Two months are enough to change the government.
The coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign Dzmitry Bandarenka said this in an interview with Charter97.org.
- Dzmitry, spring has come. Both you and other opposition leaders talked a lot about the resumption of protest actions in Belarus. Will it be so?
- Belarus is not in an airless space and, whether we like it or not, the situation in the country is greatly influenced by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, for example, we see that the number of cases per day has increased three to four times in Poland over the past week. A very difficult situation is in Slovakia which turned to the leadership of the European Union for help because the situation got out of control. The difficult situation is in the Czech Republic and other countries. In Europe, in America, new strains are widely spread. I myself have recently been severely ill with covid, and I will say that the disease is no joke.
In this regard, we must understand that in Belarus, where there were no countermeasures, the situation is catastrophic. Tens of thousands of people have died, and hundreds of thousands have been seriously ill. In such conditions, there is no need to demand active political action from people. And in general, it is natural that the street activity of Belarusians dropped in winter. This was predictable and justifiable.
- But first of all, of course, it was the massive repressions that influenced it.
- Of course, there is a factor of repression. The second, third wave of coronavirus is a test for any country, but our epidemic was further complicated by the fact that instead of helping people, the state actually staged genocide, especially against the active part of society, including doctors.
I think that the protest activity of the Belarusians will be associated with the exit of Europe from the pandemic, and this will be April-May. And, of course, Freedom Day on March 25 should be highlighted.
- Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in one of her latest scandalous interviews that the opposition allegedly lost the street. How can you comment on this?
- You know, I have a low opinion of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. A housewife cannot rule a revolution, just as she cannot rule a state. It was Vladimir Ilyich Lenin who believed that under socialism, every cook would be able to rule the state. Both the state and the revolution can only be successfully led by trained people.
We never got to see their work on the errors. I expected that people who are versed in politics, for example, Dabravolski, Vyachorka, would say: "This was done well, right, but here we made mistakes, we must act differently." No, no such work has been done. Everything is fine with them, life is good.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is very similar to the early Lukashenka. He said to the Belarusians: "I am your father." Tsikhanouskaya said: "Hello, I am your aunt, and I am your new national leader." God gave me the opportunity to communicate with people like Andrei Sannikau, Vasil Bykau, Henadz Karpenka, Mikalai Statkevich, Stanislau Shushkevich, Zianon Pazniak, Mikhail Marynich, Viktar Ivashkevich… Compared to these people, Tsikhanouskaya is simply an incompetent neophyte. We see that she really likes the government, she likes international travel, she really likes flattery.
Tsikhanouskaya is a young Lukashenka in a skirt. Everyone knows that he is a dictator, but if we take it historically, until 1994 he was a liberal, fought against retrograde communists, headed the “Communists for Democracy” faction in the Supreme Council. Tsikhanouskaya, like Lukashenka, is trying to shift her own failures and the failures of her headquarters onto someone else.
She suddenly realized that, indeed, the protests have diminished, Lukashenka remained in power, the Western sanctions, even in her words, are simply ridiculous, and thousands of people are in prisons. Hence her statement appears which reveals her complete confusion.
- That is, it turns out that Tsikhanouskaya's headquarters is actually a kind of structure that exists by itself. Is it an illusion that she represents the entire opposition?
- We have thousands of people in prisons today. Not 250 political prisoners, but thousands. Moreover, because of this Jesuit formulation, “political prisoners” we do not know exactly how many. A thousand, two, two and a half thousand? 2.5 thousand criminal cases were initiated. But it is a fact that the leaders are imprisoned, people who opposed the regime for many years and prepared for the 2020 elections. And these are, first of all, Mikalai Statkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Siarhei Tsikhanouskai, Yauhen Afnahel. In general, I will say that there are more than fifty activists of the Belarusian National Congress in prisons under criminal cases.
At the same time, Viktar Babaryka is also in prison, whose statement that he will become president played a huge role, and Maryja Kalesnikava is also in prison. There are enough leaders in prison, real leaders who have done a lot to make this revolution happen, and they represent different sectors of society and political movements. And Tsikhanouskaya herself, her headquarters, in my opinion, are people, who appear to be on the crest of the waves by accident.
Their managerial qualities were not enough to win. It can be seen that complacency and narcissism are characteristic of many representatives of the “new opposition” or leaders of telegram channels. But many have a problem with self-criticism and a real assessment of what is happening. Again, I want to say that if some Belarusians believe in Tsikhanouskaya or other new so-called leaders, then they have the right to do so.
But for me, it is absolutely clear that neither NAU nor Tsikhanouskaya's headquarters nor herself are capable of winning. We just won't win with them.
- So, maybe the problem is not that people believe Tsikhanouskaya or someone else, but that there are simply no other centers. Where is the alternative to them?
- The first center is a prison. This must be understood firmly. “Maxim is gone but who cares” - this is not our approach. Mandela was in prison for 25 years - and made a fundamental change in South Africa. Many leaders were imprisoned in various revolutionary situations: all the leaders of the Polish underground Solidarity, Charter 77 activists led by Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, Andrei Sakharov, who spent many years in exile, many Ukrainian dissidents. All these people later played a key role in their countries.
One must understand that these are the true leaders and not believe that people without prison experience, without understanding the situation, can lead a revolution. Short letters from behind bars from Statkevich, Tsikhanouski, Babaryka, Seviarynets are enough to understand what to do and where to go.
And our main goals remain the same - the resignation of Lukashenka, the release of political prisoners, and the holding of new elections. How do you achieve them? We must seek sanctions. Here the diaspora can play a key role and no governing centers are needed for this.
Protests are needed. Very serious one and a half to two months of protests with strikes can finally break the back of the Lukashenka regime. And solidarity is needed. Solidarity of all Belarusians: both those who are inside the country and those who are abroad.
- Meanwhile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya begins to create more and more strange structures. Here is the last of them - a kind of situational analytical center based on the BYPOL organization, which unites former law enforcement officers. And these officers of the security forces allegedly should actually organize and monitor the holding of protest actions. What it is?
- With this, Tsikhanouskaya and her advisers completely admitted their own powerlessness and helplessness and, like Lukashenka, decided to turn this around on other people. I'm afraid people will send both Tsikhanouskaya and her cops to hell. Because this structure, even in appearance, is absolutely KGB. It is very similar to Lukashenka's OAC.
The tasks that Tsikhanouskaya set them are very strange: to collect information about protesters and protests. And then, why the policemen who served Lukashenka faithfully, some fifteen, some ten years, suddenly be able to organize a protest? There is no certainty about this. On the contrary, this is clearly a failed venture, although there are probably enough decent people in BYPOL. But the fact that former investigators, prosecutors, and police officers cannot be the organizers of mass protests is absolutely clear. This is not what they learned.
- So you said that "we will not win with them." With whom will we win?
- We will win with the leaders who are in prisons. This is the basic thing. These are our leaders who will be able to lead the country after the victory. But for these people to get out of prisons, we need to win.
And here the actions are very simple: protests, sanctions, strikes.
And if you take the political biography of Tsikhanouskaya - at key moments, she always brought depression and disorganization into society with her statements: in June, July, August, September. Remember the moment of the murder of Raman Bandarenka, when people simply stirred up, they were emotionally furious and ready to take to the streets. And instead of calling to take to the streets next Sunday, she suddenly announced the date in a month and a half, December 20.
And now this strange statement, which they allegedly did not understand, is also demoralizing that we “lost,” that the opposition “lost the street.” It is unclear, Sviatlana, are you the opposition or not the opposition? Earlier you said that you are not any opposition, you have nothing to do with this. Who has lost now? Is there some kind of opposition or have you lost? So just say: I lost, my advisors turned out to be incompetent, we misjudged the situation. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze, it is necessary to gather the best people, specialists who have experience in resistance, representatives of other groups, to work out a real plan of action that will be understandable to every Belarusian.
- What prevents you from becoming the leader of the revolution?
- I am part of the European Belarus team and part of the team of the Belarusian National Congress. We were preparing for this revolution. Some were inside the country, some were abroad. I am sure that the people who are members of the Belarusian National Congress and many who are in prisons are then able to come to power in an honest way and effectively govern the country. At the same time, I do not give up on Tsikhanouskaya, on NAU, on KS. Lukashenka's regime will inevitably fall, and new elections will inevitably take place. People will decide for themselves who to vote for.
But today, victory will not come by itself. There is a certain point: our candidates, Statkevich or Seviarynets, whom we supported, are in prison. We were ready and supported Babaryka - he is also in prison. But it so happened that the authorities registered Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as a presidential candidate, and her entourage believed that they did not need anyone and that victory was already in their pockets. And the fact that Yauhen Afnahel, Pavel Yukhnevich, Andrei Voinich, Maksim Viniarski, Palina Sharenda, Dzmitry Kozlou are in prisons means that European Belarus actively participated in protests against election fraud. Probably, in August, there were no other active political forces in the country such as European Belarus and the BNK, which would organize people, prepare rallies, and help the strikers and courtyard assets.
But we are not talking about any one political force being able to win today. We are talking about whether, after all, Tsikhanouskaya's entourage is ready to work on mistakes and look for allies among other political forces.
All of us, especially those who are abroad, are responsible for the people who are in prisons. Both for our comrades in arms and many new leaders and activists. And I think that this understanding will literally become a stimulus, translated from the Latin "sharp tip" which the bull was stuck with to one place so that it moves in the right direction. Such an incentive will help free our leaders, our comrades and save thousands of Belarusians inside the country from repression. I here agree with Kalesnikava: "Either we win, or they roll us into the asphalt."
- Let's hope, of course, that the leaders in prisons will be the trigger that will get people to take to the streets and free them. But, nevertheless, if we return to the spring protests, all the same now you hear from a conversation with people that they are waiting for the emergence of new leaders. Yes, there is disappointment in Tsikhanouskaya and Latushka. But will such figures appear inside the country? It can be seen that there is a demand, there is a need for their appearance.
- We must stop being children. And in today's situation, we need to understand that any leader who gets exposed goes to jail. Who else do you need? Our leaders, thank God, are alive. They are in jail, but they are alive. And from prison, they are trying to influence the situation and by their behavior show that they are real leaders, that, no matter how hard it is for them, they continue to fight. And we are talking about everyone: Babaryka, Statkevich, Seviarynets, Afnahel, Tsikhanouski, and many others. One should not hope for the emergence of new leaders, one should rely on oneself and one's comrades.
The regime is hanging by a thread, it is unusually weak. All this talk that Russia will make Lukashenka rich in billions of new dollars has remained just talk. It can be seen that the conflict between the two dictators is quite serious. Russia simply has no money. And in connection with the sharp drop in GDP over the past year, and with the situation with the covid, and with the general economic situation in the world. In order to revive the Belarusian economy, tens of billions of dollars are needed, and Belarus will be able to attract this money after the dictator leaves. And today we need to finish off the system.
The situation can be changed in one, maximum two months. And then we win, and then we release our leaders, and then we hold new free elections. But we must understand that these two months of protests must be organized, and we must seriously prepare for them. Imagine only two months of mobilization, but daily mobilization, and not going out once a week.
We must take the strongest, most successful elements of the protests that have been in place for over 200 days and use them creatively. At some moments it can be mass actions, and, at some moments, it can be partisan actions, but everyone needs to understand that strikes are indispensable. These are the attempts: “Let's organize a strike in compliance with the laws of the fascist dictatorship. Let us use the experience of trade unions, which in fact have not held a single strike in 25 years." To throw away these illusions and just not go to work!
Not go to work at all. Because strikes are an element that limits the repressive possibilities of the authorities and inflicts the most terrible blow on the regime. There is simply nothing to feed the security forces. It will be impossible to repay debts collected at huge interest rates. Abroad, in every city where Belarusians live, especially in the capitals of democratic states, it is necessary to hold flash mobs, demonstrations, pickets, rallies demanding sanctions for the release of all those convicted on political matters. And this can be achieved.
Strong daily protests, strikes, and sanctions are the three main elements that will break the regime. And, of course, solidarity is important. Despite criticism from other centers and people who are considered leaders today, I believe that this is neither just as it does not prevent us from talking, negotiating, looking for points of contact, and synergy.
We must win. To do this, you need to slightly muffle ambitions and develop a common program of action. And European Belarus is open for this.