28 October 2020, Wednesday, 9:09
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

Iryna Khalip about the Belarusian Revolution

Iryna Khalip about the Belarusian Revolution
Iryna Khalip

Soon everything will change.

Well-known Belarusian journalist Iryna Khalip has become a guest of the new program of the Charter97.org Studio X97 website. Host - Yauhen Klimakin.

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- Iryna, as a journalist and a person who understands politics, first of all, I want to ask you what worries everyone the most now. How many people will walk the streets protesting? How long will it last?

- To this question, I think, not only me, but also the best minds of our time do not have an exact answer. Here you can argue a lot about "why haven't you walked for 26 years?", "Maybe now you need to walk the same amount." You can remember Moses, who led his people in the desert for 40 years until the last slave died.

Everything is so compressed in the 21st century, and time flies so quickly that there is no longer a need for 40 years. I think everything is happening now very quickly, and people's self-awareness is just growing and swelling like a ball in front of us. It fills the entire space. I emphasize I do not know, but I hope that there is not much left to walk, that everything will change soon.

- But, in fact, Moses is not there. The people became such a "collective Moses," conscious and understanding.

- It's very cool, actually. I remember that before, very often, questions were asked both in 2010 and before, "why did you lead people under the batons?" As if people are such a herd, which someone led, snapped a whip, and they went. I kept thinking, oh my God, people are not a herd, where can they be taken? A person himself decides whether to go or not and, if he goes, then where, if he leaves, then in which direction. Now, indeed, and thank God, no one asks questions about where they are taking us, and who should order us where to go. All by ourselves. They gather themselves, decide for themselves, go, and it's very cool.

- What is the government counting on now? That the people will be blown away or that they will get tired of walking?

- I think the authorities are counting on some things completely beyond their control: bad weather, which will make people stay at home, rain, snow, hail, frost. In the end, to "routinize" the protest. That is, people seem to have to get used to it, and when a habit appears, it all becomes unnecessary. When it's a habit, it's easier to negotiate with it. "Okay, last time I went, and now I have household chores," "perhaps it's time for me to rest," "I must skip this Sunday" - these are objective, unfortunately, things that do not depend on the authorities in any way, but depend only on the people themselves.

But, it seems to me, in contrast to the emerging self-awareness of society, routinization occurs much more slowly. People have not yet had time to enjoy this thrill; when you walk, trample the streets of your city with your own feet, you understand that this sidewalk under you is yours. You are responsible for him: for this sidewalk, and for this street, and for these people, and for yourself personally.

- One Polish journalist returning from Minsk said beautifully: Belarusians now fly two meters above the ground.

- He probably also said that he saw 200 thousand leaders on the street?

- Yes, Sierakowski (Sławomir - ed.).

- Quite right. I also really liked both of these looks. They very accurately reflect what is happening. Yes, people are flying now, like in a painting by Chagall. And people really felt like leaders. Now, however, the situation is when you do not need a shepherd who will lead you somewhere. They do it by themselves. It's wonderful.

- On the one hand, we see an absolutely distraught dictator; on the other hand, a beautiful people, conscious, responsible, bright. Cool faces. You just look at the photos, you look at these people's videos, and you admire them. But this, it seems to me sometimes, that it is like in an iceberg, a visible peak. What processes are not visible yet important? What happens from what the eye does not catch, but involves important processes that we need to be aware of?

There are, and, fortunately, they are already being discussed and known about although they are not visible. This, for example, is the creation of communities in small districts, microdistricts, in courtyards, in neighborhoods. People understand that it is dangerous alone, that they need to unite. It is very difficult to unite two hundred, three hundred, thousands at once. But to unite with your own yard, quarter - it's much easier. And it is easier to walk to the city center in a column than to gather one at a time, risking much more being captured. I really like it.

You see, people gather in the courtyards in the evenings, agree on something, sing songs, paint the benches white-red-white. They come up with and agree on who buys white fabric, who buys red fabric, who sews flags. They exchange news in their chats, they determine where to gather in order to go to the center. They are constantly in touch. This level of everyday solidarity, too, in my opinion, is worthy of some time writing books, textbooks about it, and trying on the role of Gene Sharp of the 21st century. He wrote about nonviolent resistance. Now the Belarusians are experiencing the same thing, only they are enriching themselves in new ways.

You see, I like taxi services that warn their drivers: if you go from Akrestsina Street or from the pre-trial detention center to Valadarskaha Street, they don't take money from these passengers. I like the closed shops that close on the day of solidarity. They don't get their profit, they don't earn, but they show solidarity. I like the queues at the cafe where the freaks smashed the shop window. I think this cafe has made itself a monthly profit in half a day. And then people came to fix it all for free. Also, no one agreed with them; no one called them. They came themselves. It is spontaneous solidarity, which is actually a sign of a highly organized society.

- What games can the authorities still play with the people? Here Lukashenka suggested changing the Constitution. What other cards can be used? They didn't buy it. Zelensky recently gave an interview. He said that in place of Lukashenka, the elections would be held again. What other games of power with the people who are against, you foresee?

- In fact, the authorities are using, it seems to me, they will use again, these bureaucratic cards, which when pulled out of their sleeves are aimed at chatting up protests, directing to the field of information spam: "Let's arrange a nationwide discussion, write to the Administration, express our opinions and describe and direct all this to the appropriate authorities, let's think about changing the Constitution." In fact, it is now, at this stage, that the idea was not sold, but, in fact, no one refused it.

- Lukashenka said that he is going to close the borders. Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine threatened with something. What are the consequences?

- You know, he can threaten with anything. I remember once he claimed that he had nuclear weapons. It's true, and I can only quote the wonderful Stanislau Shushkevich, who said in response to this: "Fortunately, God does not give a horn to a thirsty cow."

- When you see what is happening, what worries you the most about the Belarusian revolution?

- I am also worried about the same that worried me all 26 years - the presence of Lukashenka in Belarus in this most important position. I am worried about human rights, the fact that there are political prisoners in Belarus, election fraud.

I am worried that Belarusians have no basic rights. Even the right to freedom of assembly, even the right to work, because the contract system does not imply that. If for one word, for participation in a rally or demonstration will lead to not renewing the work contract, this is, in fact, a violation of basic constitutional law. I am certainly worried about all this.

I am worried about blocking sites. It all started with Charter 97 two and a half years ago. Natallia Radzina then called her colleagues and said: "Guys, let's be in solidarity because this is just the beginning, then everything will be the same, only with you." But then it probably seemed to someone that nothing of the kind would happen, they say, "this is the Charter, these are radicals." And here it happened.

- Everyone got punished.

- Unfortunately, yes.

- You touched upon the topic of journalistic solidarity. How do you rate it? You've been doing journalism since the 90s, and you've seen what it looked like before.

- You know, journalists, fortunately, to a greater extent than in any other profession, have the guild solidarity. We can all compete and hate each other. We can assume that Petrov is doing everything wrong, while Sidorov is not professional at all, Ivanov is unclear whose order he is fulfilling. But if the one, the other, and the third begin to have problems, then all our everyday disagreements fade into the background. Of course, we are still starting to unite.

I remember that in 2011 when I was in the KGB pre-trial detention center, the head of the pre-trial detention center once called me and said: "But I don't understand, Iryna Uladzimirauna, why are they writing more about you than about presidential candidates?" I say because of journalists, because I am a journalist, because we have such guild solidarity. What, you don't have it? He thought and said: "Oh, yes, if someone gets here, the rest forget right away that they even knew him, and they are afraid that someone else might remember that they once knew him." Therefore, I value journalistic solidarity very highly.

- You mentioned political prisoners. You experienced it yourself in 2010. Your husband, Andrej Sannikau, was also a political prisoner. What can and should be done now for those who are behind bars? Indeed, there are opposition leaders there.

- Quite right. It is there that the leaders of the opposition are now.

- The answer to the question, where are the leaders...

- I sometimes think, if Mikalaj Statkevich was free, if he wasn't arrested, perhaps...

-… Lukashenka would have been with Viktor Fedorovich, maybe.

- Quite right, somewhere in Rostov, somewhere in the mouth of the Don. Of course, Lukashenka just instinctively, without thinking, removed and swept away these strongest pieces from the chessboard, in the absence of which everything is much more complicated. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the main thing is not to forget for a second, not a minute, not a millisecond that there are political prisoners in Belarus and that it is the number one task to release them. Holding free elections is already task number two after everyone is free.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that it is impossible to release political prisoners without removing Lukashenka. Although he said that he would not cling to power with his blue hands, it seems to me that the last thing he will cling to is prisons, so that, God forbid, political prisoners do not come out of there.

Therefore, anyone who has the opportunity to either broadcast his own opinion or communicate, contacts with the international community, in my opinion, should first of all talk about political prisoners. As for international organizations, the European Union, the United States, the release of political prisoners should be the very first item in any demands addressed to the current regime.

- Is it even more important than sanctions, in your opinion?

- To release political prisoners, in my opinion, is more important. Another thing is that everything is very closely connected here. Perhaps it is the sanctions that will help release them. Therefore, in this situation, yes, if we see that the regime does not go to the release of political prisoners, then we need to introduce sanctions. There is just no choice between political prisoners and sanctions. Releases are demanded, and sanctions are imposed. These are two parallel actions.

- The Kremlin, it seems to me, even though "he criticizes Lukashenka," in fact, has always supported the Belarusian dictator. Now, when one president-dictator gave Lukashenka one and a half billion, how should this be taken? What is it? An advance payment for doing some work?

- Most of this loan, as Putin himself announced, will go to...

-… Redemption.

- Yes.

- He will return there, from where...

- Quite right. Belarus has such a debt to Russia that this one and a half billion is unlikely to be able to pay it off. But they certainly won't save the lame economy either.

- Iryna, you are the correspondent of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. How do you like the reaction of the Russian "intelligentsia" to what is happening in Belarus? I remember that not so long ago Sviatlana Aleksievich asked this question, where are you and why are you silent?

- You see, since I communicate with my colleagues very closely, I do not see a lack of reaction. On the contrary, the entire "Novaya Gazeta" amicably rushed to write about Belarus. My colleagues came here; some were beaten and arrested. Everything that could have happened has happened. I see how "Novaya Gazeta" works and how it perceives it.

You know, for example, when the annexation of Crimea took place in 2014, and the war began (in Ukraine - ed.), The materials of Olga Musafirova, our own correspondent for Ukraine, were not edited at all. That is, it was an order from the management: "Musafirova cannot be edited, what she writes, we publish." Now, the same situation is with me. Nobody edits my texts. Everything that I write should come out exactly in this form. This, in my opinion, by the way, is the best manifestation of journalistic solidarity in this case.

Yes, and with the "intelligentsia," I do not know, I'm all right. I have a complete understanding with my Russian friends. They understand everything. They do not try to give us advice, they do not try to analyze, "but here they went wrong," "and here they did the wrong thing." I don't know, maybe I was just lucky.

- …With friends.

- Yes, the circle of my acquaintances and friends are wonderful people who understand everything perfectly.

- Last year, you participated in the parliamentary elections on behalf of the civil campaign "European Belarus." And I well remember that you literally walked into the yards with people and talked. There was such close contact with the people. You then felt this intensity and that citizen Lukashenka is already ("ad nauseam" - ed.)?

- Of course, first of all, I think that "European Belarus" then did the maximum that could be done for the sake of today. For the sake of all this flaring up today and people going to the streets. Indeed, we went on a door-to-door basis. Each of us, all those who were nominated, went to apartments in their area. I personally went around about one and a half thousand apartments myself this month. You can pick up my materials, and you will see that even then, I said: "Guys, 95% are against Lukashenka." And they said to me: "Why you can't be right." What turned out to be? 97%! Less than six months later, it turned out that it's already 97%.

I saw it back then. You see, I was frightened then by somewhat human fear. People said, yes, I am against it, but you know, I am very afraid because at our work they said that if someone signs up for a candidate, not from Belaya Rus or the authorities, then everyone will know about it. They would be fired or even imprisoned. People were intimidated by such primitive methods using their not the highest level of political consciousness. In the absence of elections, this is inevitable, when people understand that nothing depends on them, they cease to pay due attention to any political processes altogether. "Everything, nothing depends on me, then why should I know 20 years later how it works, what the signature means, what the voice means" - so it was quite easy to intimidate them. But, oh my God, how they hated Lukashenka even then. Therefore, for me, it is all logical now.

By the way, back in winter, when we talked with Natallia Radzina, we just said that the presidential elections are coming soon. I said: "You know, Natasha, I have a feeling that Lukashenka will not be swept away by the elections, but something external and incomprehensible that we do not even suspect." And now a couple of months pass, the coronavirus begins, and human hatred is on it ... You know, the floodgates open and people can no longer be contained. This boorish attitude towards people, a disdainful attitude towards human life, a complete absence of any kind of empathy, and these phrases addressed to the dead, "poor fellows who were unlucky" - it broke the seal, and everything rushed.

- Iryna, at the beginning of September, you wrote: "It was the most difficult summer in our life. It was the most beautiful summer of our life." Further: "The summer exam was passed perfectly, and we moved to the next level, now we have autumn ahead of us." What are the main challenges this fall?

- Routinization, which we talked about at the very beginning. The main thing is not to get used to it, you understand, not to integrate into this matrix: you have to work five days a week, rest on Saturday, and go to the action on Sunday. This is already a habit, when you forget why you are going, you forget that it should lead to something.

The challenge is the complete lack of brakes on the mindless regime. It must be understood that the methods by which they operate are by no means legal. That is, courage and hatred should be stronger than the previous fear. Stronger than this foresight, "maybe it's better not to, maybe it's better to slow down."

It turns out that the main challenge of autumn is ourselves. We must overcome in ourselves the possible inertia generated in one way or another, and retain the desire and strength to change all this. Not leaving the streets, not stopping the protests - I think this is the most important thing now. And, of course, to demand the release of political prisoners, perhaps to move on to some other protest methods, which let's not discuss now.

- When Lukashenka will be removed from power, what should be done first of all, besides the release of political prisoners?

- Form a coalition government, which will act strictly temporarily until the moment of free elections. As for free elections, most likely, parliamentary elections will have to be held first. Because it is parliament that calls the presidential elections. It is the parliament in a normal country that determines its path.

There is a crisis of legitimacy in Belarus: we have nothing legitimate at all; we have no legitimate authority. Therefore, a coalition government at the time of free elections.

- What is needed to win?

"We all need is to win. For victory, people who are fed up with living under a dictatorship are needed. To win, we need individuals who can no longer be intimidated. To win, we need people who, without their own political ambitions, are ready to go out, take responsibility, take risks, and win.

- Do you have a political plan for the already free Belarus?

- Of course, I have political plans in free Belarus. Of course, I can hardly exchange journalism for something, but, fortunately, this is such a wonderful profession, perhaps the best in the world, which does not interfere with doing anything else. Therefore, I think that in free Belarus, I will be able to realize not only my journalistic plans but also my political ones. Moreover, who should build a new country if not all of us?

- Iryna, I know that you have a brilliant memory, and you know a lot of poetry. What verse is in tune with the current situation, these revolutionary sentiments? Can you read anything?

- Yes, a little nursery rhyme by my favorite poetess Renata Mucha:

Geez, - thought Elk,

- I did not want to. But I had to.

- On this, we will finish. Thank you.

Watch the program also on Vimeo.