The strike may be a signal for the army to move to the side of the people.
Veronika Mishchenko, an activist of the People's Hramada party, told about it in her interview to Charter97.org.
- It will be a year since the start of the Belarusian protests. What has impressed you most in the struggle of Belarusians for freedom?
- About a year ago, I went out after the arrest and simply did not recognize the Belarusians. This is probably the very moment, mentioned by Mikalai Statkevich, that "when the Belarusians have hope, you will not recognize them". I saw completely different people on August 9.
I gained faith in the Belarusians. I used to see people who didn't care. Many of them were apolitical: "We are out of politics, everything is fine, it is not our problem". I remember our dispute at the beginning of the pandemic with Mikalai Dzyadok who said that the Belarusians would never deliver the political demands and fight for freedom. He said that the only thing that could make them come out was an empty stomach.
All of a sudden, the Belarusians are coming out for their freedom and vote. The more Lukashenka unraveled this tangle of repression, the more the Belarusians strived for freedom and determination to make their own choice. It was amazing. All the more, the main part of the protesters were young people who were completely apolitical. They were born and raised under Lukashenka; in a country with no political life that could give rise to some civic skills. They suddenly stand up for their freedom and votes. This transformation is incredible. The awakening of self-consciousness surprised me most of all.
- How do you estimate the protest potential of the Belarusians. How much hatred do people in Belarus feel today against Lukashenka?
- Everybody hates Lukashenka now. Even yabatkas (yabatka - Lukashenka's adherent), who pay lip service to him but subconsciously hate him as much as we do.
People tend to long for a good, calm, bright life, which is improving. If there were at least some fluctuations in Belarus before (it was worse or better), then in 2015, when Lukashenka came to the "elections", he promised nothing. He only said: "Do you want it like in Ukraine?".
When a person demonstrates such rhetoric and such a degree of hatred, it is natural that it will backfire on him. Therefore, the hatred against Lukashenka is now very much uniting.
How strong is the protest potential? I left the country three months ago, but the atmosphere in Belarus is thunderstorm-like; one can feel that everything is about to blow up.
The silence seems to resemble the leaves falling silent before the storm, and then the storm bursts. That's what happens in Belarus now.
Yes, these clean-ups have driven things underground. However, during this year, people have learned to be partisans, just like during the occupation in the war. Yes, everyone is waiting for this spark.
One should also remember many leaders during the August events, who were able to step in to replace those who were behind bars.
However, some leaders were little known. We called them the second and third circle, activists whom we did not make public. These were people who were doing their job in silence - putting up leaflets, agitating in their backyards and at work. These people are still there now; they continue their work. Therefore, the potential has remained; it has been driven underground. One often says, "a fire in a peat bog that smoulders for a long time, but then it starts".
I know that the protest potential has remained. Moreover, the whole Belarus hates Lukashenka. He is doing his best for people to hate him even more.
- You are a member of the People's Hramada Party Presidium. Your leader Mikalai Statkevich has already become a legend of the resistance. What does he say in his letters? How does he manage to keep up his spirit?
- Unfortunately, only his wife Maryna Adamovich receives letters from him.
All the news we get from these letters. All the letters we sent have remained unanswered. The only letter came to Yury Putov from the Canadian diaspora.
We don't know if he receives our letters, but we don't receive his ones. Those letters we get say that the year in prison hasn't changed him; he is full of optimism, believes in Belarusians, often supports us.
He often says things in some allegorical forms that we can understand. The same sanctions or how to keep fighting. We take it into account. My decision to leave Belarus, where I lived underground for 10 months and continued my work, was also dictated by the fact that Mikalai wrote in one of his letters that pressure on Lukashenka's regime from outside also mattered. The main struggle will be outside Belarus now because clean-ups are underway within the country. Having read it, I realized that it's time to go and take up serious information work outside Belarus. He supports us a lot, gives us the strength to fight. We believe in him. I think he believes in us.
- You have recently said that we "are about to win". Why do you think so?
- I guess I partly answered when talking about the protest potential. There are the objective circumstances that existed when the Soviet Union collapsed.
At the moment, Lukashenka's regime, the whole model of his rule, has completely outlived. I used to work at a state-owned enterprise and want to tell you that the last crisis, which started in 2008, is not over in Belarus.
90% of state-owned enterprises are bankrupts. Even though they are already sold out, most of them to the Russians. Enterprises are bankrupt; collective farms are bankrupt. To pour money into them... If you remember, when the rouble collapsed in Russia, oil price dropped, most state-owned enterprises switched to a 2-3 day working week, then to a four-day working week, when the situation started to stabilise a little bit. That is when the decree on parasites was issued. People were left without work, salaries, especially in the regions, were extremely low. People used to go to the labour exchange at 4-5 in the morning, queuing up to find some job.
If one takes the Soviet Union, it was hit very hard by Afghanistan, then sanctions and oil price drop. History is repeating itself. Lukashenka has no money now. Everything is falling apart before his eyes. All we have to do is to press on the outside and the inside. That's what we're doing.
That is why I think everything will happen quite fast. We have already achieved the sanctions, but we work on these sanctions with diasporas.
Belarusians can go on vacation, go on strike in factories and plants, simply leave the cities or stay at home. We say that businesses can go on vacation. The other day Lukashenka himself was talking about small business. He shot himself in the foot again. He is creating the conditions for businesses to close, and we can see how the regime has started to destroy itself.
Objective reasons - economic and political - prove it has little time left.
As Sergei Sparish said when we went out for the 2019 parliamentary campaign, "Don't rock the boat, our rat is sick". We are doing everything we can to make that rat sick for longer.
- Many experts say strikes are a way to solve the Belarusian crisis and return power to the people. Do you agree with it?
- I had been calling for strikes even before August. When the Internet was disconnected, we learned about the first strike at the Belarusian metallurgical works (BMZ). I am from Zhlobin. I used to do a lot of materials on BMZ. It was striking.
In the morning of the 17th of August when Lukashenka came to the Minsk Tractor Plant and people shouted at him "Go away!", it was probably the first time in his rule when he stood with the real workers. We saw it was his greatest fear. Then, unfortunately, there was a turning point when the pro-government unions gave up on the workers, and the strikers had no experience of political struggle for their rights. They were deceived and clean-up and repression followed.
Lukashenka was afraid of strikes. As soon as the strikes started on August 12, when the Internet was switched on and Belarusians went on strike, they started releasing political prisoners.
As soon as the workers refuse to work, it will be very strong. It will be a powerful signal for the security forces as well. The army, no matter how disgusting they behaved and showed that the officers' honour meant nothing to them, but if they see a signal from the workers, it will be a signal to the army too, that it should switch over to the side of the people. After all, it is the people who feed and support the soldiers and officers. Not Putin's oligarchs, not Lukashenka's, but the workers. As soon as a political strike is declared, the regime completely loses its legitimacy. It becomes completely illegitimate. That is it, the people have said their word. This is very important.
- For the first time the EU imposed sectoral economic sanctions against Lukashenka's regime. How do you assess the level of international pressure on the dictator? What more can be done in this direction?
- Unfortunately, first of all, all contracts will be valid until their end, which means until the end of the year. We also know that for potash, the most important items were not included in the sanctions. We know that sanctions did not include timber, which Lithuania is actively buying. Therefore, we still have to work on the sanctions. The fifth package will be better but thank God, independent trade unions joined in and realized what they were dealing with. And they have started to put pressure on the companies. The sanctions need further development.
- What factors can be decisive for the fall of Lukashenka's regime?
- When the Belarusians realize that no one will help them but themselves. This is the decisive factor. That Lukashenka is not afraid of fighting on the Internet. He is afraid of strikes and protests in the streets. When we will again be able to say to him out loud "Go away" as we did on the streets on August 17, then it will bring us much closer to victory.
To put it clearly, it will come when everyone understands their responsibility for this victory.