Belarus week

A Bubble of Freedom in Europe’s last dictatorship

Interview with Opposition Leader Milinkevich

, by Jens-Kristian Lütken

A Bubble of Freedom in Europe's last dictatorship

Around Minsk, the capital of Belarus, one will find graffiti with the words “We are tired of him” or “We want another one”. The graffiti is made by young people who want to put an end to Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule of Belarus that is now more than a decade long.

Alexander Milinkevich was the democratic opposition’s candidate for the presidential elections on March 19, 2006. My interview with Milinkevich took place in the worn down headquarters of the opposition - a small office in the centre of Minsk.

The forbidden white-red-white opposition flags, an EU-flag and dedicated opposition activists turn the office into a bubble of freedom in a country of tyranny and suppression.

No political background

“If Belarus were a normal democratic state, I would never go into politics. Politics is not the most interesting thing in life, but its what I have to do now: It’s my aim.”

Milinkevich’s background is that of a physics teacher. However, he was fired from the job at the University of Grodno due to his incorrect political views. Milinkevich does not represent any parties, but has been working with NGO’s and the media since the days of Perestroika at the end of the 1980s. Milinkevich explains what the upcoming elections are about:

Alexander Milinkevich

Probably Lukashenko is trying to remake the Soviet Union: command economy, no democracy and a clamp down on the opposition. It has no perspectives in today’s world. By building a country on fear, you will not succeed.

This country doesn’t have any political life. People don’t know what the parties are standing for. The voting is not about political programmes, the voting is about who would like to live in this country and who would like to live in a changed renewed country.

On the question of what to change first if Lukashenko were to leave office, Milinkevich is very clear:

We must restore the three branches of power. And naturally it is very important for the mass media to be independent. Finally it is important to break the isolation of the country - or the self isolation, because no one has isolated Belarus - we did it on our own.

No free elections

Milinkevich does not believe that the elections will be free and fair. In fact the violations have already started, since the opposition does not have access to media and activists have been harassed or threatened by the authorities.

No one is counting the voices in this country.

We are not going to have elections like in the rest of Europe. No one is counting the voices in this country.

In fact we are not taking part in the elections itself; we are making a campaign to reach people. We will urge the authorities to hold free and fair elections, but we do not believe they will do that. If they disagree we will make people come to the streets - with no stones and no guns! Of course people are afraid, but we hope to explain that we are the people. If we are many - no one will fear.

Belarus and Europe

Former President of the EU-Commission Romano Prodi once said that Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova would be a circle of friends, but not members of the EU.

I hope he was wrong. We know that the way to Europe is not short. We need to rebuild much inside the country. Turkey and Ukraine will join the EU sooner or later, but Belarus has to reform much more before we can be a member of the EU.

From your words it is obvious that Belarus wants to be a member of the EU, but why should the EU want Belarus as a member?

The EU would be stronger with more members, and Belarus could help the EU in creating a better economy. Belarussians are not lazy, they are hard working people.

Belarus and Russia

Despite the wish to join the EU from the opposition, the main discussion about “Union” has been the idea of the Belarusian-Russian union. Therefore many observers believe that Belarus might one day join Russia.

Belarus will stay an independent country, as mentioned in our constitution. The union project which has been promoted for a long time by Lukashenko is his personal aim. He wants to sit in the Kremlin, and we do not have a Kremlin in Minsk. Instead we, the opposition, aim to build our relations with Russia only from the economical side.

Where do you see Belarus in ten years ?

A rich country! A country where people move freely and express them selves. We will be a bridge between Russia and the European community.

The interview was made on the 3rd of November 2005, in Minsk.

It was first published in the spring edition of JEF-Europe’s magazine The New Federalist back in March 2006, just before the Presidential elections.

Photo: Alexander Milinkevich (cc) Jonathan Nielsen, Silba

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