Vyacheslav Sivchyk: “Belarusians are treated as people who don’t have any influence in their own country”
Commenting on the recent terrorist attack in Minsk, Vyacheslav Sivchyk, one of the founders of the Belarusian Popular Front and now the leader of the Razom (Together) solidarity movement, said: “Only the government can do something like that in Belarus. No one else could arrange a bomb explosion. It may have had something to do with Putin’s visit to Kyiv order to scare Yanukovych. It makes no sense for the opposition to do it. Those who participated in the December protests are still on trial. [Aleksandr] Lukashenko may use the attack to introduce a state of emergency.” Sivchyk breaks off for a phone call to make sure that no relatives were present at the October station at the time of the explosion. We are talking about the realities of a contemporary Belarus.
There is a widespread myth in Ukraine that people in Belarus have a good life. Let me tell you how they really live.We rank second in Europe, after Russia, in the number of convicts, and we have Europe's largest police force. Last year, nearly 30,000 Belarusians were convicted, but less than 1,000 cases were reviewed. The number of reviews in any European country is 10-20 times higher. Once a person finds himself under the bulldozer, there is nothing he can do. Most of those convicted are simple people – the government wants to scare them. They have to be forced to participate in the elections, even though everybody knows that there are no elections as such. The government doesn't want them to protest against Lukashenko. What do these figures mean? If we did not have a dictatorship, we would not find the population of an entire city being put behind bars every year.
Thinking lawyers are barred from legal practice. The system of independent attorneys was destroyed in 1999. Since then, all attorneys have had to work for the state. Just like in Soviet times, there can be no attorney on the district level who does not serve Lukashenko. Of course there are normal lawyers, but they are under pressure. For example, after December 19 (when the peaceful demonstration following the presidential election was dispersed. — Ed.) five attorneys were disbarred for protesting the fact that they had not been allowed access for several months to their defendants who were being held in the KGB's pretrial detention units.
Lukashenko's dictatorship is full of lies and it is evil and brazen. In the past decade, several thousand people were framed by law enforcement agencies and convicted in administrative cases.Opposition activists are put in prison not for their political activity, but for things like "swearing in public." I was arrested three times myself. And it all took place in the presence of eyewitnesses. Then the police came; the eyewitnesses testified that I had disturbed the peace; and based on this false testimony I was put in prison for 10 days or had to pay a fine. My first case of this type was in 2007. Vintsyuk Vyachorka (the leader of the BNF. – Ed.) was arrested at the same time, and despite the fact that we were in different places, one and the same policemen testified against us. Back then I "relieved myself in the city center." Many civic activists and opposition members have gone through these kinds of trials. For a long time now Lukashenko has been humiliating the police.
We don't recognize Lukashenko as president. This is true of the entire opposition, not just me. The Belarusian opposition is unanimous about the problem of political prisoners and Lukashenko's illegitimacy. Under the statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, I would be able to defend myself if I were a nobleman, but under Belarusian laws, I have no rights. The prosecution demanded 20 years in prison for one of my acquaintances. He ended up with five years and two months. First they charged him with "terrorism," but the state security guys got mixed up – they accused him of bringing in grenade launchers which in the Soviet army were used only for defensive purposes. General Frolov was summoned and he told them that this kind of "terrorism" was impossible from a technical standpoint.
Everyone who comes to Belarus praises its cleanness. They say Pyongyang is cleaner. I live in downtown Minsk and see what it takes to have this kind of cleanness. A large number of people sweep the streets every night. They are paid peanuts and have no other jobs. I'm talking about Minsk. In small towns, companies in the housing and communal services sector are easily their last refuge.
Lukashenko himself boasts of bowing down to no one. It was under his rule that Russia gradually “swallowed” Belarus. Starting from July 1, Belarusians will not be able to import any cars except those made in Russia. More specifically, they will be able to import other cars, but only after paying an exorbitant duty higher than the cost of the car itself. Belarus is an insignificant producer but at the same time one of the biggest exporters of arms. In other words, it resells Russian arms, primarily to regimes Russia is afraid to deal with. Of course, these schemes are backed by high-ranking Russian officials. Furthermore, Lukashenko’s economy is completely tied to Russia. All of our products are geared toward the Russian Federation, with the exception of the oil products we sell to the West (and even here the oil still comes from Russia).
Moscowsupported Lukashenko in the most recent election. Although we don't know what the Putin-Medvedev-Lukashenko agreement includes, one gets the impression that it is about a number of Belarusian companies. First of all, these include MAZ (Putin spoke about KrAZ-MAZ on his last visit), Belaruskali, and the oil and chemical plants in Novopolotsk. More significant concessions are also possible. Belarus is now an ordinary khanate and Belarusians are treated as people who don’t have any influence in their own country. In elections to the National Assembly all candidates win in the first round with the same number of votes regardless of the region. In local elections as few as seven opposition representatives made it to the local councils. Now, think about how many village councils a country has.
Lukashenko still has the guts to ask: Why are my children on the no-entry list in Europe?His son Viktor is in charge of all law-enforcement agencies, while his son Dmitry holds offices in a number of government agencies. They are also responsible for the outrage taking place in Belarus. Lukashenko’s idiocy has assumed such incredible proportions that he is nicknamed “Kolya’s Father.” Kolya, Lukashenko’s youngest son, has already met many presidents and at one point even gave a Russian ABC book to the Pope.
Ukrainehas a different policy on Belarusian issues than the civilized world. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov decided not to sign the Visegrad group statement that denounced the December repressions and for some reason President Yanukovych believes Lukashenko was indeed voted in by a majority. In his interview to the Polish mass media before his visit to Warsaw, he at least acknowledged that Lukashenko had gone too far, but why did he decide to voice a version of events not recognized by Europe? Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said – relying on independent studies – that Lukashenko got 30–40% of the vote. What Yanukovych said completely fits in with the Russian approach. It would be very important for us if Ukraine held the same position as the civilized world, rather than Russia, Libya or Venezuela.
1962 – born in Minsk.
1984– earned his diploma from the Geography Faculty at the Belorusian State University.
1984–1997– worked as a geologist in Georgia and Belarus.
1991– member of the council of the Belarusian Popular Front.
1998–1999– head of the Parliamentarianism Advocates Association.
1998–present – editor-in-chief of the Kirmash bulletin.
Sivchyk is one of the initiators of the Youth Front and For the Revival of Motherland women’s movement. He was one of the organizers of the Chornobyl Way and Freedom Day campaigns.
2009– head of the Razom (Together) civil movement.
For Ukrainians incarcerated in the occupied territories and in the Russian Federation itself, things could get much worse in 2018. Only serious international pressure is likely to make Moscow release these political prisoners