All the people rose against the government.
Dzmitry Bandarenka, the "European Belarus" civil campaign coordinator, became a guest of the new website program Charter97.org Studio X97. The host is Yauhen Klimakin.
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- Dzmitry, you are the coordinator of the "European Belarus" civil campaign. You have been in opposition to the Lukashenka regime for many years and were even in prison in 2010-2012. How do you think the situation in Belarus will develop? What are the possible scenarios of the Belarusian revolution?
- I hope for a good scenario because there has never been such a thing in the history of Belarus that all the people rose against the government: in small villages, in the capital, in regional cities – everywhere.
I think that after Vladimir Putin's statement that Russia is ready to send employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to Belarus, the situation has changed. And the Belarusian situation has a geopolitical nature. Putin deliberately caused this geopolitical conflict by testing the West's reaction to his statement.
- Before the program, you even told me more sharply: "Russia has already intervened."
- In general, Putin says that he is ready for a new war in Europe. You can take his statement that way. It is not surprising that NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg was the first to respond very sharply to his statement, saying that Belarus is a sovereign state, and no outside interference by force is unacceptable.
- Does Lukashenka satisfy the Kremlin and Putin personally or not? Or is the Kremlin also interested in getting rid of him?
- I think that Lukashenka has not satisfied the Kremlin for a long time because of his mental inadequacy. They would like to replace him, but they have a difficult situation right now. They make a choice because the regimes are similar, the ideologies are similar: through propaganda to fool their population about some ideas but in fact, just rob the people. Since these regimes are close, the Kremlin fears that the revolution in Belarus will spread to Russia.
The Russian authorities are in a state of zugzwang, because there will be no good decisions, and sanctions will follow, as both the White House and the US State Department have repeatedly stated: Russia's interference in the internal Affairs of Belarus will not remain without consequences.
We know that today it is possible to completely or largely replace energy supplies from Russia. Norway can replace, and the Arab countries, and the United States. The consequences for Russia, in this case, will be very sad.
- But do you allow such a scenario: Russian troops on the territory of Belarus bringing the "Russian world"?
- "Russian world" is already present.
-I mean, in the aggressive form that we know of.
-Yes, it could be. I do not rule it out, that's why we say that the reaction of the West and the civilized world to Putin's statements is necessary. To prevent such a scenario. To be honest, I thought Putin was smarter as a politician because his statement on Belarus actually starts revolutionary processes in Russia itself.
In my childhood and youth, I was actively involved in sports and managed to travel around a significant part of the Soviet Union. I was an absolutely Soviet boy, and I was amazed that everywhere Belarusians are treated with great sympathy. And now Putin wants to come to these good, holy people with the OMON and the army. There will be an inevitable reaction to this in the Russian regions themselves, as well as in all neighboring countries.
Russia is not always at war. For example, when there was a conflict in Moldova when the oligarch Plahotniuc was removed from power, there would be an agreement between Russia and the West that there would be a change of power, and new elections situation would be resolved calmly. I was probably the first to say that Viktar Babaryka can be such an acceptable figure for the West and for Russia, which can seize power in Belarus. If he had participated, he would have won the election. There may still be sensible changes and adjustments to this statement by Putin. And maybe there will be a non-zero option for all parties. I also accept this scenario.
- When I look at videos of Lukashenka running around with weapons, at statements concerning the "interception" of conversations between Warsaw and Berlin on the topic of Navalny, and especially at the publication of some crazy conversations, I get the impression (that does not leave me) that Lukashenka's own people are trying to get rid of him.
- Recently, a Georgian psychiatrist carefully studied his latest videos and said that Lukashenka is in a state of paranoid psychosis. This is also seen by his entourage. It is difficult to say whether they are trying to get rid of him or not. Perhaps they are also afraid of what they have done, that there will be a reckoning for it. But their "leader" is in an inadequate state; this is obvious. And these people may be hoping that Russia will put another person, or maybe something else will happen, but it is difficult to expect any rational reaction from the subordinates of a mad man.
We know that the African President ate people, but he met with the French presidents, with Brezhnev. I'm talking about Bokassa. It's hard to believe, but it's a fact. We will also find out later what really happened to Lukashenka and his psyche these days.
- You were in a Belarusian prison. Why is the regime so angry now? I may be wrong, correct me, but it seems to me that back in 2010, they weren't as violent.
- I can upset you, they were. Maybe a little softer, because I was in a KGB prison. When we, the political prisoners, appeared in the cells, the "rules of internal order," where the rights and obligations of prisoners were written, were simply demonstratively taken away. We were told: "the law doesn't apply to you." The treatment was very cruel. Someone was hit with a stun gun, someone with batons, the psychological impact was very serious. And what Andrei Alehavich Sannikau went through, God forbid for everyone yo go through. His wife was sitting in the next cell, and they wanted to take their three-year-old child to an orphanage.
That's why I said at the time that if Belarusians are not ready to defend their leaders, then most of them will face it. When Mikalai Statkevich, Siarhei Cikhanouski, Viktar Babaryka, Pavel Seviaryniec were arrested, they were treated very harshly. Seviaryniec spent 80 days in a punishment cell against all laws. No water, no medicine, no warm clothes. I know that his health is very much impaired. But there was no reaction of the people to this. If we don't protect our leaders, then we will face something like this in an even worse way. These are laws and history; everyone should understand.
I hope that Belarusians have already moved to a new state, to a new energy frequency, and this will not happen again.
- What sanctions do you expect from the West against Lukashenka's regime?
- I hope that the Central European countries will impose their own agenda on Europe. The sanctions should be economic, clear, and tough. I hope that international trade unions will also have their voice, because strike committees are being destroyed, and strike leaders and strike participants are being repressed.
There was such a good idea; there were statements by German politicians that it is necessary to impose sanctions against specific Belarusian enterprises. I think that everything will come to this.
It is also important that there is a strong reaction to Russia's actions. Sanctions are already in place against Russia, and they may increase in connection with the Navalny case. And there are already warnings from the US and Germany that the Russians should not interfere.
- We will strike hands.
- As they say, "now the relationship is bad, but you will be surprised that it can be much worse."
- The Coordination Council. Once again, I read their statement calling for dialogue with the authorities. In your opinion, is it possible for the protesters to have any kind of dialogue with Lukashenka now?
- I am in a difficult situation, because now, in response to your question, I must say a few words about the attitude to the Coordination Council of "European Belarus" as a political entity. We don't expect anything from this structure. In General, I believe that the Coordination Council is in this form - this was one of the conditions for Sviatlana Cikhanouskaja's safe departure from Belarus.
- Where does this information come from?
- There is both information and analysis of the situation. Before Sviatlana left, we know that she was forced to make these statements, where she says that she is a weak woman, "there is no need for protests, I am leaving." The second condition was the creation of the Coordination Council headed by Volha Kavalkova. We had a conversation with Cikhanouskaja that this person shouldn't be assigned. She is not an oppositionist, this is a dubious person, and you can't make her the head. Then Kavalkova picked up these people.
As a result, there was such a structure as the Presidium of this Coordination Council, and only the members of this Presidium have the right to vote; the rest - do not have it, only advisory rights. It is absolutely clear to us that this is a structure that has been beneficial to the government to a certain extent.
Absolutely incomprehensible people entered the Presidium. There is not a single person from the opposition. Until recently, none of these people have served a single day in prison. Not a day at all. How could these people coordinate anything?
Plus the title. First, it is the Coordination Council for the transfer of power, then, the Coordination Council for Dialogue. In the West, they like to be called the Coordination Council of the Opposition, although most of these people faithfully served the regime, were built into the system ...
- Do you expect anything good from them?
- We do not expect anything from them. The only thing that can be said is that criminal and administrative cases have been initiated against many of these people. Someone was arrested. But I want to say that cowardice, stupidity, incorrect assessment of the situation, many years of service to the regime are not a guarantee against prison. On the contrary. Very often this is a guarantee that people will end up in prison.
- You now have the opportunity to say something to the members of the Coordination Council. What would you tell them?
- I want to tell the Belarusians. Regardless of my attitude, whether they got there by mistake or deservedly so, we must fight for them. We must fight for their release, we must demand the cessation of criminal cases, but we must not believe that this is the center of the Belarusian revolution, that these are people who control some processes.
- For many, the leader is Cikhanouskaja. Even from many, I heard, that she is "the legally elected president of Belarus." And for you?
- Yes, she is legally elected; yes, 80% of Belarusians voted for her. I have no doubt about that. But such abrupt mood transitions, when a person says: "I want to fry cutlets," and then calls himself the leader of the nation, I am somewhat alarmed. Neither Zianon Pazniak, nor Hienadz Dzmitryjevich Karpenka, nor Andrei Sannikau, nor Mustafa Dzhemilieu, nor other people whom I met, nor Viktor Yushchenko in his time, they did not say about themselves "I am a national leader." And when Sviatlana starts talking like that, "I am a national leader," it worries me.
I consider her as the president as part of her election program. Sviatlana clearly said that "I am not a politician, I do not know much about politics, I accidentally got here, I continue my husband's work, my task is to hold free elections and I will leave politics." These statements are very clear to me. They correspond to a sober assessment of her personality. And when now people from her environment are trying to make her a crisis manager or, God forgive me, a national leader, it looks ridiculous.
Most importantly, this does not affect the situation itself. The authorities' idea was to expose a person far from politics, then force him to repent on television, then create an incomprehensible body, but everything went wrong every time. That is why Lukashenka is nervous. You say there are agents, and they are under control, and this is weak, but everything goes wrong for one simple reason. The Belarusian people is already confidently speaking the word.
The Belarusian people entered the political scene. These games are already significantly less important. The only thing is, do not rely on people who are not ready for the role that is necessary, for the role of leader.
Sviatlana Cikhanouskaja speaks today about the violation of human rights in Belarus; she has international contacts. I will even say that she, to a certain extent, fulfills the role of the British queen - she reigns, but does not rule. Sviatlana can represent Belarusians, 80% of people really voted for her, she can talk about our problems, but being a leader, being a crisis manager is not her role. There are other people who organize protests, they are in the shadows, but, for some reason, they shift political responsibility onto Sviatlana. It is not right.
- In one of your interviews, you called Sviatlana's husband a Belarusian Walesa. If we take this logic of processes, Walesa appeared in 1980, having loudly declared himself, and Poland gained freedom only in 1989. Do you think the Belarusian revolution can take several years or will events develop faster?
- There are other means of communication in the XXI century, it's a different country, so I think everything will happen much faster. Everything will become clear within the next two months. And the chances of our victory are huge.
Indeed, there are such historical processes. For example, we know that bourgeois revolutions in Europe went on for hundreds of years, while South Korea went through them in its time in several tens of years. Japan has gone through in a hundred years what Europe has gone through for 400 years. In Belarus, all this is happening very quickly. Just a few days ago, I was struck by a march and strikes of students, a column of workers in support of students. This suggests that the processes of history are going much faster.
In general, what happened in Belarus, the way this strike is taking place, the creativity of people is just something incredible. To be honest, at first, I looked at it with tears in my eyes. When people in a small village come out with flags, with ribbons, women paint, little girls try to look like a female trio - and all this under our white-red-white flag. It's incredible.
It seems to me that today for all leaders, for all people who have been in politics longer, the most important thing is the understanding that we must serve the people. We must not disappoint people's expectations.
The diaspora's task is to help those who are repressed, those who are fighting, to convey this information to the governments of the countries where we are. This is a huge responsibility and hope because it seems to me that even Russia will not be able to do anything about it. However, they will try to act according to the training manuals, just as they acted in Crimea and Donbas. Tough, cynical, systemic. But even they will fail because the situation in Russia is very similar to that in Belarus.
- For many years you have consistently been a supporter of such non-violent resistance to the authorities. Today, after all the deaths and violence that have already seen by everyone, have you changed your point of view? In your opinion, protest today should be just as peaceful, people should go out on weekends and on weekdays and protest peacefully with flowers, with smiles, or is it time to build barricades, seize government buildings, ministries, etc.?
- Revolution is an art. And after Putin's statement, the situation changed, because when there is a threat of foreign military intervention, the laws of military oath come into effect here. And Belarusians, in the event of Russia's intervention, will act in accordance with the military oath.
As for the forms and methods, I am still glad that these years we have followed the path of non-violent resistance. There is hope that we will be able to avoid an armed conflict. Probably, our patience and the death of many people, such as Viktar Ivashkevich, journalists who honestly did their job and died, politicians who were killed, Henadz Karpenka, Viktar Hanchar, and General Zakharenka were the victims of the leaders. For the sake of peace in the country, this is justified. We, hundreds and thousands of people, went through prisons to prevent this civil conflict.
Nevertheless, if detachments of internal troops, and maybe even foreign ones, like the National Guard of Russia, OMON enter the workers' quarters, Minsk neighborhoods such as Serabranka, Shabany, Kamennaja Horka ... And there people did not subscribe to non-violent resistance. And the role of these guys, these people in the Belarusian revolution is enormous. The AMAP suddenly realized that they could get hit on the head with a stick when they were beating and shooting people. People are defending themselves.
I think that these brutal methods stopped because they received active resistance in Pinsk, Barysau, Zhodzina, and in the workers' districts of Minsk. Suddenly the policemen realized that not only they can beat, but can get in response when they break the law.
And all policemen of Belarus can go through one article. 357 article of the Criminal Code - "illegal retention of power by unconstitutional methods, resulting in the death of people." That is, they all fall under it. Lukashenka is an illegitimate president. Unlike the same Viktor Yanukovych, who tried to become a dictator, but was legally elected, they carry out the orders of the illegally elected president. We need to think about it.
I think that in the Belarusian revolution, as in a number of other countries, there can be a combination of methods of non-violent and violent resistance. But the authorities themselves are to blame for this, because if the leaders of the opposition deliberately chose the path of non-violent resistance, then people in the regions, in the districts, will simply defend their lives, their property, their human dignity by any means.
We remember that, for example, in the Declaration of Independence of the United States, the American Constitution, the second amendment there is a rule that the people can not only resist the tyrant, but must resist the tyranny in America with the help of weapons. Therefore, with all the costs of having weapons among the population, the Americans did not turn out to be from the second amendment to the Constitution.
We have no right to bear arms, but Belarusians have the right and duty to resist tyranny and foreign interference.
- Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians are chanting the words "Go away" to Lukashenka. He doesn't go away. What can be the last straw that will make this happen?
- As our leaders, Statkevich, Seviaryniec, Cikhanouski said, only long-term mass protests and strikes will lead us to our goal. I would like this period to be shorter and happen faster, but it will take exactly as long as necessary.