17 June 2021, Thursday, 19:47
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To Kill the Dragon

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To Kill the Dragon
Natallia Radzina

A strategy to defeat the Lukashenka regime.

On May 28, the X Forum of Free Russia began its work in Vilnius.

Charter97.org editor-in-chief Natallia Radzina took part in the panel discussion “To Kill the Dragon: Opposition Strategies Under Dictatorship,” during which she spoke about the situation in Belarus and the strategy that could lead to victory over the Lukashenka regime.

The website Charter97.org publishes the text of the speech:

- I will emphasize that I have been acting as a journalist and have been analyzing the situation since the second half of the 1990s when I entered the profession.

It seems to me that when we assess the situation in Belarus, it cannot be compared with the situation in Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, or Serbia, where revolutions took place (in Russia, of course, they haven’t happened yet), and there initially were softer regimes.

The starting conditions in the same Belarus and Ukraine were initially different because Belarus was a more Sovietized, Russified, and denationalized republic. And this is very important to understand.

The regime that Lukashenka established from the first days of his rule was initially dictatorial. The seizure of the media, the destruction of the parliamentary and judicial branches of government, the usurpation of powers, the falsification of all elections and referendums, the creation of death squads that killed and abducted opposition leaders... It all began in the 1990s and reached its peak in 2020-2021. All this time, the Lukashenka regime enjoyed comprehensive economic and political support from Moscow. During the years of his rule, the regime received about $ 100 billion in support.

Nevertheless, I must say that there has been a fairly active and strong opposition in Belarus all these years. Yes, it proceeded from the concept of Gene Sharp, yes, the opposition adhered to non-violent resistance, but, in its actions, it proceeded, among other things, from the state of the Belarusian society, which I spoke about earlier.

But we had large-scale protests, which were not in same Ukraine until 2004, there were massive protests against election fraud. The Resistance movement actually included a huge number of people. And the revolution as such in Belarus did not begin in 2020 - it began in 2017 when mass protests against the tax for the unemployed took place throughout the country - the “Marches of the Non-Parasites.” They took place in dozens of cities. And, on March 25, 2017, Lukashenka had to send troops into the city in order to stop these protests, which could really lead to changes in the country.

In 2019, part of the opposition - the Belarusian National Congress, the European Belarus civil campaign, the Social Democratic Party of Mikalai Statkevich - participated in the parliamentary elections, although before that, the opposition had always boycotted any fake election campaigns in Belarus. Taking advantage of the opportunity to legally conduct a campaign, they were able to convey to the people information about what is happening in the country and call for open resistance to the dictatorship.

At the same time, public opinion was measured, and opposition leaders said that Lukashenka actually does not enjoy any support from the population, and his actual rating in the country is about 3-5%.

By 2020, the regime has finally degraded. Of course, both the backward economy and the COVID-19 epidemic, which Lukashenka ignored, which killed tens of thousands of people in the country - all this had its effect.

The mass protests themselves were not a surprise to us. Another thing is that when they talk about the mistakes that were made, it must be borne in mind that there were no real opposition leaders at the head of the protests. The real leaders were arrested on the eve of the election campaign itself. And real and strong candidates were not even allowed to participate in these elections, some of them also ended up in prisons.

Incompetent people were at the head of the protests, and this incompetence led to a decrease in the level of protests. To this, we must add the large-scale repressions that Lukashenka unleashed in the country and which continue to this day. All this, of course, played a role, but I would not say that any changes are no longer possible in Belarus. I disagree with the pessimism of Gennady Gudkov and Arkady Babchenko (who spoke earlier in the discussion - ed.). I still think that the potential for protests in Belarus has not gone anywhere, it has remained.

If we talk about the strategy that may be in the current situation in Belarus, then, first of all, these are three things: sanctions, strikes, and protests. The situation with the plane that arose today, this terrorist act, led to the fact that Europe finally paid attention to what is happening in Belarus.

Because, due to the reluctance of the European Union to respond to the situation in Belarus, due to the weakness of the so-called "new leaders" who have met all this time with world politicians and did not call for serious sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, today we have fewer sanctions than we had, for example, after the events of 2010, when Lukashenka arrested presidential candidates and dispersed a protest against election fraud.

Today, the West has finally realized that the Lukashenka regime poses a threat not only to its own population but also to security for the whole world. I am glad that at last there are voices from Europe today that it is necessary to introduce sectoral sanctions against the supply of oil products and potash fertilizers from Belarus. This is already being said by many, including representatives of Germany. It is in this direction that we need to continue to act.

Because personal sanctions are actually not enough, it is precisely economic sanctions that must be demanded. This could seriously hit the Lukashenka regime, it could shorten the term of his rule, it could destroy the dictatorship as soon as possible, and, most importantly, release political prisoners, of whom there are thousands in Belarus today.

And people are dying in Belarusian prisons today. The latest case of the murder of a prisoner Vitold Ashurk in prison shows that it is necessary to act as actively as possible and put pressure on this regime as soon as possible. Therefore, economic sanctions are needed: oil products, potash fertilizers, enterprises where labor movements are suppressed, banks - up to the shutdown of the SWIFT system.

The second point is strikes. In today's situation, they are possible, because I talked with workers' leaders, with representatives of the strike committees of various enterprises. These strike committees emerged back in 2020, when protests began, including at enterprises in Belarus. Workers' leaders say that, in general, it is possible today, and strikes are a relatively safe way of protests in Belarus.

During this time, since August 2020, the number of workers who have entered independent trade unions and left the official "trade unions" has increased several times, even dozens of times. The economic situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate because even Russia today does not support the Belarusian regime to the extent that it previously supported for various reasons.

In fact, today there are massive cuts at all enterprises, and wages, of course, are also falling. Let me remind you that Lukashenka never fulfilled his promise, which he made 15 years ago, that the average salary would be $ 500. Until now, there is no such average salary in the country.

Representatives of private businesses are also ready to go on strike because business is constantly strangled, working conditions are very difficult, and they understand that a strike can affect the situation.

The third point of this strategy is, of course, the protests, which, I am convinced, will continue in Belarus. Protest marches are already being resumed in different cities and districts of Minsk. This is a unique Belarusian phenomenon - courtyard activity, when people continue to protest even with their courtyards and micro-districts in cities, that is, such communities are created and are actively working.

As such, partisan actions in Belarus did not stop all this time. As they began in August, they are still going on. All the same, people distribute leaflets and hang out white-red-white flags. A huge amount of money is spent on the fight against this because the police and AMAP are forced to patrol the streets and call equipment and the Ministry of Emergency Situations to remove the flags, all this also exhausting the regime, including financially.

I know that Lukashenka has entered such a “zone of mistakes” today. And any mistake he makes will actually lead to protests on a new level.

Therefore, I believe that if we follow this strategy - sanctions, strikes, protests - then, in principle, we have a chance to win this year.