When interviewing Lukashenka’s unexpected opponent Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belsat.eu asked her about social mobilisation, political responsibility and the maidan-like protests which, according to the incumbent president, are brewing at the instigation of the opposition.
Belsat.eu: Great responsibility is now resting with you, because many people are attending pre-election rallies. Did you expect such turnout?
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya: I expected that there would be a lot of participants. I realise that the country is craving for changes. Not only Syarhei Tsikhanouski’s, but Viktar Babaryka’s and Valery Tsapkala’s supporters show up at these rallies. Now the people are very united. They want change and take to the streets to show it.
Do the attenders know for sure what they want, or do they just want Alyaksandr Lukashenka to step down?
What does ‘for sure’ mean? They do not want to be grabbed in the street when they stand in line [to sign for someone’s presidency nomination – Belsat]. They definitely do not want to be arrested for 15 days or fined if they criticise the authorities. They definitely do not want to be silenced at work and be treated like slaves. Authority figures’ rudeness is at every turn, they despise [ordinary] people.
People want to be ‘the nation’, not ‘a collection of small men’, as our officials put it.
But Belarusians had been bearing such things for so many years without protesting…
There were attempts to protest in 2010 and even earlier, in 1996. Those were peaceful rallies, they were put down. This year, the situation has changed. First, there has been much information which is spreading fast. Anything like that was not happening in the year of 2010 or before. In 2010, protests were brutally suppressed. Now we should not consider Ploshcha [staging protests – Belsat]. We have civilised methods of solving problems. We want to act within the law.
Nobody wants bloodshed to come, nobody wants people to suffer. Tanks and troops have been shown to us lately, but nobody needs them to be involved. I do not want people to be hurt. To avoid it, it is enough to hold fair elections. Do we really ask for too much?
At the moment, holding a fair election could mean Lukashenka’s loss of power.
And what will happen if he loses power? He has been ruling for 26 years. President is an employee.
When the latest parliamentary election was taking place, the authorities were also sowing fear and saying there would be a revolution, a ‘maidan’. I have the impression that then Belarusians interpreted the word ‘maidan’ as mass protests. Now ‘maidan’ is more often understood as something that the authorities can do to people, like crackdown on protests. Is that really so?
Who is talking about ‘maidan’? We hear it only in news and stories aired on state-run TV stations. Nobody wants any ‘maidan’. It is him [Lukashenka] who frightens senior citizens (they often watch TV) that we [his opponents] are ‘maidan-driven’. None of us has ever said the word ‘maidan’ [in public speeches].
We see that people are joining us to support unregistered candidates. During pre-election rallies, the participants were just standing, they did not do anything wrong, and the riot police’s brutally treating them was a crime. People realise that Ploshcha [taking to the main square and protesting] is tantamount to death. The president might bring tanks against our people, but nobody needs that.
After all, there are other legal ways to fight. We may start striking to defend our right to choose an vote. It is provided in the Constitution which unfortunately does not work. No one wants to lay themselves open to bullets. And the authorities, I believe, might plainly give such order [to fire].
What can the European Union do for Belarus in this situation?
When I talk to someone from European countries, I always ask then to assert influence over Lukashenka by some means or other, if they have any opportunity to do that. We want him not to order to shoot at people even if they suddenly start protesting against election fraud.
I understand that the European Union does not really want to intervene now. For us, any help is essential, even someone’s unindifference and concern.
Can the United States bear any influence?
I think they are acting like the European Union.
Think of him [Lukashenka] waking up and realising that the people love him anymore. It is no longer possible to live like we used to in this country. People do not want him as President anymore.
Does Poland play any role for Belarusians, and for you personally?
Of course, we use Poland as an example. When our countries started their development [in the early 1990s, after the disintegration of the USSR], tey were almost in the same street. The living standards were even a bit better in Belarus at that moment. And now look at the Poles, they are happy people who have made great progress. Many Belarusians go to Poland to earn money, to purchase building materials and food products. That is, Poles’ incomes are higher; they have cheaper goods. Our personal incomes are lower, and everything is more expensive. Therefore, we [Belarusians] do not seem to be on the right path of development.
Will it be easy to change the vector of the country’s development and turn from East to West?
You know, it will not be easy, it will take years. But if a decent leader comes who understands how the economy and business work, with a clear plan for the country’s development, this goal will be achievable. I am absolutely sure that as soon as we have a president focused on mutually beneficial relations with neighbouring countries, our neighbours will be flexible. They might make some concessions to give impetus to the development of our country.
Poland has been helping our country, for example, in the humanitarian field. I think they will not leave us to our fate if everything collapses. We know that we have an external debt and it needs to be repaid. No one from the European Union will be mean to us.
But now Belarus is very closely linked to Russia, there is the Union State. Should the issue be solved somehow?
We do not need to quarrel with anyone. Is it really impossible to be friends with all countries in the 21st century? Why should one choose between East or West? What for?
Ukraine had been ready to be friends with everyone for many years, it pursued a multi-vector policy, but they faced a very nasty turn. Russia is a strong country that aims at forming very strong ties. Either way, a time may come when you will have to make a choice.
I think it will be up to a new president elected by the nation. It is no point in my answering such questions, because my tasks are to win the upcoming election and get a new voting arranged.
But you can win the next election again and become President!
I am not going to run. I do not like the word ‘power’, I am not a person who seeks power. The mission I am now performing is enough.
If a new president decides that I am eligible to become the country’s head teacher, I could agree to that. But joking aside, being president is a significant challenge, it is more than significant. Only a person who understands how it all works, who got a proper education, is able to cope with it.
I am facing my own difficulties. I have to make speeches, talk to people, it is immense responsibility. I have my psychological barriers. I had never spoken to large audience before. I had been an average mom and wife.
I am slowly getting over. If it has to be done, it has to be done.
Piotr Pogorzelski/MS, belsat.eu