We will win when we liberate our leaders.
Coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign Dzmitry Bandarenka has commented on the hot events in Belarus specially for the Charter97.org “Change of Power” program.
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- Dzmitry, good afternoon. Today, thousands of people take to the streets of Belarusian cities to sign for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. What is the phenomenon of these queues in Belarus? Why are people so willing to stand in those lines?
- Good afternoon. The first is that people are tired of Lukashenka. They want a change of power and openly talk about it. Secondly, such huge queues are not for all candidates, namely for the national blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski. Even if he himself was not admitted to the elections, they registered the initiative group of his wife Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
We see a combination of two factors here. People like the candidate, his team, his approaches, his sharp condemnation of Lukashenka’s power, and the desire to change power in Belarus.
- What should be the next step after signing for change?
- There are no easy solutions. Of course, people have already moved a lot in their understanding. They came for the first time in many years, maybe someone for the first time in their life came out to sign for a person who openly opposes the government. But this is not enough, because today we need to save Siarhei Tsikhanouski, release him from prison, we must fight for the release of the Belarusian opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich, and for the release of other activists. Even the data for May suggests that more than 195 people were detained or arrested, that is, can you imagine the scale of what is happening in the country? If we do not free our leaders, then there is no reason to hope that other candidates will replace Tsikhanouski, or other candidates will replace Statkevich.
Perhaps these actions need to be diverged: the struggle for liberation and collecting signatures to allow Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to participate in the elections.
- How do you assess the campaigns of the so-called moderate candidates Viktar Babaryka and Valer Tsapkala? How independent are these figures, in your opinion?
- Someday, we will probably find out whether they are independent figures. However, to a certain extent, for me, these people are aliens. Because Tsapkala, with all his rhetoric, suddenly declared that the first 10 years under dictator Lukashenka were wonderful. He is pleased with what was happening, although it was at that time that his colleagues by the Lukashenka team were killed in the 1994 elections - General Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and others. This is a very strange statement. It was in those ten years that the foundation was laid, and the totalitarian system of the kolkhoz dictatorship was built.
As for Viktar Babaryka, this person felt great during the reign of Lukashenka. In 2010, when the whole country and the whole world were discussing what was happening in Belarus, we did not hear Babaryka’s voice. And he could somehow secretly help the repressed or say something. Moreover, he is a free man, led a foreign bank. But this was not so.
Today, these two people are not seen in raising the topic of respect for human rights in the Republic of Belarus. The last statement by Babaryka was that, they say, no one is touching our team, so the campaign is going according to the plan. But what happens to other leaders does not bother them. This is either some kind of cunning or some naivety, but, nevertheless, it’s simply not necessary to consider these candidates as “our people”, and trust them to develop the situation in the country.
- In 2010, you were the head of the election campaign of presidential candidate Sannikov. Maybe you could recommend something to new candidates?
- I would like to recommend to people who believed in the Tsikhanouskis, Babaryka, Tsapkala, and others: if we do not liberate the leaders, then we will move no farther. The victory is very close, but if we behave as some women do, “I loved Vasya, Vasya left, well, I fell in love with Petya, Petya was sent to prison, well, then I’ll marry Grisha.” This should not be like this. We have already lost many leaders.
I would just like to name these people. These are General Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Henadz Karpenka, Mikhail Marynich, the same Viktar Ivashkevich who died from the consequences of numerous arrests, and many other leaders who went through prisons, Aliaksandr Kazulin, Andrey Sannikov, Mikhail Chyhir. We are a small country. We cannot think so that “women will give birth to new ones”. Firstly, Belarusian ladies are not so eager to give birth today, but for the nation to give birth to worthy leaders - this does not happen every day.
Therefore, let's not put off until later and just achieve the release of Mikalai Statkevich and Siarhei Tsikhanouski. This is the key to victory and the key to change, and everything else is from evil. Everything else is hoping for some guy to come and say, “Sorry, in my opinion, the elections were fair.” Babaryka should be added to the declaration of fair elections of the same “under the dictatorship of Lukashenka”. It immediately becomes clear that these are just words, and we can all become hostages in an incomprehensible game.
Today the people have already begun to speak up. The velvet revolution has already begun in Belarus. Let's be active and be real revolutionaries, and not wait for handouts from the dictator, or from the people who have been feeling very well all the last years.
- You already said that today in Belarus there are mass arrests of the opposition leaders. What to do? How to achieve their release?
- We really want our country to be similar to European countries. We like reasonable prices, high quality of goods, high quality services in restaurants, public transport. We like the high technological and social standards in these countries. But this did not come by itself.
In the same Warsaw, where I now live, 700 protests take place every year, with hundreds of protests taking place in the form of marches, rallies, demonstrations with the closure of traffic. Because otherwise how do you get your point heard? How do you express your protest? For example, farmers, who are dissatisfied with the actions of the government or the leadership of the European Union, come on tractors to Brussels, pour out products, hay or something else on the road - people are fighting for their rights.
But in Belarus, it turns out that everything is good, there are no protests, are everyone happy? Then do not complain that Lukashenka rules so long. Because if people do not consider themselves free, they probably do not deserve a free, prosperous life, because it does not fall from heaven, this is the result of protests. That is how the state is regulated. If citizens are dissatisfied with something, they express their protest, and the government that is elected is forced to respond to this. If it does not react, then this government will simply be dismissed. One must clearly understand the cause and effect relationships in this case.
If we want to be Europeans, we want to live with dignity, that means we must be able to fight, so we must be able to protest. Only then will we become a European country. No one will do this for us. Nobody will give us freedom.
- Someone may say that it’s easy for you to speak from abroad.
- I have not always lived abroad. I had 8 administrative arrests, a criminal term of 16 months, and many other trials. I would like to say that using the demi mondaine ladies for provocations, as was the case in Hrodna with Siarhei Tsikhanouski, is a favorite technique of the Belarusian special services. It would seem that I have been living in Warsaw for a long time, but in 2017 suddenly the notorious Frau A. appears and publishes her letter, in which there is only one last name - Bandarenka. Moreover, they accused me of terrorism and training of militants in camps abroad. Under these articles, Belarus provides for the death penalty.
On the other hand, I understand that to a certain extent this is an assessment of the activities of our European Belarus team, which means that we are useful to our country once it provokes such a reaction.
I would also like to say that the civil campaign “European Belarus” is part of the Belarusian National Congress. It is very important for me that there are people, heroes who continue the struggle within the country. I have good, friendly relations with Mikalai Statkevich. He told me: “Dzmitry, stay here. You will bring more benefits abroad, and when necessary, you will return.” When the time comes, I will return to my country.
- The whole world today is changing under the influence of the pandemic. What became the trigger in Belarus? Why did the people rise against Lukashenka?
- You are right that the epidemic has changed the whole world and influenced the situation in Belarus. Earlier, some Western politicians and analysts could say that Lukashenka was a strong business executive, cunning, wise, etc., but now his inadequacy and pathological cruelty have become obvious to everyone. A lie, when the figures for the dead are underestimated 15-20 times and for the infected by several times, also became the last straw for many Belarusians.
We live in an information age. People have the opportunity to see what is happening in the neighboring countries, what is happening in civilized countries. This inadequacy in the form of subbotniks, parades and the fact that he “does not see the coronavirus”, the concealment of the truth - this greatly affected the people. Accordingly, the question is also what to do with the same nuclear power plant. The fact that Lukashenka is brazenly lying about the coronavirus with such impunity, then there is no true information about what is happening at this NPP either. The accident at the BelNPP could strike across Europe, especially in our region. People realized that literally every person’s life today is in danger precisely because of Lukashenka, the actions and inaction of his henchmen.
- How will Lukashenka leave? Your options for the development of events.
- Lukashenka will not leave as a result of the elections, this is for sure. Lukashenka will leave as a result of mass protests in Belarus. Either it will happen before the election day, it seems to me such a variant is more likely - 60 percent. Or it will happen after the election date, when there simply will not be any normal candidates by this day, and they will try to announce, as always, insane figures. People already know that Lukashenka’s rating is 1-3% and the nickname “Alex The 3 %” appeared for a reason. It’s not going to be so easy to lie.
As for power structures, thank God there are many normal people in the army. There are units, for example, riot police or Lukashenka’s security service, which can be found guilty of crimes against humanity. These people will run for the rest of their lives. For example, the soldiers of the “Berkut” in Ukraine said, like, we followed the order of the president. Of course, they forget that even the orders of the legitimate president, if they are criminal in nature, should not be carried out by the security forces. Yes, Yanukovych was chosen legally, his election was recognized in Europe. Lukashenka is an usurper. Today, the police, the KGB, and other services must understand that they are not serving the legitimate president.
Today, the sovereign of Belarus, the Belarusian people, stands for the restoration of the law, and they defend the interests of a group of people who illegally held power.
When I was in the KGB prison, I was summoned by the KGB colonel, and he said: “Dzmitry, are you not afraid that they will change your charges, and it will be Article 357 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus? It may be the death penalty. It sounds like plotting to seize power using unconstitutional methods. ” I told him that, you say, you’re mistaken, Citizen Colonel, because this article sounds different - the illegal seizure or retention of power by unconstitutional methods. This topic was not raised anymore.
It seems to me that for most lawyers in the Republic of Belarus and abroad it is clear that if all the results of the recent elections were falsified, then this Article 357 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, which provides for also the death penalty, should be applied to Lukashenka, his siloviki, Yarmoshyna, and the CEC.
- Who will become the future president of Belarus?
- I think that the future president will be the one who will be elected by Belarusians in the elections that will take place some time after Lukashenka’s resignation. If a miracle happens and some other person is elected in this election, they will still not be completely legitimate, because the elections were illegal, the constitution was doubtful, there were a lot of violations. After some time, new elections may be held.
If we talk about the figures, it can be both Andrei Sannikov and Zianon Pazniak, who will return from abroad and will have the right to take part in these elections. We know that in all the Baltic countries, very successful presidents were just people who returned from exile. This only benefited these states.
Perhaps the president of Belarus will be Mikalai Statkevich, the man who devoted his whole life to the struggle for freedom of Belarus, who deserves to become president.
Perhaps the president will be Siarhei Tsikhanouski. I hear some say that he is not ready for government. I would like to say that Lech Walesa was an electrician, he did not have a higher education, but he became the president of Poland and laid the foundation for those reforms that allowed Poland to enter Europe with leaps and bounds, and raise the standard of living. We know that Václav Havel was not an economist, but it was under his authority that the Czech Republic received huge investments. A lot of foreign companies came there precisely because Havel was the president.
I do not exclude that one of those who today participates in the elections and whose surname has become known only now, may become a possible president. The President is a person who combines a lot of qualities, including morality, ethic, respect for other people, respect for those who fought for the freedom of Belarus, and, of course, competence.
This is an open question, this is the question of tomorrow. Today there is only one slogan: we will win when we liberate our leaders. If this does not happen, then Lukashenka will remain in power for an indefinite time, and we all must clearly understand this. And people who are in Belarus, and representatives of the diaspora, and these are millions of Belarusians who can also influence the situation in their native country and help those who openly challenge the kolkhoz dictatorship.
Today I am wearing a cap in solidarity with blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, and I want to repeat his slogan “Stop the cockroach!” Aslo, as a sign of solidarity with Mikalai Statkevich, I want to say our eternal words: “Long Live Belarus!”
- Long Live Forever!