They do not want to sink with their Führer
Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of the Charter97.org website, said this in an interview with the head of the NEXTA channel Stsiapan Putsila.
Natallia Radzina is the editor-in-chief of the oldest independent website of Belarus Charter’97. She has been working in journalism since 1997. After the 2010 presidential elections, she was detained by the KGB of Belarus, having spent about 2 months in a pre-trial detention center, where she was tortured. She was charged under the article "Organization of mass riots" - up to 15 years in prison. After changing the measure of restraint from arrest to recognizance not to leave, on the eve of the trial, she was forced to leave Belarus. She currently lives in Poland, where she continues to resist information. He believes that sanctions and pressure from the people from within are the most successful in resisting the dictatorship.
- Good afternoon, Natallia.
- Good afternoon.
- You are the chief editor of the largest and oldest independent website in Belarus. You have been in journalism for almost 25 years. What difficulties did you manage to face, how did you overcome them, and what did they teach you?
- To list all the difficulties over 25 years... We faced all the difficulties faced by journalists and people in general who live under a dictatorship. I started in 1997. This was already after the 1996 referendum when a dictatorship began in Belarus and Lukashenka usurped power. Accordingly, rapid strangulation of freedom of speech and the seizure of television began. Then independent newspapers began to close one by one. Then the pressure on the Internet began. Of course, during this time, I had to go through a lot. The most important tragedy is the murder of the founder of our website, Aleh Biabenin, arrests of journalists in Belarus, forced emigration, but, nevertheless, we continue to work. Since 1998, for 23 years, “Charter” has been writing the truth about what is happening in Belarus. And we are confident that soon we will be able to return to free Minsk and continue our work at home.
- What gave you the strength to continue working, despite all the circumstances?
- Ordinary human desire to live freely. I started in the 1990s, when the truth about how people lived in the Soviet Union and the truth about Stalin's repressions began to unfold. And then I realized, like many people of my age, people of the older generation, that in no case should these tragedies be allowed to repeat. Therefore, it somehow happened that I started to fight, continue to this day, and am sure that we have a chance to finally achieve the freedom of Belarus.
The year 2020 has shown that the potential of the people is enormous, that we really have a huge number of people who want to live in a free country. Today this is the overwhelming majority of the population of Belarus. Therefore, it seems to me that the path that the country has traveled over the years will ultimately lead to liberation.
- How many people are now reading the site, taking into account blocking, via VPN, on Telegram?
- Despite the blocking, the site is read by several million unique visitors per month. The audience is huge, we remain one of the most influential independent Internet resources. People want to know the truth about what's going on.
- What are people most interested in now? What topics cause more excitement, more popularity?
- Now this is the topic of a strike, of course. Because people finally saw a way out of this crisis, into which Lukashenka drove the country over the past year. And the general strike, which was announced by the Belarusian Union of Workers, today was supported by the overwhelming majority of opposition leaders, sports stars, representatives of the intelligentsia, actors, doctors, doctors, teachers, journalists. I see that this is the most popular topic. People see this as a way out and understand that, through a general strike, changes can be achieved within the country today.
- Belarus now, Belarus today, the general situation in the country is very difficult, including due to the coronavirus. They say that there has never been such a wave as it is now. Is it possible now to do something under these conditions? How to save society, save the country?
- I just see how the preparations for the strike are going and today's slogan of the general strike: "Stay at home!" And this slogan in the epidemiological situation can save lives. Because what is the strike? It is about people just staying at home and not going to work. And this call applies to everyone. Not only workers of Belarusian enterprises, but also entrepreneurs, business owners, owners of cafes, shops, restaurants. This applies to public sector employees, this applies to students. This does not apply only to doctors who are fighting for the lives of Belarusians today.
But if people stay at home, they will save their own lives, they will save the lives of their loved ones, and help doctors treat those people who, unfortunately, have become infected with covid today. Because, of course, the situation in the country is catastrophic.
Every day we read the news about the sick like reports from the fronts. In fact, look, over a million people are sick! The White Coats telegram channel published data that, according to their calculations, about 1 million 300 thousand people in the country may be sick with covid. Moreover, according to some estimates, about 200 people die daily from the coronavirus. Those are huge numbers. What the authorities are telling us - these numbers are understated 50-60 times.
Hospitals are overcrowded. People today are dying because of a lack of medicine, because of a lack of oxygen, because there is not enough equipment, because they are not properly examined. My whole family in Belarus fell ill. And the situation was disastrous. Because pensioners are not yet very eager to receive medical treatment in Belarus. For example, the hospital wanted to send my mother home, although she only underwent fluorography. When she was finally admitted to the hospital, the CT showed that she had almost 80% of the lung damage. And they wanted to send her home!
You see, in this situation, people die, and we simply have to save the lives of tens of thousands of people. Because tens of thousands have already died during previous waves of coronavirus. This wave is even stronger, and it seems to me that, in this situation, the call for a strike, the call to stay at home is extremely humane and solves several problems: both the problem of the covid and the problem of the dictatorship in general, which must be stopped.
- And how do the Belarusian Workers' Association and you personally see this strike? Will Lukashenka agree to negotiations, after how long?
- The call for negotiations, as I understand it, mainly refers to Lukashenka's entourage. Because Lukashenka is inadequate, this is completely understandable. Everything that he is doing in Belarus today, the purpose of all this is only to stay in power at any cost. I see that he has already lost his mind, that he is not able to realize the consequences of his actions. Therefore, there is hope for his entourage, who hopefully do not want to sink with their Führer.
They understand that its end is near, and so many points indicate this. Including, look, now Putin did not come to the EAEU and CIS summits, which were to be held in Minsk in October, the heads of the countries that are members of these organizations did not come. That is, Lukashenka is in complete international isolation, isolation not only from the West but also from the post-Soviet space.
The sanctions are starting to take effect, even though they have not yet entered into full force; nevertheless, they are already causing serious damage to the dictatorship. And now it is necessary to exert, among other things, pressure from within the country. And the strike could deal the kind of serious financial blow to the regime that could both save lives and change the situation in the country today.
- I remember how Lukashenka's entourage ran in 2020 when there were strikes at enterprises. He sent his assistants to each enterprise, trying to calm people down. What should have been learned from the mistakes of the strike and the 2020 protests in general, maybe from past years, to prevent them from happening in the future?
- Firstly, when I watch the footage of the protests in August-September-October 2020, I never stop admiring the Belarusians, because it’s really amazing. I still watch it with tears in my eyes. Our people are incredible, our people are wonderful.
Of course, there were problems and shortcomings. First of all, it is the indecision of the new leaders who tried to lead these protests. I keep repeating: revolutions are not done on weekends. That is, this strategy of going out to protests on Sundays was wrong. People shouldn't have left the streets - that's one thing. Protests were to be held daily. It was necessary to achieve specific goals, not just walk around the city, come to the stele. It was necessary to go to the Belarusian television and seek air for the opposition. In those conditions, with the number of people, this could have been achieved simply, all the more so when the employees of the propaganda channels themselves wavered and began to leave and resign en masse. It was necessary to go to the House of Government, it was necessary to demand negotiations with the government. I think that all these mistakes that have been committed will be taken into account in the future.
As for the strikes, there were practically no strikes. Although now we learn that 4 mines were on strike at Belaruskali. That is, this is practically the entire Belaruskali has stopped working, only we did not know about it. This again means that propaganda hides a lot, the independent press does not know everything, and information does not always reach us. Well, as for other enterprises, spontaneous rallies rather than strikes took place there. There was no proper information work, which is carried out now. It is explained to people what a strike is. The labor leaders explain it.
And then people (I talked with the workers of Hrodna Azot who went on strike) learned what a strike was from Wikipedia, do you understand? Therefore, people, of course, were lost, they did not know what to do. Then, again, they told me at Belaruskali, lawyers came from the so-called Coordination Council, who suddenly began to tell the workers that they needed to go on strike in accordance with the Labor Code.
Forget about the Labor Code! We have the 41st article of the Constitution, which allows a strike. We have the right to strike both under international law and our Constitution, and the Labor Code violates the Constitution.
Therefore, if someone proposes to workers to go on strike in accordance with these anti-constitutional codes, I would advise workers not to listen to these people.
- What is the dictator's greatest fear right now? Judging by his latest statements, it's pressure from within. What kind of pressure? Partisan struggle, the strike itself, or some kind of protest? What is he most afraid of right now?
- He’s afraid of everything. I see now that he is afraid of absolutely everything, he is in fear, therefore, he makes a huge number of mistakes. These are the self-shots that we see: the landing of the Ryanair plane, the migration crisis that was provoked, the hybrid war that he is waging against Poland and Lithuania today, the closure of Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, the continuing arrests of people, again, the covid situation... Listen to what he says! He is repeating what he was doing in the spring of 2020 when he was saying that there is no need to wear masks, no need to be vaccinated.
Lukashenko, I think, will meet his fate, like that of the president of Brazil, who is about to be tried today for death from covid. He will face a lot of charges in The Hague. So in this situation, it seems to me that Lukashenka is completely inadequate, afraid of absolutely everything. And the strike, the partisan actions are the things that can change the situation today. We have to continue them.
It is important to realize that Lukashenka is weak. He is weak, but what we see is such a tinsel, a fiction; in reality, he has no money, he is besieged by sanctions, his entourage is split, because today the GUBOPiK, for example, is sent to work in the KGB, representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are in charge of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Deputy Commander of Alpha comes to the Academy of Sciences. This, in general, is now causing confusion, vacillation, bewilderment among absolutely all officials. Everyone understands and sees that this man is completely out of his mind; where he will lead, not just the country, where will he lead them? And it seems to me that many officials are thinking today, their families are thinking that maybe it's time to end this.
- He will lead the country, probably, together with these thugs with blurred faces, whom we saw recently at a meeting.
- It shows, again, how afraid they are. It is they who are afraid, so we should not be afraid of them - we need to attack. And, in this case, a strike is the safest method that can force the authorities to make changes, free political prisoners, and, as a result, still sit down at the negotiating table.
- How many political prisoners are there now? Because I have heard different opinions that the data provided by human rights defenders is slightly less due to certain circumstances.
- I think there are at least 3 thousand people. Because I see how the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General's Office report on the number of criminal cases initiated under political articles, and this is at least 3 thousand people in reality, and maybe more. The standards of Amnesty International today no longer correspond to the conditions that have been established in Belarus, Russia, and other countries-dictatorships. Dictatorships have adapted to the conditions of Amnesty International: people are often accused, for example, of violence against law enforcement officials. This is an absolute lie. Human rights defenders are beginning to wait for the courts in order to assess what evidence of the charges is present there. However, in countries like Belarus, there are no courts. Now the processes are generally held behind closed doors.
Therefore, it is necessary to immediately and urgently review these conditions and declare as political prisoners absolutely everyone who was detained on political charges.
- Indeed. Here is a recent case where a man was accused of non-payment of alimony at the request of Interpol, also a politically motivated case.
- The accusations can be the most absurd, ranging from non-payment of alimony and ending with the distribution of drugs. But these are all false accusations. And if a person is convicted under a protest article, he, of course, must immediately be recognized as a political prisoner.
- Undoubtedly. And there are cases when they plant weapons, drugs, even force people to subscribe to these channels, so that they can somehow condemn a person. Although, in principle, no article is needed.
- Therefore, it is important to stop this chaos immediately.
- Maybe let's talk a little about the general situation in the country. Every day we receive a huge amount of information from enterprises, from ordinary people, from government officials. And the situation in every sphere is a stalemate, especially at enterprises, where there will be layoffs of literally everyone, no matter you are a "yabatska" or a normal person. What should people do in such a situation?
- Just stay at home. Because this is impossible today tolerate everything. Because there will be layoffs in any case, even without a strike. Don't be afraid of being fired. You just have to stay at home, especially since there are a lot of legal ways: go on the ballot, go on vacation - that is what the organizers of the strike are proposing to business today: go on vacation, for workers: stay at home. You have to stay at home for a month. The situation can really change in a month.
I am sure that, in two weeks, officials will come to the factories and try to negotiate with the workers. Because workers cannot be replaced, they are specialists. For example, they won't take me or you, Stsiapan, to Hrodna Azot, they won't take me to Belaruskali or MTZ, even with all our education. Workers are not easy to replace.
People just need to believe in themselves, believe that they can really change the situation in their country, that they are strong, that they can influence, that it is officials who will be persuading them to return to work. But we must hold out for a month, we must achieve the fulfillment of the conditions set forth by the Belarusian Workers' Association. And then we can really make a difference. You have to be firm, you don't need to be afraid, you have to believe in yourself and stay at home this month.
- By the way, really, about the specialists, Lukashenka even let slip recently that there will be literally a couple of people and that’s all - the enterprise stops. And given that there are not enough components, we recently told in a video that, due to sanctions, at enterprises, among other things, they will really be fired, one might say, regardless of whether someone joins or not. Therefore, it is up to everyone to decide what we all have to do now. Everyone in his own field must somehow put pressure on the regime. What should we do, what should the Belarusians inside do, how to resist, whether to boycott the regime's products or do some kind of partisan struggle? How do you see it?
- Now it is necessary, in my opinion, to disseminate information about the strike. I hope that each of the Belarusians who have watched our broadcast will call 10 of their friends, acquaintances, and relatives after the program and ask them to stay at home during the declared strike. The task is to inform people, convince people.
As for the food, the food must be purchased now for a month in order for your family to feel calm during this period of time, you need a certain set of food, medicine, and to stay at home.
You must not be afraid of anything, you must understand that you are performing a feat today because you are saving your country, you are saving people, you are saving yourself. We must remember the people who are in prisons today. They very much hope for a strike. They hope this will help release them from prison.
Recently in Warsaw, there was a rally of solidarity with Belarusian workers, and Hanna Kanavalava came out to speak. She is the mother of political prisoner Antanina Kanavalava, who was arrested with her husband after the 2020 elections. And now Hanna herself is raising her grandchildren, the parents of the children are in prison. She said: "I received a letter from my daughter, and my daughter says: we really hope for the workers, we really hope for the people in Belarus, that they are going on strike. Because it can save us, we can be released faster, we really want to be free." So let's stay at home. This is actually a very important step. This is what needs to be done today.
- Well, thanks for this interview.
- Thank you.