25 March 2019, Monday, 1:03
A Challenge for Everyone
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The Opposition Should Seize Power to Preserve Belarus' Independence

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When there is hope for changes, you will not recognize the Belarusian people.

February 27, leaders of the Belarusian opposition, former presidential candidates Mikalai Statkevich, Andrei Sannikov and Uladzimir Nyaklyayew held a press conference at the Press Club Polska in Warsaw. The topic of the meeting organized by the website Charter97.org was "The situation in Belarus on the eve of the parliamentary and presidential elections".

The website Charter97.org provides a full version of the press conference of the Belarusian opposition leaders in Warsaw.

At the beginning of the press conference participants were introduced by the coordinator of European Belarus civil campaign Zmitser Bandarenka:

- Press conferences with such people involved are not a common event in Warsaw. Today our meeting is attended by the people's poet, people's diplomat and people's Commander-in-Chief. I can say that even before Square-2010, these people had many things done for Belarus, and each of them, as they say, should have a monument.

In 2010, these people participated in the Square of Belarusian dignity and honor. Their lives changed drastically in 2010. But life goes on, Belarus is awaiting its heroes and changes. And we all cherish hopes for the better future of our country, for changes with these very people. Today you can ask our heroes questions.

- Natallia Radzina, Editor-in-Chief of Charter97.org. Let's start with the topic of our press conference. What is the current situation on the eve of the elections in Belarus? We know that Lukashenka is very unpopular today. At the same time, Russia has activated in the Belarusian direction; many people talk about a possible occupation of the country. You are the leaders of the Belarusian opposition. What should be done in this situation? Is there a piece of hope for positive shifts?

Uladzimir Nyaklyayew: - Thank you for asking. But before answering questions, I'd like to remind you that today it's four years since the day Boris Nemtsov was killed.

I met him in Warsaw and he spoke out on the situation in which we'd found ourselves. He said that independence would require efforts amid such imperial tricks of Putin.

Boris Nemtsov was one of few politicians who were ready to support Belarus in its fight for independence. He had no this "perhaps, they are not the people and not the country yet" approach. Therefore, today he is worth commemorating, as well as deceased Belarusians. Just as Boris Nemtsov's murder is not investigated under the current Russian power, we will have to deal with murders in our country on our own.

I have been asked today why this press conference takes place in Warsaw. Our partners cannot come to Belarus. And one of our objectives is to bring all victims of political persecution, back home and to let them work for the benefit of Belarus.

I can't help but say that a Polish journalist I know have approached me this morning and asked: "You have been competing in politics for so many years, and today, quite unexpectedly for me, you meet at the press conference".

Yes, our last press conference with Andrei Sannikov was in 2010. For the last eight years our relationships has not been a partnership, but when you are engaged in politics and your goals are dedicated to the future of the country you live in, you have to step over personal issues. If you can't do it, you have to learn it. If you have failed to do it, you should give up politics. You should leave your personal interest behind as well.

We are again together at this press conference because we, Belarus, society face the threat of losing our independence - the threat of being incorporated into the Russian Federation. Our task is to prevent it. Unfortunately, not only taletellers of the state media, but also representatives of the democratic society, say that either this threat does not exist or the ruler is the only "guarantor" of independence of Belarus. Both statements are wrong. The threat of losing our independence emerges full blown, and the so-called "guarantor" of independence faces it lying under the weight of the policy he has been pursuing all these years in power.

The question arises: what to do? Should we surrender or fight? And there are anti-Belarusian forces in our country, not only Russian, but our own traitorous forces, which are ready to surrender. As the police say: "Russia will pay us more for beating you with batons". But there are also national forces, ready to stand for independence.

Our job is to put all these forces together. We must activate our society to resist the Anschluss. If we do not involve the Belarusian society in the fight for our independence, if it remains idle, then Belarus is captured as easy as a tired butterfly, thrown in a glass of "union" republics and covered with an imperial lid. And the glass will held in the museum.

To avoid this, I am ready to cooperate with all patriotic forces that exist in the opposition, in the civil society and in power. That's why the Belarusian National Congress and those people who sit in front of you have decided to participate in the political campaign called the presidential elections.

Mikalai Statkevich: - I'd like to thank the organizers of this press conference, first of all Charter-97. You are facing a hardship, but you keep doing your job.

I want to thank those who helped you with this place in Warsaw. It is a wonderful place, more suitable for dialogue. There is no podium one can speak from and call for something. Experienced people who know the situation came to the press conference, and we are here to talk.

Uladzimir Prakofievich told why we were here. In turn, I'd like to highlight key points and underline pitfalls of the situation, and variants of future events. Belarus is about to stand at crossroads. Rather, we can say that internal and external circumstances determine its movement. Dramatic changes are inevitable. First, because the regime has run out of its potential. Its economic potential, the main component of which is the Russian support, has run dry. Russia no longer wants to support Belarus as before. It happens. When a firm turns loss-making, its branches close down. Lukashenka has turned the Belarusian economy into a loss-making branch of Russia, and the Kremlin wants to close it.

The regime has also failed with its electoral potential. Today Lukashenka is the hate figure in Belarus. One can barely meet his supporters. I know there are still few. If earlier we talked about the "spiral of silence", about existence of Lukashenka's opponents and their fear to speak out; today the situation is completely different. It's enough to have a trip on public transport in Minsk or in a small town and call Lukashenka "batska" (Daddy) there. Ukraine and Russia like to say that he is our father, but in Belarus one can be beaten for such words. People hate this person very much.

It is the first time in Belarus when long before the elections; opposition politicians' rating exceeds the one of Lukashenka's. The Belarusian society has reached many positive consensuses. The first one is that the Belarusian society longs for independence. The second is that Belarusians strive for political and economic changes. According to all surveys, Belarusians are one of the most advanced nations in terms of readiness for economic reforms. And the key point is that Belarusians want to remove this power.

Yes, we can't change many things, but major ones depend on us. The task of patriotic forces is to consolidate the protest majority. To consolidate and to head it. And only then we will control the situation. Not to wait helplessly for external forces to do to us. Because if this consolidation happens and we demonstrate it, believe me, no one will dare bother us. Even in case of a Square and changes. If society stands tall and believes in changes, no one will stick his fist in this swarm. Because it will be swollen. Everybody is well aware of this, and even Russia will not bother.

For the first time over the years, we have a unique situation when democratic forces can lead Belarus and define the direction our country will follow towards economic, social and national prosperity.

The second option is the one that Uladzimir Prakofievich was talking about. But it happens, if no actions are taken, but if we look at the person who promised to surrender us for huge amounts of money. Lukashenka has already sold us and taken us hostage. The corridor to solve this situation is very narrow. Even if he wanted to do something, he simply cannot. Lukashenka will try to bargain for time, some concessions for himself. But the alternative is as follows: either you surrender Belarus and become a governor-general, a "president of one of the parts of the union state," or your support is reduced and, as a result, it causes a revolution. The revolution or annexation. If we don't deal with the situation, Lukashenka will choose annexation - a slow and invisible one. He will give up one thing back, then another. Concessions that Russia demands from us are an irreversible process, Belarus will be simply swallowed by the Russian Federation.

We have come together to stop this process, to consolidate the Belarusian protest majority, to head it and to work for the better future of our people, our nation. We are able to do it.

The Belarusian National Congress (BNC) brought together people who are the national pride. They can't all be here, like Stanislau Shushkevich, Henadz Fiadynich, who is under criminal prosecution, and many others. Almost everyone who resists, with rare exceptions, belongs to the BNC. We have initiated the show and Belarus keeps playing the violin. People know about our decision and try to express their support.

I believe in a normal future for our country. Our nation has matured and consolidated even under the yoke of the regime and all its attempts to hinder it. Belarus deserves a decent government and a decent future.

Andrei Sannikov: - Thank you, Mikalai. Thanks to Uladzimir Prakofievich, although it is very unusual for me to hear from foreign journalists that competition is bad. Competition is normal.

Uladzimir Nyaklyayew: - I put his words mildly, by the way.

Andrei Sannikov: - Strategically, we have always had the same approach. I would like to add that it is also very unusual for me to read that someone considers Lukashenka the "guarantor" and the "defender" of independence. Today we, Belarusians, the Square are defending our independence: Square-2001, Square-2006, Square-2010, 2011, 2017 and 2018, when people were beaten up on March 25.

Our independence was protected even before Putin in power. Here Zmitser Bandarenka. He was beaten up in 1996 and in 1998, when agreements with Russia were signed. People blocked the avenue and it worked. Yeltsin was the president of Russia then, and today we need more decisive actions. What can the bargaining for support of the regime in the Kremlin and Sochi be called "protection of independence"? This is a bargaining, which provides dividends to criminals in power. That's it.

So I'm convinced we can defend our independence. Yes, today's realities require us to be more decisive in our actions.

There is another thesis we constantly face: "Protest actions cannot be planned; it may cause aggression of Moscow". This is an absolute antilogic. Let's recall the moment when the Baltic States joined NATO? It was in 2004. Who was the president of Russia? If in 2000 I had been told that the Baltic States would join NATO, I would have said that it's not possible.

Uladzimir Nyaklyayew: - And if one had told me who would give assent to this...

Andrei Sannikov: - What's going on today. Even this artificially created group "Eastern Partnership" is experiencing processes of democratization. In spite of the fact that democratization processes have declined in the world. The report of Freedom House, known to many of us, says that conditions for democracy, democratic existence of states have significantly deteriorated, and they have been deteriorating over past 13-14 years. And our weakest point is the key one: the lack of transparency of elections and the lack of press freedom. It turns out that the world community has already outlined the reasons that hinder us, and I think we will find support to solve them.

Now Ukraine is fighting. Earlier it was said that nothing would happen in Armenia, because it was 95% dependent on Russia. What's happened? Change of the government. The situation is complex, but it is changing. I am sure that Belarus should be viewed in this way. Not in the context of Russia's aggressive imperial plans. It took us much time to realize that we must defend our country's independence and become a democratic and free country.

- Mikalai Viktaravich, the Belarusian National Congress has nominated you as a presidential candidate. Is the BNC ready to form a government?

Mikalai Statkevich: - Yes, it is.

Andrei Sannikov: - And not the only one.

Uladzimir Nyaklyayew: - An interim and a permanent one.

Mikalai Statkevich: - We have enough outstanding specialists and leaders. First of all, political leaders, because many things in every government depend on political leaders. We have many specialists in various fields and, in addition, we are ready to attract new ones. The BNC knows the best of everyone, follows the state of economic thought in Belarus, not always publicly and openly, but it cooperates with the best Belarusian economists and specialists in other areas. We are ready, because it is a necessity. No matter how ministers of Lukashenka are called, even by an independent mass media, "specialists and brilliant professionals"; on the one hand, it is true, but on the other hand, they miss the key quality: they are not ready to defend their position.

To some extent, they are grovellers, and they will not be able to reform our country, because their master will not let them do it. And Lukashenka does not need reforms, he needs a large collective farm. He will never carry out economic reforms, because Lukashenka needs control over cash flows and jobs. And it does not matter that it's increasingly loss-making. In exchange for losses, he will sell something to Russia. Lukashenka fully realises that economic reforms lead to the loss of power. He repeats that property is power. Therefore, we are ready to form our own government.

- What are your chances for being registered as a presidential candidate, given your prior conviction? Do you have a spare option?

Mikalai Statkevich: - We are ready for any scenario. We clearly understand the possible actions of the authorities and are preparing our own countermeasures. However, I would like to point out three things here.

First, a pending conviction is usually connected with some crime. Theoretically, this law is supposed to prevent a criminal from participating in the elections. However, who is the criminal in our country? I have always claimed I am the most law-abiding person ever, even in jail, I told this to those who guarded me. When I saw a crime happening, I tried to stop it, in accordance with their laws. If some of the two of us is a criminal, this is not me but Mr. Lukashenka. He has a wide thick trace of extremely severe crimes behind him, as far as I know.

Secondly, political prisoners were released in 2015 in exchange for certain agreements with the West, lifting sanctions. The West set release and rehabilitation as their conditions. Not only for those who were to be released, but rehabilitation for Andrei Sannikov, clearing the convictions record of Uladzimir Niakliayeu. The list can be expanded. This condition existed and it hasn’t been fulfilled. Today, I am going to appeal to the “Western friends” of Lukashenka, especially to those who see a “warm person” in this murderer. Have you agreed on something? Have you been promised something? You have been fooled! Will you remain silent? Where’s rehabilitation?

Thirdly, their electoral law does not comply with the Constitution. Our Constitution provides for the prohibition for participation in the elections only under two reasons. The first one is legal incapacity, proved in court. Thank God no one has ever questioned my capacity. The second reason is being behind bars. I am free, so I have this right. As for that alleged “law”, taken by the alleged “parliament” - it does not correspond with the Constitution. And then again, the Constitution says that if a law contradicts the Constitution, it’s the Constitution that remain in force in such case.

Therefore, I am right and I will struggle for this right. Not just me, but the Belarusian National Congress, which has nominated me, those people who support me, will struggle for not only my right, but the right of Andrei Sannikov, the right of every Belarusian to fair elections.

- Jaroslaw Sceshyk, Belsat TV. You participated in the presidential election-2010. Then mass protests occurred in Belarus against the falsification of the election results, which were brutally suppressed. A wave of repressions started, and practically strangulated any possibility for the opposition to act for many years. What new strategy at the election do you suggest to the people who want changes? Is there anything new?

Mikalai Statkevich: - You know, if the mechanisms that we have at our disposal (and we have no mechanisms apart from mass protests and it’s impossible to invent anything here), haven’t worked under certain circumstances, doesn’t mean that they are somewhat different. It’s just, the time hasn’t come. I believe you are aware of the global experience: if 3% of the population come out to protest, no government can remain at power.

However, I would like to return to the formulation of your question, I totally do not accept it. I’m sorry, I have already talked to several leaders of opposition parties who said things like “We are in frustration, everything has fallen apart”. I will clarify, this was the leader of one of the parties created first in the contemporary times. I asked, whom of your activists they had arrested, and he said – nobody. After 2010, several our people got to jail. First it were several dozens, then – several people. So why have you fallen into this frustration? The people haven’t. What exactly have they strangulated?

I remind, in the summer of 2011, the people even in small towns started coming out to protest, even without any opposition at all. The came out and protested, there were “silent actions” all over Belarus, the people were inspired by the Square-2010, discontended with the regime’s lame economic policy.

There were several people in jails, Uladzimir Niakliayeu was convicted, but this “opposition” did not head the protests. Maybe it’s a question to yourself? I don’t think something was suppressed. It has just become clear who is who in the Belarusian democratic movement.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - I came to these protest actions, I was released from under the house arrest back then. Besides, I was the only one among this “frustrated” opposition.

Let us compare 2010 and 2015. What affected this “frustration” more? In 2015, the “elections” reminded some comic opera – the opposition acted as a back-up dancer to the regime. The corps-de-ballet was appointed: the jeune premier, the jeune secondaire and the mistress - everything was normal. And when did the opposition find itself after this “election”, held under the new rules? Excuse me, I would say it…

Milakal Statkevich: - No, there’s no need.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - Ok, I won’t. They slided from the political field off to the office one. They drink coffee. They drink that coffee in Warsaw today, and in Brussels tomorrow, talking endless talks about the development of democracy, and, of course, about the gender issues.

So, every spiritual uprise is connected with sacrifices. How could it be without sacrifices? No victories over totalitarianism have ever happened without victims. Boris Nemtsov, whom we recalled today – is a sacrifice for the free Russia. Our executed politicians – a sacrifice in the fight for independence. Sorry, it cannot go any other way. One thing happened to us, and a different thing could have happened. Thank God this wave arose, and the people who raised it were found. If it wasn’t for them, we would have not sit here talking. This is dead-set. I am not saying all of us would have been shot dead, but we would have got prison terms for 10-15 years. You don’t have go far to seek — I was accused initially with a coupe attempt, and this is either a maximum prison term, or a death sentence.

“New methods” were tried in 2015. Not without the support of our Western partners, of course.

Returning to what Mikalai Statkevich was talking about, about his chance to become a registered presidential candidate. I recently spoke with one of the representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps. He says: “You have everything clear, everyone gathered again, you will have a Maidan.” I answer him: “Wait with the Maidan, let the preliminary work be done so that something will become clearer here.” He asks: “What needs to be cleared?” So I say: “Those people who tortured us, killed us, put us in prisons - everyone is free, they go to Brussels, Vienna, Paris, and we, as we were deprived of all rights, still remain rightless. It turns out that you, Europe, made the executioners defeat the victims? ”

There was a condition that there should be no political prisoners in Belarus, and only then there would be agreements, negotiations and signatures. At least we need to achieve registration of Statkevich after we have nominated him. If they don’t register him, then for some other reasons. They, of course, will find plenty, even if we collect a million signatures. After all, there is one “registrar” sitting there.

So, from my point of view, even though I have not so much years to climb on the barricades, but I cannot calm down. It was a shame to watch the events of 2015. Where is your human dignity, Belarusians? It all depends on how you treat this.

If this regime created the conditions for the incorporation of Belarus, and it is the case, if it wasnt’ us who took these one hundred billion dollars, under which Lukashenka lies, then this regime is a threat to our security.

And what does it mean? It means that the task of the opposition is to remove this regime and come to power. This is the task we will set ourselves. The Belarusian democratic opposition, and not someone else, should come to power. And when one sets the task of “drinking coffee” - these are completely different tasks and missions. However, these are not about us and not for us.

Mikalai Statkevich: - I would like to make one more remark, answering your question. I suggest we have alook at this situation from the point of view of the historical retrospective. A nation for which no one fights vanishes. I remember 2006, when presidential candidates gave up struggle, failing the youth. I was at the specialized forcible labor facility then, serving my term with ordinary people. They gave an assessment of the situation with one word “clowns”. After 2010, the same ordinary people said “that was cool”. Try to find a connection between the events of the year 2010 and the interest of the people to national embroidered shirts, the Belarusian language. There is a connection – the people felt proud for their Belarusian-speaking compatriots, representatives of the Belarusian national idea. So, the nation exists.

Uladzimir Niakliaeu: - This absolutely does not mean that we are such superheroes. No, we are ready to unite, ready to support the presidential candidate, who will be chosen by the center-right coalition. Not any, but the person who deserves. Who did not bend, did not run, did not knock on the door. I can name this person. This is Pavel Seviarynets. We are ready to work with him on equal terms. But, in my opinion, they don’t really want to see him as a leader there.

Andrei Sannikov: - I will add a few words. First, what do you mean by “new methods, new approaches”? We are not interested in street protests. There would have been none, if the authorities had been normal, elections had been normal. But today, there is the only channel of communication, even not between the opposition and the authorities, but between the people and the authorities that have been ruling the country illegally for several years. Until other channels open, we are forced to speak with these authorities like this. This is first.

Secondly, the society must think about this, not only the civil society, but all the others, journalists should think about this. Ask questions. Moreover, we must understand that fake actors will do nothing. Fake politicians, fake media, fake civil society. Let’s ask questions so that there was something natural and necessary.

My question is: have any of you heard about the “Magnitsky list” in Belarus? I asked human rights organizations why they were not handing this.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - Because they haven’t heard.

Andrei Sannikov: - Meanwhile, in Russia there is such a list, in Azerbaijan there is, even in Venezuela there is this list, also in Moldova. Who handled this in Belarus? I was told that they do not want to do it. Human rights activists believe that no one deserves to be on this list. There is a global Magnitsky list. Why aren’t even the four who are constantly under the EU sanctions, on that list? Why does it happen? Because they play with Lukashenka. Why don't journalists ask about this? I tried to create such a list, I was told that if your human rights defenders do not attend to the issue, why are you doing this?

Thirdly, do you know what the majority of the so-called NGOs, politicians, human rights activists are more willing to participate in? In election observation. Why do we need this observation?

By the way, the Western funds willingly support this process. They all get together doing what? After the elections, when people go to prisons, they write reports. I can write a report about all the upcoming violations already today.

Why am I saying this? because I don’t understand why there wasn’t any press-conference that listed all the facts that indicate that Lukashenka did not win the elections. Suppose that in 2010 everyone was intimidated, but it was possible to hold a press-conference abroad. Until now, some people write on Facebook, proudly claiming to have been observers, that Lukashenka lost at their voting station. And he wasn’t even the third! It would be a hit. If ten, twenty, fifty such facts were voiced, then where would these Europeans go? Maybe our fate would be different.

There will be new approaches, but the main approach is always public participation. Not in support of a candidate, but in saving the country. Uladzimir Niakliayeu clearly outlined all this at the very beginning. Today we are saving our independence, and it can be saved only with the help of democracy. Only through democratic elections, to avoid violence. That is why we are gathering here with you.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - I am saying that, in the struggle for independence, for Belarus being Belarus ever after, I would hug anyone, even a devil. However, this devil should confess being a devil.

Mikalai Statkevich: - And show his tail and horning.

- Poland marks the 30th anniversary of the Round Table this year. You’ve said that Lukashenka is in a complicated situation, too. If the authorities offer negotiations, will you agree?

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - I have already answered this question. You need to understand that there are normal people at power. And today's conflict between the executive power and Lukashenka, which began to form, occurred because they understand that every alley is a dead end, if you do what he suggests.

It’s just “a terrific movie” about what country we live in - this is the “battle of Vorsha”, which Lukashenka arranged for the previous government. This happens when a country is ruled by one family, one mafia. In order to save his “family member” Vasil Zharko, who served as deputy prime minister, Lukashenka dismissed the whole government, the prime minister, and deputy prime ministers. All this in order to save this down-end rascal Zharko from a criminal case.

In no normal country could this happen. Now there are trials and each of these doctors recalls Zharko.

I am not saying that Bialetski is not guilty, but he took bribes as a doctor, for surgeries. And what did the officials take bribes for? They just stole, and the “family member” Zharko led the process. By the way, Rumas and his whole team should be “grateful” to Zharko.

Mikalai Statkevich: - I would like to add that the authorities might agree for a round table, if we demonstrate that we are stronger. And how can we demonstrate it? Right, when there will be hundreds of people standing in the streets.

One more, I would like to warn the authorities against fake round tables. As thery can announce it and invite their clowns, or fake politicians, as Andrei Sannikov said , and they will be only grateful. We do not accept this. A dialogue should only be with those who represent real force.

- One more question from Belsat. What prevents the authorities from starting another criminal case against you, put you under investigation the way it was with the “White Legion”, when 40 people were in the KGB detention center? What prevents the authorities from sending your team to jail?

Mikalai Statkevich: - Nothing. As for me, the whole dialogue with the West began after the release of political prisoners. When a person is jailed again, what grounds will people who sympathize with Lukashenka in the West have to continue to play this game with him?

And yet, in case of targeted punishment, for example, prophylactic supervision will be replaced with preventive one, then curfew, then three violations and here goes prison again, then we are ready for such options. But in case of a massive mop-up operation, then Lukashenka will lose the possibility of any maneuver. He also needs some pennies and the possibility of retreat to the West. To show Putin that he can go somewhere there. Then Lukashenka will remain even without a symbolic possibility of a maneuver.

Still, if there is a real threat, this person will give the most stringent orders. But the question is whether his orders will be followed.

Andrei Sannikov: - What prevents the authorities from jailing Belsat journalists today? Why don’t Belsat stop its work, if the journalists go to prison there? I don’t understand such childish questions, I suggest we lead a constuctive dialogue. Once they asked Henadz Karpenka in my presence: “Henadz, what prevents Lukashenka from killing you?” And Karpenka replied – nothing. So he did kill the man. So what? Has life stopped, Belarus ceased existing only because there is no Karpenka anymore? There are hundreds thousand such men as Karpenka. What prevents journalist Sceshyk from running for president today?

Mikalai Statkevich: - We recalled Nemtsov today. It happens soometimes that political leaders bring good even after they are murdered. Even with this very fact of murder. Well, we all know what we are up to.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - You know, if you think that we do not understand the situation in Belarus, under what pressure we are, not only from the Belarusian regime, but also from the Russian special services, then you are mistaken. We all understand. By the way, when I was released, various commanders came and warned that “It was so easy to get away from here for you, Mr. Niakliayeu, only this time, next time it will be more difficult”.

Well, someone scares someone, but everyone reacts differently. Someone hides in the bushes, someone cannot.

In 2015, when it was not possible to agree on a single candidate, when I already understood the whole scenario of a future operetta, I announced my withdrawal from the opposition. I was not going to return to it, honestly tell you. I have so much unfinished work in the literary field and I feel much nicer and more comfortable doing literature, it gives me more joy. This is what I like to do, not force myself.

Believe me, Belarus has already been sold at auction, and our task is to cancel the final blow of the hammer. What am I supposed to do? To write novels and poems, as once in Finland? And who will read them? If Belarus does not, why the hell am I needed with my literature? And what, I sit and think what will happen to poor me when something goes wrong? Somehow, it doesn’t happen.

I understand that Lukashenka is (after all, he was born in Belarus, and did not fall to us from Mars), and these thugs who go with him, and the KGB people have often told me how they love Belarus. But we have a different level of love. Different level of pain for Belarus. I have such that I just cannot help but struggling. That is why I am talking about this here.

- What are your relations with the right-centrist coalition?

Mikalai Statkevich: - We regret that in 2016 the right-centrist coalition, after six months of negotiations (Uladzimir Niakliayeu led them more intensively), simply moved away from the question of entering the Belarusian National Congress, which was then being created. It was not understandable to us, because they have no chairman, everyone is on equal terms, but they refused. Then we realized that not all leaders of these parties are independent in their decision making policy.

We again faced this situation on the eve of the celebration of the centenary of the Belarusian People’s Republic. Most of the organizing committee decided to hold a political rally, it was very important after the action was dispersed in 2017. Then, dozens of thousands of people gathered on Freedom Day, perhaps many came out for the first time precisely because of us, we could not just “dance away” this anniversary. Of course, we supported the idea of both the rally and the concert.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - We were going even to dance there.

Mikalai Statkevich: - Sadly, unexpectedly, having disregarded the decision of the organizing committee, party leaders at night ran to some minor officials from the city executive committee. They agreed, well, it’s good that this concert was held. But it is absolutely clear that this concert would never happened if there was no desire to prevent our rally.

After that, I speak for myself, I have no trust in these people. Yes, there are some people there, for example, Pavel Seviarynets. There is only one claim to him and I told him: “Pavel, why do you have an open scammer in the BCD co-chairs? You're a Christian, and you tolerate it?”

And when we hear these calls for participation in the primaries ... Sorry, there are 21 subjects in the Belarusian National Congress. The BNC Rada includes seven leaders. Today, three of them are present here, and there are still 14 representatives of regional coalitions, where all the parties have gathered together. And each of them have ambitions, like every real man, who believes that he is the best in the world. And we agreed (only two or three people abstained) and put forward one presidential candidate, pulling all their potential and rating together. And here we see three subjects who cannot agree among themselves and invite us to participate in their elections. Is that all? As a military man, I immediately designated it for myself with the phrase “war is bullshit - it’s maneuvers that matter”.

If they hold primaries, there will be a worthy candidate, then we will cooperate with him. But of those who volunteered there, only Pavel Seviarynets is the only worthy candidate. However, I am afraid that for this reason they will not let him anywhere. When you sit down to play with people who have already shown that they are cheating, and even dependent, then what to expect from them? But in any case, we are ready to cooperate with Pavel Seviarynets.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - You know, I am so sick and tired with the internal opposition disputes in 2010 and 2015, that now I am not going to participate in them. I will not reproach anyone, call anyone to join us, blame anyone. Everyone knows everything, it’s just everyone makes own choices.

I will not get into this again. See for yourself, boys and girls, you will live further on, people will look at you and understand who is who. I don’t like these questions and answers to them.

All this is very profitable for the anti-Belarusian machine: to pitch us against one another. They have very weak people, there is competition for who is allowed into which office. Someone in the city executive committee, and someone in the regional executive committee. This shows a person’s weakness, but then you shouldn’t get involved in such a manly game as politics.

But all this is not so important, because we face the main task - the preservation of our independence. If we do not do this, then as I have already said, we will be thrown into this “faceted glass” and put into the museum. And this glass will stand there for a long time, until a “window” appears in Russia, which we can use to fight for our independence. God knows when it will appear.

And the hopes that Russia itself will collapse and we will become independent ... Listen, I see no reason for the collapse of Russia, given its economic situation. And we, no matter what, need to win our independence beside this country. So it occurs historically.

Andrei Sannikov: - Unfortunately.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - I don’t know whether it is fortunately or unfortunately. Maybe, if there had been the West from both sides, our country would have long ceased to exist. Maybe it’s the fact that we live at this intersection is saving us.

Mikalai Statkevich: - We are seeing a unique mix of chance and threat. The external threat is exacerbated, but at the same time the internal situation is such that the country is ripe. People just look and seek for who will lead them. It only depends on us whether it will be a patriotic alternative or whether it will be Mr Putin, who is on all screens today. Putin or us. There is no other alternative.

- What are the moods in the army, special services and nomenclature today?

Mikalai Statkevich: - Different. You know, most people do not live consciously, but only adapt. But I will say that the higher the title, the more pro-Putin the mood is. This is especially evident in the army. If we take the latest drafts, when there has not yet been such crazy anti-Belarusian propaganda, then there are nationally oriented people who know who they are and are ready to defend the country. But the problem is that in the upper echelon, there are people who, even if Lukashenka gives the order to defend the country, simply will not let such an order down.

In the police, the KGB, in the vertical, the people who went to power, upholding Lukashenka’s then policy, rose to the top. And the policy then was like this: “I'm on my knees ready to crawl to the Kremlin and unite.” They went to serve, knowing that they were going to serve in the Russian system. They have such a mentality, such a worldview.

Lukashenks tried to purge the army and the KGB, but he wouldn’t get into people's heads. He entrusted this purge to those people who see Putin as their boss and president. And when they conducted this purge, I suspect they started with exactly those who were suspected of Belarusian nationalism. As for their friends and cronies, they protected them etc. The key positions, especially generals and colonels, are occupied by people of pro-Putin views.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - Once a KGB man told me in a patronizing manner, “Mr. Niakliayeu, we have calculated that 3% Belarusians support you with your ideas.” I asked him how big was our population. And now count, what this percentage of 9,5 million Belarusians amounts to. Count how many people defended Ukraine. He came up with quite a big number. So, these are the people united by a single idea.

Mikalai Statkevich: - There are more of us than 3%.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - Yes, there are. And the military usually turn to the side which has force. Someone said, leave alone coachmen, prostitutes and artists, they serve any power.

Mikalai Statkevich: - Admiral Kolchak.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - In 2010, when I traveled to meetings with people in the Brest region, I was constantly detained and held in district jails so that I would not meet with anyone. So, the KGB men were waiting for me, and the “cops” took me along another way so that they would not detain me. And this was done by the lieutenant colonel. And this was after the “Godfather” was shown on TV and it seemed that Moscow had ceased to support Lukashenka. And this lieutenant colonel asked: “Mr. Niakliayeu, what are you taking with you to the meeting?” I say that I was bringing books. And he said to me: “So wrong of you. You need to bring weapons.”

- How do you see the future of Belarus? How do you see Belarus’ relations with the EU and NATO?

Mikalai Statkevich: - I think that we all see the future of Belarus as an independent, developed country, which will have good relations with all its neighbors. But you must understand that at this historical period, if people go to protest under the slogans “Belarus - to NATO” or “Belarus - to the EU”, we will have external interference.

One more thing. I talked about what unites Belarus, but there are things that divide us. For example, geopolitical orientation. All stand for independence, but disagree on who to be friends with. We also still have a language issue.

In these issues, we need to look for compromises. I see this compromise in the fact that let's leave the foreign policy to the first democratically elected parliament.

We need to be friends with everyone, we need to revive our Belarusian language, but at the same time protect the interests of Russian speakers. These issues still need to be resolved.

Ukraine was forced to follow its path, because the Ukrainian society was looking for an external controller presented by the EU to help get rid of corruption.

And we see the reaction to this path. We as a country cannot suffer such a blow. But in our heads there is no predisposition to such corruption. We are a northern nation, everything is different with southern nations. They need to sell everything state-owned into private hands, otherwise they will simply steal everything away.

On the other hand, we can manage ourselves and prevent a surge of corruption. I hope that the situation will change and Russia will change. And someday all of Europe will be in the EU and, possibly, in NATO. But today, to raise these issues as a goal of the protests is to threaten independence. We did not discuss this with colleagues, this is my opinion.

Our goal is fair elections, good relationship with everyone. I want Belarus to have military neutrality. On the one hand, there should be no Russian military bases here, but on the other hand, which Russia is afraid of, some other military bases. This is the position.

Uladzimir Niakliayeu: - What I would like to say at the very end, since I started today. Judging by the atmosphere that was today, not only here, but also in the society, the words “It's all hopeless anyway” are hanging in the air.

First of all, everything is possible. I was asked the same about the struggle for the survival of the Belarusian language. Especially by these “computer guys”, our IT specialists. “It is noncompetitive, you see that there is already an Esperanto, not an artificial language, but English, Belarusian will die.” I said and say that I do not know what will happen next, but I believe that Belarus will never come to an end.

And if something happens, then it will not be my fault. I can say the same about our common position. Yes, we can, as you say, lose. But we can win. And the struggle cannot be abandoned, because if the Anschluss and incorporation occur, we will not be to blame for this, because we tried to do something.

Mikalai Statkevich: - I would like to finish our meeting more optimistically. When there comes a hope for changes, you will not recognize the belarusian people. I guarantee this.

Andrei Sannikov: - And I will say “Long Live Belarus!”

***

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