Andrei Sannikov: “Only democracy can defend independence of Belarus”

“Any moment dictator can make any decision in order to save his personal rule regime. From verbal ultimatums Moscow can move to concrete actions, as it happens recently, and then the Kremlin would simply drive Lukashenka into a corner,” believes the leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov.

– It is known that you are critical, and even severe upon the recent changed alleviation of European positions towards A. Lukashenka. What is the point of these views?

– I maintain not harsh, but European attitude. The European Union is not a purely mechanical union of states. It is a union at utterly clear, understandable and powerful principles. Primarily, it is democracy, respect for human rights, freedom of choice for people who are members of the EU. And when the EU offers this or that country a model of relations, these principles have primacy. It hardly could be said that the EU remains true to its own guiding landmarks, if the policy towards Belarus is changed in favour of the regime right after the election which wasn’t recognized by the EU.

If there are politicians in Europe who are ready to depart from their principles, then we are to defend these principles even more resolutely. Otherwise it won’t help either Belarus or the EU. The question here is rather simple. A dialogue? Yes, but inside the country. That’s what was offered last year, both to Lukashenka and other high officials. According to the information we have, these proposals were met rather favourably inside the official structures. It has started officials thinking seriously that this could be a way out from a deadlock for Belarus; both an economic and political one. That is why I have always been supporting initiatives aimed at inevitable holding a dialogue of healthy forces, both the regime and opposition ones, inside the country.

– And now that’s happening. But in a little bit different way…

– No, it’s not so. I do not oppose the dialogue and talks as such. It would be stupid; but the essence of the model proposed now does not mean a dialogue. The point of it is to move the opposition aside, to make it finally marginal and non-influential. To remove the democratic control over the actions of the regime. And to agree, or to be more exact, to make some bargains directly with the regime. Notably, these bargains would be hidden from the society. The matter primarily concerns privatizations, and it is to be considered first. We know how decisions are reached in our country. If such a line would be continued by Europe, we would come to what is called dictator’s privatization. Beneficial elements of the Belarusian state property would be given out behind the back and without control of the society. And which is more important, without participation of the independent national business and a possibility to challenge some decisions in courts, as we do not have an independent court system in our country now.

In other words, I do not believe in democratization led by the dictatorship regime. It’s simply impossible.

– And what do you offer?

– I offer a very simple thing – Europe should be steadfast to uphold its principles. It is noticeable that the model created by Lukashenka has come to its logical conclusion. And attempts to save it would primarily harm the Belarusian nation.

Transformations can take place with Lukashenka’s participation, with his official structures (or concrete persons), or without them. We have neared the changes. It has been highlighted not only by the global crisis. The position of Russia on energy resources prices has exposed all our problems even earlier. It happens like this always when one person is given complete control over the decisions concerning the whole nation. (Nobody knows whether he has got up on the wrong side of the bed today…) It is very dangerous to keep the whole country hostage.

It was the first serious signal. I would like to repeat that after increase in energy resources prices by Russia Lukashenka started to maneuver.

The global crisis was a signal number two. People are trying to deny it in Belarus stubbornly, but the effect is the opposite. The longer they deny the crisis, more serious its consequences for people could be. And it is simply absurdly to try to hide anything today, as the official structures have to response to the events somehow. Dismissals have started, salaries and pensions are cut. Absolutely idiotic attempts to be protected by various bans of import are taking place. And this is to affect our consumers very much, as such protectionism does not follow in making the consumer goods basket cheaper.

As long as today’s political model has become a spent force, we are to look for something new. I fear that Europe’s complacency would slow the process of search and significantly enhance the dictatorship. We can get a semblance of Latin American dictatorships, when the West recognizes the regime for some time, deals with it, and the dictatorship is simply reinforced inside the country: any opposition is wiped out (physically as well), dissenting mass media are closed, radio and TV broadcasting are totally controlled. We know that Lukashenka’s aim is to preserve his power by any means. If the opportunities opened by Europe now would ease problems of the ruling Belarusian regime, it will become even harsher and would be preserved for many years. I underline, not people’s problems, but the regime’s problems, as I am convinced that only complete democratisation would help to pass through the crisis, be transformed and make a really dramatic upturn in our development.

It should be reminded all the time to some “well-wishers” from Europe, who are telling stories that they are caring for the future of the Belarusian people.

– This may be a reason for accusing you for being excessively “hard-core”. So to say, one should be more flexible. What’s your attitude towards this question?

– I am trying to keep to principled positions. If somebody has a rubber spine, he can show any kind of flexibility he wants.

Even so, the course of history has been reversed in our country, thanks to both internal and external efforts. From the East, as well as from the West, where people make peace and do business with the regime which is the last dictatorship in Europe. To change this regime by “bending” under it is an absolutely wrong way for us all, to my mind.

– Unfortunately, over about 15 years we have got used to discussions turning into simply all talk and no action very soon. No concrete actions. Maybe it is what puzzles the West, so they prefer the dialogue about which Milinkevich says a lot for instance. What is your attitude to such actions by the way?

– Extremely negative. And I am speaking about that openly. And I say that to Milinkevich too. In general, I believe that he does not have a right for doing anything like this. As long as we all supported him during the presidential elections in 2006, he received a certain mandate from the democratic part of the society then. Today to pursue a line which isn’t supported by everybody, to put it mildly, is a great mistake. I categorically disagree with what he is doing.

– Milinkevich explains his actions by the fact that the most important thing, the independence of Belarus, is under threat. Do you think the same? Is there a threat to push our country towards the Kremlin?

– I view all these arguments as an attempt to justify one’s actions in some way, an awkward attempt to intimidate ourselves. Why? Because to support the Belarusian regime by indulgences in the European arena, to look for a financial aid for it is a very vulnerable approach. By reinforcing the dictatorship, we greatly undermine our independence.

At any moment the dictator can adopt any decision for saving his personal rule regime. From verbal ultimatums Moscow can move to concrete actions, as it happens recently, and then the Kremlin would simply drive Lukashenka into a corner. If the Kremlin would press harder, who would adopt decisions? Will it be the democratic community? No, Lukashenka. He is the head of the state now, and as said by him, he is responsible for everything happening in the country. And where will we be? Where are our mechanisms of control, opportunities of influence? Is it the street? Yes, but there would be resources to deal with it. The support of the West is needed for that, and not for reinforcement of independence: for pacification of opposition, which demands riot police re-equipment, increase in pay to numerous law-enforcing agencies, propaganda men, controllable mass media and so on.

To offer such argument is not simply naïve, but extremely dangerous. The dictatorship cannot defend independence. Only democracy is able for that. Only the real European choice can defend out independence, and not just games round about.

Pay attention to one thing. Why Moscow does not express discontent over improvement of relations of the regime with the West? Earlier after any such attempt the regime was immediately called down. And now there is silence. I would like to ask a question without answering it. Does the Kremlin stands to gain from it?