The jig is over.
Coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign Zmitser Bandarenka said so in an interview with Charter97.org, commenting on the situation in Belarus.
- We are approaching an important date in the Belarusian revolution - a year since the beginning of protests. In what state is the Lukashenka regime reaching this point, and in what state - the Belarusian people?
- I'd say à la guerre comme à la guerre. The sides are exchanging blows. Thank God we do not have a civil war in the country. As a rule, in non-violent resistance, only one of the parties assumes the responsibility not to use violence. In our case - it is the rebelled Belarusians, the authorities do not limit themselves in any way.
I want to say that the non-violent method of resistance has been chosen correctly, because very often, the violence on the part of the protesters provokes other states to intervene in the civil war, there may be a loss of territory, and the conflict becomes a long-term and very often frozen one. In our situation, we have an absolute majority on the side of the people of Belarus opposing the dictatorship. These figures - 97% - they are probably right.
I knew that a revolution in Belarus would happen; to some extent, I was even involved in its preparation, but I could not assume that the Belarusians would protest so massively and for so long. We did not win a year ago because of, perhaps, subjective factors. Look at how courageously and consistently people like Pavel Seviarynets, Mikalai Statkevich, Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk, Yauhen Afnahel, Maksim Viniarski and others behaved in the courts. On the other hand, Pratasevich had been in charge of the protests at Tsikhanouskaya's headquarters. Look at the intellectual and moral level of this man. This is the problem that such "prataseviches," as sad as it may sound for hundreds of thousands and millions of Belarusians, were in charge of the protests. Such "prataseviches" stole our victory a year ago.
Now, it is absolutely clear that Lukashenka's regime is losing on all fronts: on the domestic, as well as on the international, economic, and moral one. On absolutely all fronts. We have to be patient, we have to clench our teeth, we have to build horizontal ties and finish the job we started. First and foremost we must ensure the release of our comrades who are in prison, and this is far from the 550 people who are officially recognized as political prisoners, in fact there are about three thousands of them. We must get them released and then move on.
- What is the reason for the authorities' attacks on human rights organizations and non-governmental media we have been observing lately?
- It is the hysteria of the authorities. The regime cannot destroy the access of the Belarusians to the free word. In Soviet times, the main source of information was underground press and Western radio stations, which were jammed. It was really hard to listen to them, but people were still listening. Now the authorities are trying to act in a situation when Belarusians have access to free word through Telegram-channels, through websites, through foreign publications which cannot be blocked - Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Russian democratic media covering events in Belarus.
When there is no monopoly on information, the regime's actions make no sense. They are just trying to take it out on those who are closer. Today, the resistance has become massive. The people, as the experience of the Belarusian partisan yards shows, have self-organized. Despite all the repression, the authorities cannot manage to stop this resistance, which is en masse. Every day hundreds of activities take place all over the country: hanging flags, distributing national symbols, underground newspapers and leaflets, holding small marches, sabotage operations, and so on.
Lukashenka and his accomplices do not understand a simple thing: through these kinds of oppression, they only increase the blows to their regime. For example, the arrest of Ales Bialiatski and "Viasna" human rights defenders raises the entire human rights movement worldwide, and the sanctions will be strengthened. Searches in the REP independent trade union lead to coordinated actions on the part of international trade unions; the fight against writers and journalists helps to promote the Belarusian theme in the world media. The fight against think tanks, organizations, entrepreneurs, will result in increased economic sanctions.
Therefore, Lukashenka got into an endless circle: the more he is running amuck, the stronger the external blows on his economy are going to be.
- One of the authors of the latest attacks on civil society is the head of the Lukashenka Foreign Ministry, Makei. How would you comment on the paradox that a lot of people who have fallen under repression today believed that Makei was "the main liberal in the Lukashenka government»?
- Makei was and still is an officer of the Soviet and Lukashenka security services. When in 2010 most of the presidential candidates and the heads of their headquarters were imprisoned in the Amerikanka prison, torture and abuse were used against us, and the current head of the Lukashenka Foreign Ministry was personally in charge of it. KGB colonel Shunevich, the future head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, was then involved in the interrogations, saying that he represented Lukashenka's administration. At that time it was Makei who was the head of the administration.
For those who went through Amerikanka and were released, it was surprising to see this bacchanalia around Makei: Makei put on an embroidered shirt, Makei did this, Makei did that...
I remember when I was released, one of the chief editors of an independent newspaper came up to me at one of the receptions and said: Zmitser, you are wrong in saying that the security services are interested in journalists. The authorities have absolutely no interest in journalists.
Now many of the fans of Makei have an opportunity to assess the situation realistically, not the way they imagined it.
However, every cloud has a silver lining. In Poland, for example, dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of people have gone through the repression. It was they who became the cadre training unit for the new Polish government at all levels. From presidents and prime ministers, who were repressed by the Jaruzelski regime, to city mayors and heads of newspapers, TV stations, magazines, and businesses. This is a completely different moral component of the state.
The thousands of Belarusians who are in the jails today and the tens of thousands who have gone through Akrestsina, Zhodzina, and other prisons are our "golden fund," people on whom we can rely tomorrow. The people who will be honored with the highest state awards for courage and bravery in the fight against tyranny. This is what will allow Belarusians to carry out fast and successful reforms, because we have a lot of patriots, a lot of people who have proved their commitment to freedom in word and deed, who have proved their love for Belarus.
- You are a consistent supporter of sanctions against the Belarusian regime. The last package of restrictive measures by the European Union was quite serious. Is it possible to observe any consequences for the economy today?
- Surely, the more records of Lukashenka supporters and his bound servants where they yell that "the sanctions must be stopped," the more you realize that they work. If they weren't working, there would be no such propaganda campaign.
Certainly, Lukashenka has hammered into the sanctions himself and will continue to do so. It should be understood that had it not been for the Ryanair landing, the sectoral sanctions would not have been imposed.
Some people say that these sanctions are deferred, but it is worth noting that this is not entirely true. I know that the European Commission is sending a message to many national states asking them to cancel in 30-60 days the contracts that were previously concluded with dictatorial Belarus.
We also see that the act of aggression against Lithuania (against the European Union and NATO, as represented by Lithuania) by inserting migrants will not go unanswered either. All the neighboring countries of Belarus - the Baltic states, Poland - will be lobbying for new destructive attacks on the Lukashenka regime.
- Russia is in no hurry to help Lukashenka either. Assistance is declared, but we do not see any practical steps. Does the Kremlin have no money to support the usurper or no desire to save him?
- Russia itself has fallen under serious international sanctions because of the Crimea and is suffering incredible losses. Moscow is not very eager to get new sanctions because of Lukashenka. Belarus is the only "road of life" to the West for Russia.
Besides, we hear a lot about "great Russia" and what a "great manager Putin is," but the truth is that while back in 2000 Russia's GDP was even bigger than China's, today Russia's economy is 1/10 of the Chinese one.
All overland transit from China to the EU goes through Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. Lukashenka was beneficial to China as long as he had relatively normal relations with the West. When he started a war with the European states, he threatened the entire land transit of China to Western Europe, and today China is the main trading partner of the EU. Not America, not Great Britain, but China.
By unleashing a war with the West, Lukashenka is simply invalidating the transit role of Russia and the role of Putin. When the usurper threatens to "stop transit from Germany to China and Russia," he simply does not understand that often the goods are delivered in the same containers, first in one direction and then in the other.
Lukashenka does not understand that he is declaring war to China, because German deliveries to China are usually paid for in advance.
Russia is in a very vulnerable position here, because it is China that is now demanding that it resolve the problem with the Belarusian regime. Lukashenka's number is up, it is absolutely clear. He does not suit anyone: neither the West, nor Russia, nor China. Moreover, there are plans to build the high-speed road "Beijing-Paris," which will run through Moscow and Minsk. The West will simply not do business with Lukashenka, which means that China's investment in the New Silk Road project worth many billions of dollars will be dead. The usurper has become an enemy not only of the Belarusian people, but also of China.
- The topic of strikes at the Belarusian enterprises as well as mass vacations for businessmen is gaining popularity. In your opinion, are these methods effective in the fight against the dictatorship?
- The strategy "sanctions - strikes - protests" is already being successfully implemented. We have already obtained the first ones to a large extent; Lukashenka is in the error zone; he will be more and more exposed to sanctions, to this barbed wire. However, external factors alone cannot resolve the situation in Belarus. The Belarusian people must say their final word. In order not to subject people to unnecessary repressions, strikes are very effective as a method of struggle against the regime.
Vacations for businessmen are a safe form of strike. Since owners of private businesses can go on vacation at any time, business consultants say today that it is better to go on vacation with the entire company. I mean, it's airtight - people have taken vacations. It's better for the business process, plus no one will be able to find fault with it. People have simply gone on vacation.
It is difficult for workers to go on vacation at will, but they can leave their workplaces and stay home, especially when they know they are not alone, when tens and hundreds of thousands of their colleagues are doing the same, both at their company and all over the country.
The Belarusians know that goods in Poland are of better quality and cheaper, and the authorities know it too, which is why they continue to do everything possible to prevent the Belarusians from travelling to this country. However, Poland has become like that because there was the Solidarity trade union, which used strikes as a method of struggle against the dictatorship. Poles go on strike a lot even today. That is why there has been dynamic economic growth here for years. Here I can only say one thing: if you want to live like in Poland, go on strike!
Well, let's see how resistant the Lukashenka regime will be to sanctions and strikes. I think he is far from being as tough as he would like to seem. Rather, he looks like old dried up clay, which only seems solid. Still, we know that a slight knock is enough to make it crumble.
- What would you wish for the Belarusians who are fighting for their freedom today?
- To believe in themselves, to believe in their strength, to be proud of their history, the history of partisans and resistance.
In 1991, I saw for myself how a large-scale strike started in Minsk. It was still the Soviet Union, the workers of the Minsk Automated Line Plant and the Electrical Plant named after Kazlou stopped working, took to the streets and moved towards the Minsk Tractor Plant, then went to the MAZ, and then along Partyzanski Avenue went to the square.
There were no such protests anywhere else in the Soviet Union. When people say to me, "No, Belarusian workers are not like that," my answer is that I remember April 1991. I also want to say that when I hear another whining that "nothing will happen", I also call to mind the times when people used to say "Belarus will never be independent", "it will never have its own currency", "it will never have an army", but today Belarus is an independent state.
The main thing here, as one of the Belarusian Popular Front leaders, Professor Yury Khadyka, was saying, is that we have our statehood, and we will get rid of the dictatorship.
We have our own state of ten million people, all we need is freedom. I think that the time of free, independent and European Belarus is already close.