Even in power there are those who want changes.
The legend of the Belarusian Resistance, coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign Yauhen Afnahel has become the new guest at Studio X97, with Yauhen Klimakin as a host.
After watching the interview, you will learn what needs to be changed in school history textbooks, how Minister Karayeu personally supervised the destruction of the acoustic system, whether Max Korzh was an activist of the European Belarus, why Lukashenka hates everything Belarusian by nature, and what will be the price of freedom and independence for Belarusians.
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Please see below the full text of the interview.
– In November, many state-owned mass media outlets (I mean newspapers, TV channels, etc.) published video-plots and articles, in which the same question repeatedly sounded: «Who is Yauhen Afnahel?»
– This is me. Hi!
– An oppositionist with 23 years of experience, coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign. Yauhen, what brought you there? Why do they dedicate plots to you, asking this question?
– You know, there was an occurrence – I was standing in a picket during the recent “electoral” campaign, and a guy from the Belarusin TV&Radio Company walked by. He came up, and said shyly: “I realize the opposition is about to take power – how can I help?” So we offered him to make a couple of reports. Do you believe me?
– In the actual fact, it is difficult to explain it any other way, because this has hardly ever happened before: so that us, the opposition, were dedicated so much air time. I think that many officials do realize, as well as propagandists, that Lukashenka’s time is running out – so they seek how to help the opposition, to have something to refer to later on: like, we helped, we did something for you. I cannot explain it any other way.
– If the state media invited you for an interview, would you agree?
– Of course, I would gladly accept an invitation to live air.
– The question is, would they agree to live air?
– If they are not afraid, then why not?
– You were born in Minsk. How come you joined the opposition movement?
– This is a great merit of the family, education. Because, since childhood, my parents have told me about the real history of Belarus, and about its real heroes. And when the first anti-Soviet protests began in Minsk (it was the end of the 1980s, more precisely, 1989), my father took me to the opposition demonstrations, to the demonstrations of the Belarusian Popular Front. I was 10 years old then, but I still remember it. Then there were friends, school, university — all of this, probably, influenced the most.
– What is your brightest memory over the entire period of the opposition activities?
– Probably, 1996, when the fate of Belarus’s independence was actually being decided, when there were very massive opposition demonstrations, when there were clashes with the police, and cars turned upside down on the avenue, when Belarusians showed that they want to live in an independent country.
– You are a historian by education, right?
– Have you worked as such?
– Not for long.
– ... short music played.
– Literally right after university, I worked at school for some time. Not for long though - because even they knew in the university what I was doing. I suspect that at school too. And history is such a thing that Lukashenka seems to have his own vision, which differs from normal history. Naturally, I didn’t tell the children the rubbish that was written in Lukashenka’s textbooks. I taught normal history. And it ended up inviting them to an opposition rally. After that, they politely “asked” me to quit. And the children brought me a goodbye cake.
– What would you change in the school textbooks on history?
- I would change the very approach. Because school history textbooks are written according to the Soviet standards. Although there is something about the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Belarusian People’s Republic, but the approach is that we are supposedly a nation of some secondary importance, that Belarusians cannot live without Russia, that Belarusians are presumably not independent, that we don’t have our own history and we have nothing to be proud of. This thought is put into the students’ heads since school.
This approach needs to be changed. Because Belarusians really have something to be proud of. Belarusians are a great nation. Belarusians in hopeless situations could not only survive, but affirm themselves. Establish their nation, their country. Belarusians during the Russian occupation rebelled in hopeless situations every 30 years. There are few examples of this in the world history. That is, every 30 years Belarusians rebelled against the world’s strongest empire at that time.
– Many peoples had important historical events, which they began to talk about after they became free. For example, the Poles, after having said goodbye to the Soviet Union and gaining full independence, began to officially talk about the Katyn crime, that the Soviet Union and Hitler Germany attacked the country almost simultaneously. If we take Ukraine as an example, then this is the truth about the Holodomor, which was known, but people were afraid to talk about it. What do Belarusians now need to learn about themselves in order to better understand themselves, their history, their nation?
– Belarusians need to get rid of the myth that they are tolerant, calm, slavelike, harassed people. This is extremely important. This myth has been planted by the Russian propaganda, and the Soviet propaganda before. The same myth is being planted by the Lukashenka propaganda. True, many things are concealed and hidden from Belarusians, earlier and now. The anti-Soviet movement started from the discovery of the truth about Kurapaty, about the Stalinist executions, about Chernobyl. But the key moment is that Belarusians are heroic, brave, and bright people.
– What do you like and what do you dislike about Belarusians?
– In Belarusians, I like determination, inner strength, the ability to show it at the right time. This is probably what characterizes our people the most. Because the authorities create such a stereotype that Belarusians are some punching bags. At the same time, Belarusians can do a lot: just remember the partisan movement in the World War II. This is the ability to show strength at the right time. And I am sure that this necessary moment in relation to the dictator is coming.
– What about the things you don’t like?
– It’s hard to say, actually...
– Tell us!
– It’s that we wait for the said necessary moment for too long… Endurance is good, but on the other hand, it would be good if we did it sooner.
– You were in Vilnius the reburial of Kastus Kalinouski and the insurgents. There were presidents of Lithuania, Poland…
– There was the first Head of the independent Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich. Many famous Belarusian politicians. And the most important thing – there were Belarusian people.
– Lukashenka didn’t come.
– It’s not like anyone wanted to see him there. I think he did understand himself that he would be met there not very friendly, not very cordially, and there are no Belarusian police, behinds whose backs he likes to hide from the people, in Vilnius. That is why he didn’t come.
– I wasn’t there. I watched live reports on Belsat TV channel, Radio Svaboda also broadcasted the events live… It seemed to me it was a touchy and emotional moment.
– This was one of the best moments, comparable even to the restoration of the country's independence. Because, seeing Belarusians marching under the Gate of Dawn with tears in their eyes, to see this unity of the people, when all together - right, left, regardless of political views, go under the same flags and with one idea - this is very cool. In fact, few people can boast that they had such a moment and they experienced it.
– Can such events unite the opposition?
– They have already united the opposition and will soon unite the whole nation as well. I have already said that there were different people - and not only from the opposition. Just ordinary people, ordinary residents of different cities who never went to any events, any rallies. They were there. And they were all together. In one column. With one common idea. The spirit that was in Vilnius, the emotions that were in Vilnius - this should be in Minsk. This is what united us. I am sure that this is a miracle - that after such a time the remains of Kastus Kalinouski and the insurgents were discovered, that they could be reburied with military honors as heroes. With the participation of the people for whom they fought, it’s just a gift from heaven for this people, for all of us.
– Before the interview, you told me the authorities were afraid of the people, of ordinary Belarusians. Why do you think so? Are there any proofs?
- Let's look at it from the point of view of logic. If a person is not afraid of the enemy, he gives him the opportunity to talk, he gives the opportunity to criticize, he talks to him. If you are not afraid, you are talking to a person. But if you are afraid, you will hide from them, run, not give them a word.
Now look at how the authorities behave, how Lukashenka behaves. During this “election” campaign we were not even given a legal five minutes of television air, a legal five minutes of radio air. They haven’t provided even five minutes of television time per year, or rather, in five years, to the opposition.
A person who is not afraid will not behave this way. A person who is not afraid will not rig the election. If you are not afraid, if you are confident in your victory, then why don’t you let international observers to the elections? Why are you hiding the vote counting process? Why are you cheating, faking, why are you just hiding?
After all, why are you jailing people who criticize you? The guys who are 23-25 years old. Ales Krutkin , a blogger from Polatsk who is now thrown into jail for 15 days. Dzmitry Kazlou , also a video blogger, a guy whom no one knew 2 months ago, and now the whole city of Vorsha is talking about him.
– How do you think, are there many people in the authorities who really want changes?
– It seems to me that there are even more of them in power than among ordinary people. Why? Because they constantly communicate with this tyrant. Imagine a situation where you hear idiotic orders, idiotic ideas and observations every day, after all, when you are publicly scolded.
Lukashenka has a habit of organizing conference calls, where he simply pours mud on the officials appointed by him. This is such a performance for the people: “I am good - and they are all bad.” And I think that those who are sitting with their heads down find it very unpleasant.
There is a simple example. Our candidate Andrei Voynich collected signatures in the Maskouski district of Minsk for this campaign. In his district there were several houses where officials lived - former or current small, but nonetheless officials and their families. Nowhere has so many signatures been given for independent candidates as in these houses. It was just a record in Minsk.
Here is a simple answer. Both officials and security officials are helping us out somewhere. In fact, there are many such examples. I have told about some examples, some we will reveal later.
– The main aim of an oppositionist is to move over the power. This hasn’t happened yet. Sdome may say you are a loser.
- Let's recall the tasks the power had.
From the very beginning, the authorities had the task of unification with Russia and the final destruction of the country's independence. And the opposition fought, people protested in the 90s, in the 2000s. There was the Square-2006, and the Square-2010. These are the battles that we won, which allowed us to maintain the independence of the country. Without this, the situation would be much worse. We would have lived in Russia, and its border would have passed near the Bug.
- In early November, a meeting of spectators of the movie authored by NEXTA blogger “Lukashenka. Criminal materials” took place. Is it true that the Minister of Internal Affairs himself came there to resolve the situation on the spot?
- A minister in a normal country is a minister, a respected person.
In Belarus, a minister is an errand guy for the dictator. They detained Andrei Sharenda , our activist. He was detained brutally, the police officers tried to take the projection device from him. They pulled him into the town hall, and the first person Andrei saw there was Minister Karayeu, who was sitting there commanding the special operation from there... I don’t even know why, because the action was generally normal. Probably it was a special operation to heroically destroy the speakers. Moreover, the minister asked to turn off the light so that, God forbid, they would not see outside through the windows that he was there.
- You said he’s an errand boy. Doesn’t he feel ashamed? We are talking about adult people. A minister doing such things ...
- I do not know whether he is ashamed or not. It’s actually not even very interesting for me. He chose such a fate for himself - just like dozens, hundreds of other officials who are constantly in this situation. Running errands.
- We have seen a recurring scenario for many years. On the eve of the election, the government says: “Okay. You protest, we will let you do it.” Then some leaders go to jail. The West imposes sanctions. After some time, the official Minsk releases the jailed leaders. And here we go again. These cycles have been repeated more than once. Next year, 2020, is the presidential election again, will there be a repeat of this scenario? How do you think?
- Firstly, in this “election” campaign, the script broke a little. You started with the fact that the government makes it possible to protest. This year it did not give such an opportunity. As soon as some slogans appeared that were unpleasant for the authorities, they immediately began to massively remove the European Belarus candidates from the electoral race. Five people were removed from the “election’ in just a couple of days. They disrupted our pickets, confiscated equipment.
That is, now we have a slightly different situation. The authorities are already afraid to give us even a couple of months of agitation, as it was before. And as for what will happen at the presidential election ... Now Lukashenka is not in the situation where he can choose how to behave. He is cornered. He has no money, no support. He knows that. Therefore, I think that this election will be the last for him.
- You were at the origins of the Zubr youth resistance movement. Explain to the younger generation what the Zubr was.
- The Zubr was a new type of movement. This had never happened in Belarus before. The fact is that then the opposition was in a depressed state, politicians and journalists were killed. There seemed to be no one to fight. And in the spring of 2001, a completely new movement appeared, which acted with completely new methods, held bright events, performances. And in just a few months it was possible to turn the tide.
- What are the most prominent actions of the Zubr?
- The “Final Diagnosis” and the Square-2006.
- Tell us about them.
The “Final diagnosis” was a performance, a new type of actions at that time. The fact is that a few months before it, famous psychiatrist Dr. Schihelski had diagnosed Lukashenka with a mosaic psychopathy.
Belarusians, in general, constantly saw that Lukashenka was doing something stupid, saying some bad things, doing something ridiculous - skiing on the asphalt, for example. There were dozens of such examples. We collected the brightest of them and just concentrated them, showed in one place. Our activists put on medical gowns, caught a psycho who ran in a mask of Lukashenka, and poured quotes on him. A man wearing the Lukashenka mask did some skiing on the asphalt, as Lukashenka did, and then he jumped into the river and swam in it. In fact, there were already dozens of such stupid acts at that time, and now there are hundreds of them.
- Did thousands of young people go through the Zubr?
- About 4 thousand people took the oath of the Zubr, but in general more than 10 thousand passed through the organization, and former “Zubrs” can still be found everywhere in Belarus. These are opposition organizations, these are some youth parties, this is sport, this is journalism, these are creative people, musicians. That is, I meet a Zubr whom I didn’t know in person before, at every step.
- Why does Lukashenka dislike everything Belarusian in nature? History, heroes, language?
- He loses in competition to any hero of the Belarusian history: whether it be Kalinouski or Masherau. It’s not for nothing that Masherau Avenue, along which Lukashenka drove daily, was renamed. He loses to everyone: both Soviet leaders and people of the pre-Soviet period. Not to mention the people who created the Belarusian state.
He understands this, even at a subconscious level. And therefore, as a not very educated person from a backward collective farm, he is simply afraid of competition, afraid that he will be compared with someone. But he is compared anyway. And in this comparison, he always loses.
As for why he is afraid of everything Belarusian ... This is Soviet education, this is a Soviet, village school, provincial university, where Belarusian values weren’t laid in the head. And somehow, he became president of an independent country. But he does not perceive this country as independent. Anyway, he does everything with an eye on Moscow. Moreover, he knows that he depends on Moscow. That he will never be allowed, even with all his will, to pursue an independent policy here. Because the Kremlin already has incriminating evidence and leverage over him.
He understands all this and therefore does everything to destroy the Belarusian state, to make it impossible to establish independence. And with him, there will never be real independence.
- Today, is Belarus an independent state, de facto - not de jure?
- In fact, no. Because we have the Russian army, we have the Russian media, we have the Russian school. In fact, we have a Russian colonial administration. We still have literally some formal characteristics of independence, but they are very important for us.
- Is it true that famous musician Max Korzh used to be an activist of the European Belarus?
- Max Korzh used to be an activist of the European Belarus, but then we did not meet, unfortunately. Although I can see from his work now that this influenced his music, his songs. Because he always writes songs about freedom, about his homeland. And even at the last concert in Warsaw - I saw in the photographs - there were a lot of white-red-white flags. He stands for patriots, patriots stand for him.
- You spent five years of your life in immigration. Lithuania, Poland ... Under what circumstances did you leave?
- I left after the events of 2010, after the Square. When most of my friends were detained. When the presidential candidates were arrested. When Andrei Sannikov, Dzmitry Bandarenka, Natallia Radzina and many others were behind bars.
I managed to leave the Square, but after that, searches were carried out for two to three weeks in my home, at my parents’ place, wherever I could be. It was evident that they were looking for me.
There was an interesting moment, just before the New Year - I was in the city. And we knew that on New Year’s Eve, the special services were relaxing a bit, and we had the opportunity to meet with friends, colleagues, and parents in the end. And in one of the shopping centers I met one of the former high-ranking officials of the Minsk police who worked there as a guard. When he saw me, he was very surprised that I was walking free and said: “You need to urgently leave.”
- That is, I was actually warned, although I myself knew about it. It was clear that we had to leave, that there were arrests.
- He didn’t rat you out, but warned.
- Yes, he warned me. And after that, about two or three weeks later, after two searches, when they searched for me but could not find me, I first left for Lithuania, and then after some time - for Poland.
- However, in 2016 you decided to return to Belarus. Why?
- In the spring of 2016, in fact, there was a feeling that some important events could happen in 2016-2017. Because it was clear that people were unhappy that there were many claims to power, and that the opposition could not offer any answer to this. In general, it happened. In 2017, the most massive protests in Belarus since Perestroika took place. The so-called “parasitic” protests. I can’t say that I was returning for their sake, but there was some feeling that this would happen.
- Who, in your opinion, is the most prominent politician in the world?
- They are different in different periods. For example, Churchill and Roosevelt, who won the Second World War, first come to my mind. In general, there are many of them.
- And nowadays?
- Today, unfortunately, it is difficult to say this, because you measure this with regard to your country. For example, Reagan and Thatcher took a principled position in relation to the Soviet Union and somehow contributed to the fact that this evil empire fell apart.
And now, I don’t see people of this level among the Western politicians. Because many are trying to negotiate with dictators - not only with the Belarusian one. This is true about Putin, for example. Business interests are put above civil position, above moral values. Therefore, it is difficult to say this now.
I hope that politicians of the level of Reagan, Thatcher and Churchill will appear in the West. Because not only the fate of Belarus, but also the future of all Europe depends on it.
- Do you agree with the thesis that every nation has the power that it really deserves?
- Yes. No matter how strange it sounds, but yes. I understand that the following question will be: “Do Belarusians deserve such power?”
- I haven’t asked it.
- You wanted to ask. I think that Belarusians needed to go through a dictatorship, no matter how weird it may sound. It was necessary to go through the dictatorship, because Belarusians will defeat Lukashenka.
This is evident in the processes that are ongoing. That is: 10 years of dictatorship - then the square with 50 thousand people. Another five years of dictatorship - everything seemed to be cleared - but there are even more people in the Square. Now - Kalinouski’s reburial, before that there were “parasitic” protests.
That is, it would may seem that everything is already destroyed. And then “oops” - and Belarusians show miracles of heroism. Belarusians will leave the dictatorship, defeat the dictatorship - and they will be much stronger because they will be hardened. When Lukashenka leaves, the world will be surprised at what Belarus is capable of, what our people are capable of. I am sure that there will simply be an explosion of creativity, ideas, technologies. And all this, in general, would not have been possible without this period of 25 years that we have gone through.
- Good historians predict the future well, because, in principle, history repeats itself, there is a certain logic in historical processes. What does the logic of what is happening now prompt you, as a historian? What could happen next? In Belarus, of course.
- Actually, this question is not so easy. You can say: “Yes, all empires are falling apart. Yes, all dictatorships collapse and fall.” But that is not the question. The point is, at a certain moment people understand that everything is in their hands, that everything can be changed.
The moment when Belarusians understand this, when Belarusians realize the responsibility for their country, is already in the air, it is very close. This is likely to happen soon.
But the question is at what cost this will be achieved. Ukrainians, for example, are now fighting for their freedom, sacrificing their lives. We still have the opportunity to achieve this peacefully. Therefore, the question is precisely about the price. The fact that the dictatorship will fall is understandable. Everyone knows that. The enemies also know. The fact that Belarus will be an independent country is also understandable. The only question is the price.