarus.
Then David Kramer served as Assistant Secretary of State for the George Bush Administration. He was the one who had to negotiate with the Belarusian authorities, which resulted in the release of political prisoners. Later Kramer was President of Freedom House, a democratic public organization. Recently he has been participating in the Václav Havel program at the International University of Florida.
- What could you say about current relations between the United States and Belarus? Does the current administration have a clear policy in this direction?
-What to say, we still do not have an ambassador in Belarus, and I do not understand why the authorities in Minsk cannot allow the U.S. ambassador to return. It is very complicated to build up any relationships without full diplomatic representation. I remember the year 2008, I remember what happened to Ambassador Stewart, and we haven't regained relationships since then.
It is very difficult to build bridges with the ruler, who refuses to obey norms and standards of the democratic community. He only exploits the West in his relations with Russia. It's also true that many don't have time for Belarus. Different things are happening in Europe, Russia is on the agenda.
-Do you have time to follow current events in Belarus?
-I haven't been to Belarus since April 2007, when I came to talks with the authorities about the release of political prisoners. I'd like to return. I arrived in Belarus two times, I was really impressed by people, very sociable and open. I liked to communicate with Belarusians, despite difficulties with the authorities.
So far, no great changes have been observed. But I would like to see Belarus more democratic, prosperous, integrated into the Atlantic community. It will be the best way to progress and transformation continuation. And I am sure that the Belarusians deserve it.
-10 years ago when you arrived, the rally of March 25 was brutally dispersed, and this year even a concert is allowed in the center of the city...
-I think that they [the authorities of Belarus] are now under great pressure of Russia than 10 years ago. Lukashenka is worried about possible unpredictable actions of Russia. During these 10 years there have been attempts to attack Georgia, Ukraine. It was a kind of alarm signal for Lukashenka and a warning for people around him. And the economic situation is not the best one. The tax on "parasitism" resulted in protests. The authorities seem to come to understanding that if they maintain the authoritarian policy line, the situation will become even less stable.
At the same time, I have no illusions about democratic reforms held by Lukashenka. He is only interested in retention of his power, which he has been capturing since 1994. He wants to make sure any movement is not possible, which gives the ground for people to unite, as it happened in Ukraine in 2004 or 2014, or in Georgia, or other countries. He is afraid that the situation will simply get beyond control...
- Does it mean that the round table, once held Poland, is not possible in Belarus?
- Lukashenka must resign. To some extent, he is the hostage of his own system with no ability to a peaceful transfer of power. His son is not old enough to replace him. I just don't see how Belarus turns the page, until he is the ruler of this country.
As I said earlier, even if Belarus turns to changes, it will not become a democratic at once. As long as he runs the country, Belarus will not make steps in a more democratic direction. That is why it is important to let other political forces of Belarus compete. For Belarusians to have a real choice. They deserve it.
- You have been in contact with Lukashenka's people many times. How much independence you think has he and how much he depends on Putin?
- I do not think that he is an independent player, as it is very dependent on Moscow. He likes to show off as "Defender of Belarus" - he allegedly retained its sovereignty. But he did much harm pulling Belarus into dependence on Russia. He plays both with the West and Russia.
I want to see Belarus as a sovereign and independent country, and I don't know people who don't think so. But we must avoid the trap of persuasion that Lukashenka is the last "defender" of Belarus. He inflicted damage to the country, and one should understand that Lukashenka can surrender Belarus to Russia to retain power. Russia has enough control tools: in addition to military ones, there are also economic ways.
- In recent years, Belarusians have turned to language and culture, and now wear embroidered t-shirts. What does the West think of this expression of national values?
-I think the Russian attack on Ukraine has likely to initiate it. We see that there is a very strong sense of unity and patriotism in Ukraine, despite the strong division of society. Belarus and other countries only reinforce national identity due to Putin's activity and Russification. I consider it a very positive process. Unfortunately, the national identity of Belarus has been very weak for many years.
-On March 25 Belarus celebrates the 100th anniversary of independence. What would you like to wish to the Belarusians on this occasion?
-I wish the Belarusians all the best, and I would like to return and celebrate together with the Belarusians. I hope that in the near future the Belarusians have their day. I am convinced that many people in Belarus wish a good future to their country and see it in Euro-Atlantic community.