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21 January, 2011  ▪  Zhanna Bezpiatchuk

1937-style Repressions Back In Belarus?

Academician Alexander Vaitovich speaks about mass repressions in Belarus and the change of the president’s course

Representatives of the older generation of Belarusian politicians and scholars are not silent today. Stanislav Shushkevich, a one-time leader of the Republic of Belarus who signed the Belavezha Accords in 1991, called President Alexander Lukashenko’s actions state terrorism. Academician Alexander Vaitovich, ex-president of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (1997–2001) and ex-head of the upper chamber of the National Assembly of Belarus (2000–2003), has also sharply criticized the persecutions and repressions. The Ukrainian Week has had an opportunity to talk with about the situation in Belarus.

U.W.: What do you think about the 19 December events and everything that has been going on in Belarus in the past month?

“In my opinion, the government got a lot fewer votes in the most recent election than in the previous ones. This became the moving force behind its actions, because it wants to stay in power and keep its influence in Belarus by fueling fear and through repressions.”

U.W.: The political opposition and NGOs in Belarus have always been open about being supported by Poland, Sweden, Germany, and other Western countries. Why is this suddenly being used as a reason for bringing accusations against them? This is also the thrust of the incriminating materials published by the newspaper Soviet Belarus.

“The situation is somewhat more complicated. Mr. Lukashenko and his agencies earlier claimed that NGO ‘Speak the Truth’ was financed by Russian sources. The same lampoons currently published by Soviet Belarus say that all the resources came from the West. And in general, there is so much nonsense there. It is fairly strange to see Mr. Lukashenko make a roundabout turn, i.e., he earlier said that the money came from Russia and now he says it was provided by the West. In my opinion, these are just the games he’s playing. He grasped that Western countries have taken a principled stand and will not yield unless all who were imprisoned on 19 December and later are released. Hence, he made the conclusion that he needed to play up to Russia and show it that the West was the main organizer of what happened in Belarus. This is how I read his tactics.”

U.W.: Three years ago you said that the way of market reforms and integration in the global economy was inevitable for Belarus. What economic resources enable Mr. Lukashenko’s regime to refuse to engage in dialogue with the West?

“The most important thing for Mr. Lukashenko is to keep his power. For its sake he is willing for anything. This is the first and main reason that determines all his actions. Everything else is secondary. All other issues are solved depending on this factor. Of course, Belarus needs to start fitting in with the world economy and the global distribution of labor. We will come to that point anyway.”

U.W.: The European Parliament, PACE, and later the European Council are scheduled to consider the Belarusian issue. What sanctions, in your opinion, against top government officials in Belarusian would help to get political prisoners released?

“What happened in Belarus was arbitrary application of power and the government’s cruelty in its treatment of ordinary people. In my opinion, maximum sanctions against the government need to be applied provided that their introduction can be revised only after the release of all the arrested.”

U.W.: In 2006, the West already imposed sanctions against top Belarusian officials. Were they effective?

“Those sanctions were not effective; the situation was different back then. Belarus received its main subsidies from Russia. However, they are partly intact even now. Western politicians have made a lot of statements about sanctions. We’ll see what happens.”

U.W.: Why are there long lines of citizens in front of KGB and police offices in Belarus?

“The government has set a goal of instituting proceedings against everyone who came to the square. It is doing this in the following way: all the phone calls made from the square during the events on 19 December have been identified. The owners of these cell phones are now invited to come for ‘talks’ to KGB and police departments. The goal is to put pressure on everyone who was there. This means, in essence, mass repressions. Students are being expelled from universities. Some people have been maimed. For example, in one case a girl was invited of this kind of ‘talk.’ They broke her leg and wrote in her medical case that it was a home injury, even though she was beaten by policemen.

“Many journalists are detained, or [the police] come to their homes for unknown reasons. It is unclear why Anatol Lebedko, head of the United Civil Party who was at home during these events, was arrested. Why was Iryna Khalip arrested? She went along with her husband Andrei Sannikav, not wanting to let him go alone. Is she a political figure? Was she organizing anything? Iryna was an ordinary journalist who wrote about politics. The trial is still pending; their guilt has not been proven. However, some people came to the kindergarten attended by their three-year-old son and demanded that some measures be taken to put him under guardianship. This looks like the lawlessness of 1937 when the head of the family and his wife were thrown behind bars, while children were sent to orphanages.”

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