Lukashenka Hoped to Be President of Russia
Seemingly all the opposition leaders of Belarus had arrived to Yerevan on March 16-18, 2015, when the EURONEST PA 4th ordinary session convened in Armenia. Anyway the Belarusian delegation that participated in meeting of the EURANEST “Working Group on Belarus” maintained some 7-8 members. For sure they were the most attractive and interesting guests of Parliamentary Assembly, at least because very little is known abroad about the political life and leaders of Belarus.
Still in contrary to Alexander Lukashenka who never ascended from rustic nature and custom, it appears there are other leaders in Belarus with almost aristocratic education, amiability, charm and experience - like Alexander Milinkevich. Mr. Milinkevich was the United Democratic forces’ candidate in 2006 Presidential election of Belarus. He’s a specialist of laser physics, with PhD degree in Physics and Mathematics. Mr. Milinkevich was born in Hrodna, which is considered the cultural capital of Belarus and the first historical reference about the city dates to 1128. In early 1990-es Mr. Milinkevich held the office of the Deputy Mayor of Hrodna and after the 2006 Presidential election founded and so far leads “The Movement for Freedom” Association.
EMPTY SEATS IN SESSION HALL
- Mr. Milinkevich, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview. Let me start with most apparent question. The EURONEST session has commenced in Armenian Parliament. A pretty large delegation from Belarus is in Parliament but not in session hall. Why?
- First of all we are glad to be in Armenia today and beyond suspect we would be happy to be in session hall. Still the 10 chairs of Belarus delegation at EURONEST PA stay empty because the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and generally any respectful international organization does not recognize the results of Parliamentary elections of Belarus. Therefore the seats of Belarusian MP-s stay empty in session hall.
- That’s interesting, because falsification of election results happens not only in Belarus…
- Perhaps, but in Europe there are rare countries were the ballots are casted in ballot-boxes but aren’t counted afterwards. We absolutely do not have elections because – yes, everyone may be registered as an MP candidate, everyone may propose his candidacy for joining the election committees, but in the end only the people dependent from the authorities like teachers, doctors, municipal officials etc. compose the election committee. Thus they come under total control of authorites and can’t resist the pressure. They are not supposed to count the votes but declare any results told to them. We, the opposition all call and ask the most elementary thing – please let’s just count the ballots together, still we are refused.
- That’s absolutely extraordinary situation. But if the ballots aren’t counted, then how the results are declared?
- I’ll tell how it happens. After the voting is over, the election committee divides all the ballots into several piles - each pile given to one committee member. In full silence each member counts his/her pile then writes something on ordinary piece of paper and passes it to the Head of election committee. No independent candidate proxy or observer is allowed to see how the ballots are counted and the check its accuracy or even approach the committee table more than several meters. In full silence picking all the paper pieces from committee members the Head of election committee leaves to another room makes some phone calls then returns back and declares the results. That is all.
- It’s really an unseen and unheard disorder. Now I understand why the chairs of Belarusian delegations are left empty. That would be more than difficult to recognize the legitimacy of MP-s elected in that way.
HOW LUKASHENKA BECAME A PRESIDENT
- Mr. Milinkevich I suppose all these vicious practices were shaped during the Lukashenka’s rule. I remember the Chairman of your Parliament Shushkevich who signed the agreements in Belavezhskaya Pushcha, Belarus, putting an end to USSR and for that he deserves to be remembered and blessed forever...
- I’ll pass your words to him; he’ll be pleased to hear it...
- Please, I’ll be happy as well. Still after Shushkevich I don’t know much who were your leaders and for the last several years I heard a lot about Lukashenka, particularly that he doesn’t agree to abandon the post of President. OK, he doesn’t wish to leave the throne but how he actually attained that throne?
- I’ll tell you. It’s hard to believe but he gained the position of the President fairly, in a rather fair fight. Actually he became noticeable still in Parliament. Perhaps he was the most active MP, who talked endlessly – sometimes he told clever things, sometimes stupid things, but he kept talking and being on forestage. So closer to the Presidential elections in 1994 he was pretty known among the masses, many younger politicians around him thought he’s a fighter by nature, so he may win the election and rallied around him. These persons, many of whom then were MP-s, calculated that after the elections they would rule him.
So Lukashenka won his first Presidency in a rather fair fight, with the support of a large team, but afterwards he took another turn and many people around him were suppressed or abandoned him, and actually he became a sole ruler.
- A real fairy-tail – a peasant that arranged to turn into king. We’ve still to see what will be at the end! However once I read an article in Western press suggesting that 20 years ago a Union State was formed between the Russia and Belarus, because Boris Yeltsin – then the Russian President had health problems and Lukashenka formed the union to be able to run for the post of Russian President after Yeltsin. Is the suggestion an absurd or it is somehow linked to reality?
- No, the suggestion corresponds to reality. It‘s true that Lukashenka had that ambition to become the President of Russia. The people close to Lukashenka told later, that after winning the Presidential elections of Belarus, in an inner circle of friends he stated that, “This victory is just the first step”. So he was reflecting about the Russian presidential office from the very beginning of his presidential term in Belarus. It’s true.
- And the second thing that I remember from that article was the guess that the mutual hatred between the Lukashenka and Putin emerges when Putin appeared from nowhere and obstructed Lukashenka’s hopes for entering the Kremlin.
- It’s also partly true. If elections for the united Presidential office of Russia and Belarus were held, it’s difficult to predict what would be the result. With the same populism that Lukashenka displayed in Belarus and received the voices he could win the elections in Russian as well. The population both in Russia and Belarus had and still has nostalgia towards the USSR, the communist times, and Lukashenka tells to people “Look! I’ve preserved the Soviet factories, products, kolkhoz, sovkhoz, etc – so give me your votes and you’ll be as close to communist times as possible. Also you see I’m a modest and honest ruler, I’ not corrupted, not anyway tied to criminals, I don’t tolerate any oligarchs in my country, so I’m the one that you need”. So his offers match with people’s expectations, therefore his populism could equally win in Russia, as it won in Belarus.
RUSSIA MAY INVADE BELARUS
- As much as I see that populism still works in Belarus. So, Mr. Milinkevich, will Lukashenka have rivals in upcoming Presidential elections?
- You know we call it even not the elections of President, but the “elections of Lukashenka” which is actually a self-appointment of Lukashenka. It’s known beforehand that he will win. Indeed, some people tell that OK, if everything is known and set beforehand, then what’s the sense of being proposed as Presidential candidate. Other people do not agree with this view, because the boycott may only deepen the disappointment and apathy in the society. Still when there are oppositional candidates, they at least campaign, meet the people, talk to them arise problems, suggest solutions and do not allow the society to fall in full depression.
- Several years ago I saw a documentary on Aljazeera telling about your last Presidential elections, should be the elections of 2010. I was shocked with the brutality of Lukashenka regime. The authority was beating the protestors, kidnapping and jailing the presidential rivals, their wives and relatives were prosecuted but still protesting in streets and all that nightmare was lasting for days and even weeks - a total horror.
- In the picture the colors may be darkened a bit to impress the audience more, but it’s largely true. Yes, the authorities display huge repression, there are lot of shortcomings with the freedom of speech and assembly and during the elections these restrictions become tenser, but anyway in daily life these are not oppressions like in North Korea or Cuba.
Of course, we may rightfully call Lukashenka a dictator, tyrant and everything, but at the end of day he enjoys some steady electorate in Belarus. Why? Not only because he skillfully manipulates with nostalgia of elderly people towards the USSR, moreover that now a new generation has grown who doesn’t know or care much about the USSR. Now Lukashenka displays another and more powerful card.
The people saw what happened in Ukraine and Lukashenka promises that he won’t allow any war. “I promise you peace” - this is Lukashenka’s wining card and code for the moment. And it works perfectly because everyone has the fear, including the opposition leaders, including me, that if we win and Belarus firmly claims to stand on European path, Putin will invade the country as he did in the south-east of Ukraine. The war is the last thing that anyone could wish in Belarus as during the WWII every third Belarusian had perished and that pain, fear and the horror of war are much alive in the souls and memories of the people.
- Oh, that hateful Russia! I wish all of us to see the collapse of that evil state as the world witnessed the end of Soviet Union. Thanks to God now the Western sanctions are paving that way.
- I’m also very much in favor of sanctions put on Russia. And in all our meetings with EU politicians I repeat that sanctions should be kept, because more disastrous will become the situation in Russian economy, more the neighboring countries will distract from it. Less Russia means more Europe. And that’s exactly what is needed; just to switch on the minds of the people from the sinking Russia to more promising, prosperous and progressing Europe.
- Before turning to the last issue of our interview, I wish to ask about the freedom of speech in Belarus. Because of this notorious EEU for a while I used to visit the official website of Lukashenka and BELTA information agency. Hardly there was any difference.
- Yes, Belta is like the ITAR-TASS. I won’t say there is freedom of speech in Belarus but fortunately there is access to free speech. There’s on-line media in the country that successfully exercises the freedom of speech, criticizes, resists, etc. Also the foreign media is accessible through the internet. So despite the authoritarian control other the broadcasting and print media, the internet in Belarus extends platforms of free speech and news telling. If anyone seeks he’ll find the free information. Yet if you not seek purposely then with greatest probability you’ll just come across the state propaganda.
ARMENIA WAS SUCCESSFUL BECAUSE YOU’VE KEPT THE NATIONAL IDENTITY
- Thank you, Mr. Milinkevich, very much for the attractive and much interesting interview. And the last topic I wish to ask about - after the Euromaidan events and the changes in Ukraine what surprised and astonished me the most, was the phenomena of “Leninapad”. I all fail to apprehend how it happens that after some 25 years since the end of Soviet Union still the Lenin statues stand in Ukraine or Belarus. In Armenia all the Soviet rudiments were removed decades ago, perhaps even before the 1991.
- I’ll try to explain. I think that after the collapse of the Soviet Union exactly those republics were successful in overcoming their communist past and the ties with USSR who had preserved the strong national identity. It occurred in the case of Baltic states, in the case of Armenia. Look, in Soviet times you were studying the Armenian language and history, yes?
- Yes, of course. Still you weren’t?
- Unfortunately, not. Even before the Bolsheviks, during the Tsarist regime since 1843 the Russia launched its russification policy in Belarus. Since that time the Belarusian language was forbidden in schools and the sovereignty of Belarusian church was demolished. For almost two hundred years the Belarusians never had the chance to study their own history in schools. So the history, the religion, the language were successfully forgotten and the large masses were turned into Soviet citizens without Belarusian national self-identification.
- My God, that’s awful. I never knew about that. I all wonder has ever been any other nation in Europe who caused that much harm and evil to the others? Sorry, and what statehood did you have before the Russian era?
- Our history doesn’t date to 3-4 thousand years as in case of Armenia; we have the history of just one thousand years. But for the eight centuries from these one thousand years, since the 12th century we were part of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Once, at the pick of its blossom in the 15th century it was the largest state of Europe expanding from Baltic Sea to Black seashores. Then the Duchy of Lithuania was transformed into Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and we were still the part of that state until its partition and end in the beginning of 19th century. Also this should be pointed, that according to philologists and linguists the Belarusian language is much closer to the Polish and Slovakian languages, and to Western Slavonic family of languages.
- That’s fine. It means you have roots in European history and civilization, so you have where to return.
- Yes, fortunately yes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union we experienced with installing the Belarusian language and education in the schools and universities, and there was great interest and response from the people – they were interested and motivated to learn more about their national identity, history, etc. At that time I myself was the Deputy Mayor of Hrodna city, which is traditionally considered the cultural capital of Belarus. It’s located in far north – close to border with Poland and Lithuania. While in office I myself was meeting the people, persuading to send their children to Belarusian classes, most of them were doing so. We started to lecture the students in universities in Belarusian language. But then Lukashenka came to power and all that moves were oppressed and ceased.
- Of course acquiring the sense of national identity through the language, religion, history is much important than the character of any regime or authority. So I wish you from the bottom of my heart to get the knowledge of your roots and past and return to your European family, where you were for centuries.
- I wish Armenia the same, moreover that you’re tied with Europe since the times of Greek and Roman Empires.