The people hate the dictator and are able to organize themselves.
On June 8-9, the 7th Free Russia Forum took place in the Lithuanian city of Trakai. Andrei Sannikov, a guest of the Forum, the leader of the European Belarus civil campaign, a presidential candidate in 2010 and a former political prisoner, gave an interview to Original TV on Youtube.
Charter97.org publishes a text version of the video interview:
- Could you tell us what it's like to conduct opposition and political activity in Belarus at the moment?
- It is difficult but possible. I do not live in Belarus, but I am in exile in Poland. I was forced to leave, but I am still engaged in politics. I am a member of the Belarusian National Congress, head of its international commission, i.e. I am authorized to speak on behalf of the major opposition coalition in Belarus, and I do this.
It has become much more difficult in terms of activities because the regime has got a nerve. The reason is the lifting of sanctions by the European Union. Moreover, the sanctions were lifted in 2016 without meeting conditions set by the EU. The regime felt impunity and unleashed repressions. They are like waves and concern not only the opposition but also business, managers and directors of enterprises - the whole society. After all, repressions are not only the dispersal of demonstrations, but also the abolition of benefits, salary cuts, the imposition of taxes, and a decree on "parasites". The regime tightens screws, but the year 2017 showed that the tension is growing.
Two years ago, "Marches of non-parasites" were the most massive demonstrations in Belarus since Perestroika. They covered 20 cities, showing the attitude of the population to the regime and Lukashenka.
Now Belarus realises that Lukashenka and the regime will not contribute to the country. A way out should be found. In this situation, I believe that the opposition in Belarus is a hero. Especially the one that takes to the streets. People do it not because they want to take to the streets, but because it is a channel of communication. When we were deprived of all opportunities to communicate with officials and the government to change the situation, they hear the voice of the street and protests.
- Do they hear?
- They perceive it in their own way. They keep tightening screws. They managed to suppress the protests of 2017. They heard us well then. Today Lukashenka is obviously afraid of his re-election and reappointment and he does not know what to do with it. Plus, Moscow puts pressure. I know that protests show him the real position.
- Many people have the impression that Lukashenka is a strong leader. We've seen him reprimanding the heads of collective farms. He shows that he is the power and knows how to solve problems. Is it really true?
- No. It is strange to hear that arrogance and disdainful attitude towards people are considered strong qualities. Arrogance is still arrogance, collective arrogance is still a collective arrogance, it's also true about a disdainful attitude towards people.
It indicates not strength, but weakness. Lukashenka is weak, afraid of any dissent, of any elections, even at the local level. He tries to control all thousands of positions in village councils and the smallest administrative units.
He has created a fairly strong repressive system and relies only on violence. At the same time, the economy is suffering. When there were cheap oil and gas imported from Russia, it was possible to say that the regime was staying afloat due to the Kremlin's preferences. Although this is not an economy, it is manoeuvring to preserve the regime.
Today it is clear that this model has completely run dry. The Kremlin puts pressure and requires more and more. It wants the whole Belarus. The Lukashenka regime is to blame. Today it says: "Help, save me because Putin offends me". It has driven the country into a dead end. A way out should be found. If Lukashenka had been braver, he would have negotiated with the real opposition and organize elections. But Lukashenka is a coward.
- Do you think Belarus and Russia can merge?
- Everything is possible. We're not talking about the merger of Russia and Belarus, but about the merger of two criminal groups, or rather about the takeover of one criminal group, settled in the Kremlin, by another. It has nothing to do with the relations between the states. Therefore, we need to resist. And not only Belarus and Russia, but also the West should understand it.
No resistance was expressed in the Crimea and now it is seized. There were some timid, ridiculous statements, but tough statements were needed. It was necessary to declare non-recognition of the territory and consequences it might bear, not to threaten with sanctions. And unless the peninsula is returned, the situation will not change. It wasn't said then, although the situation required preventive actions.
- Are you the main opponent of Lukashenka today?
- People are the main opponent of Lukashenka today. If earlier there was some support, for example, when the war unleashed in Ukraine, his rating slightly increased. People are always afraid of war. Today the war is not news anymore. Unfortunately, people are accustomed to the fact that Ukrainians are dying. But the economy is always factor No. 1, which affects people's attitude to power.
Well, the people are the main opponent of the dictator today. No matter how hard you suppress them, they will break. We observe current events in Russia. The situation is almost the same. People rise in Ekaterinburg. There are protests against garbage dumps and so on. It should be noted that there is still more space and apparently more manoeuvres. Our screws are still tight.
Nevertheless, Belarusians join protests and go to jail for it. These are real heroes. People stand against the blasphemy of Lukashenka, who broke crosses in Kurapaty. I can't imagine a person, even an atheist, who can mock at symbols of any religion. And here Lukashenka strictly ordered to demolish crosses in Kurapaty. More than a hundred crosses were broken. It an abuse of religious symbols. People stood for them and were jailed. They are few of them, but they are heroes. They show that such regimes will never live in peace in Belarus.
- What did the demolition of crosses aim at?
- To demonstrate strength. I do not know who can call Lukashenka a strong leader after it. This is the man who, in my opinion, has signed his own warrant.
- That is, people support the opposition...
- People hate Lukashenka and are able to organize themselves. I stress that the protests of 2017 proved it. Belarusians are looking for a leader. Mikalai Statkevich, as well as Svetlana Alexievich, who is growing brave in her statements, are one of the leaders. Earlier, she was afraid and spoke out carefully about the situation, but today she has probably understood everything. I have seen her recently and noticed these changes. She realizes the mission of the only Nobel Prize winner in literature in our country. Literature may have a stronger impact on people than physics, chemistry and even medicine.
She is quite strict about unacceptable things in Belarus. She is not one of those who can urge. Svetlana Aliaksandrauna gives a rather tough and accurate assessment of what is happening in Belarus. There are leaders of opinions and protests. I guess there are centres people will gather around and serve as alternative centres of power.
- Does Sviatlana Alexievich have political ambitions?
- No. I'm talking about facts. She realizes what people expect from her. Probably, it would be interesting for me if she had such ambitions.
Nevertheless, she has hit this nerve. Look at an amazing series "Chernobyl" of the American HBO TV channel based on stories of "Chernobyl Prayer". The book was not so popular, but after the Nobel Prize, the world reads it. It reveals the Belarusian tragedy. Not only the Chernobyl tragedy but also the Lukashenka one. The film, the book serve as a sign that something is wrong, something threatens people's lives. Something should be done with it. These things take place in our Belarusian "hospice".
- Who else do you talk to? Do you keep in touch with Stanislau Shushkevich?
- Yes, of course. Stanislau Stanislavavich supported me during my presidential campaign in 2010. I am grateful to him for this. By the way, the other day he presented his entertaining book of memoirs.
- Does he reside in Belarus now?
- Yes, he does.
- He also criticizes Lukashenka. Why is he allowed to do this? Does he belong to a privileged class or we do not have one?
- Stanislau Stanislavavich, as the first democratic head of independent Belarus, has a very powerful reputation around the world. But Lukashenka's regime tries to humiliate him. For example, he has a miserable pension. There were moments when he had to leave the country. He had health problems, but now everything is fine. He was active and full of energy.
I guess Lukashenka does not consider him dangerous, because he once managed to organize a humiliating procedure of his removal from power. He had an "anti-corruption report" prepared. Due to ridiculous unproven facts about Shushkevich's nail box, he was dismissed from the post of Chairman of the Supreme Council. This is human's nature: I defeated him - he is no longer a rival. Lukashenka, using his collective farm's tricks, together with former Supreme Council, filled mainly with people of his kind, "defeated" Stanislau Shushkevich.
- Is Lukashenka afraid of you?
- He is afraid of the people. In general, in 2010 we had the strongest campaign. Lukashenka had no chance if the votes had been counted. There were other strong candidates: Uladzimir Niakliauew and Mikalai Statkevich. I'd like to say that it was a decent alternative to Lukashenka's regime.
- What topics do you discuss with Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich?
- You know she is a very interesting interlocutor. You have some questions and just in a couple of minutes, you start answering her questions. She is great at it. She shows genuine interest and attention.
We often argue. I stress that she is a brilliant interlocutor. Although we have different opinions on many things, she is able to give a completely unexpected assessment and change the angle of view. I'm always interested in it.
- What couldn't you accept?
- I will not criticize the Nobel Prize winner.
- Why not?
- I don't want to. I love her. We can't agree, probably because our experience differs. Her views based on her studies of a "red man" are quite pessimistic. I think there are chances. She is not keen on barricades. I believe that a leading part of society should stay on barricades, otherwise the whole society will be trapped. Barricades are needed. I always stand for non-violent resistance.
These are some tactical points. Alexievich has experienced so much pain in her books. I am surprised that she remains optimistic. She says she wrote about the "red man". No. She wrote about human pain and sufferings.
Now Svetlana Aliaksandrauna is trying to write a book about love. I wish her success, because it may be therapy for her. She needs such a book.
- The last question. Do you manage to influence the situation in Belarus from abroad?
- Yes, of course. I say that I represent the BNC and in general, I participate in many events and communicate with many politicians. Naturally, with my team who come to Poland. In general, there are many Belarusians in Poland. I left Belarus, but not because of politics.
- Do European and American politicians listen to you?
- Not so much because the war in Ukraine unleashed and drew much attention. There are crooks who sell Lukashenka's regime. Nevertheless, one should always remind that we are responsible for upholding our own principles. In Ukraine, Belarus, people are fighting for European values. Why is there no support? Even from Ukraine, which is at war with the aggressor.
- Your credo of life?
- I didn't think about it. The political credo is free, independent, democratic Belarus. The credo of life is historical optimism.