Interview by Pavel Latushka to "Radio Free Europe Premium" on April 13, 2022 Prague
The ceremony commemorating the victims of the Buchenwald concentration camp resulted in another criminal case being opened against you. Tell us how it happened and how symbolic it is that the white-red-white flag from Belarus was hanging in Buchenwald
There was an invitation to participate in the ceremony, including the reading of the text, one of the fragments of the Buchenwald Prisoners' Oath, and the laying of wreaths. Representatives of civil society from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were invited to the ceremony. The wreath, as it was written in the invitation, will have a national ribbon of white-red-white color, which the foundation itself proactively ordered.
Later, in preparation for the ceremony, it turned out that the flag on the flagpole was the state flag, and it was proposed to change it to a white-red-white flag, which happened. Because it is the flag of free Belarus, the flag of New Belarus, it is our historical symbol. I think it is a very important decision of the Fund and we, as democratic forces of Belarus, supported it. The subsequent reaction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus was predictable.
It is important to know that the flag of the BSSR was created in 1951 in Stalin’s time. The white-red-white flag is the flag of the Belarusian Democratic Republic. One of the creators of this flag, Claudius Duzh-Dushevsky, was a prisoner of a concentration camp during World War II for saving Jews. To say that this flag is connected to Nazism is an absolute lie. The reaction of the German ambassador surprised me.
I would like to ask about your reaction as a diplomat to the reaction of a German diplomat when he actually apologized to Alexander Lukashenko’s representatives.
I consider, not as a diplomat, but as a politician, the actions of the German ambassador to Belarus to be erroneous. In fact, it was an action organized by propaganda, organized by the Liberal Democratic Party of Gaidukevich. The persons who took part in this action were brought there, the propaganda channels. Channels that show the democratic forces of Belarus as criminal forces. When we are shown with gallows on our necks, with a noose around our necks. When it is said that Nazis are operating in Ukraine; that Russian troops are the troops-liberators.
And that’s when the German ambassador comes out and apologizes. Could he apologize for the 1,120 political prisoners who are sitting in jail? Maybe we have heard the German ambassador’s voice in defense of the 50,000 people arrested in Belarus? Maybe we have heard his voice of condemnation that missiles are flying from Belarus into Ukraine and killing Ukrainian civilians; that tanks are crossing the state border? Maybe we’ve heard his condemnation of the planes, the helicopters that have launched and killed Ukrainians?
I have never heard such a thing from the German ambassador, so it comes as a surprise to me. I hope that the German government will respond appropriately to this. Because there is an inconsistent policy here. We know that even before the war, the German government was considering sending a new German ambassador to present his credentials to Alexander Lukashenko. And I had meetings in Berlin in this regard. Germany is a leading country. A strong country, politically and economically. And it needs to finally take a clear, clear and unambiguous position.
Is it possible for Belarusian democratic forces to represent Belarus more broadly, for example, by participating in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine?
I think we must make a fundamental decision for ourselves in what status we will represent Belarus in these negotiations. Yes, of course, today we understand that Lukashenko is not the legitimate president of Belarus, he has usurped power. He has used for this purpose the force of suppression of all protests, human rights and freedoms. And he holds this power by force. He does not represent the interests of Belarus, he is a puppet, used by the Kremlin in its own interests. The fact that he supports the war in Ukraine violates the Constitution on friendship and cooperation with Ukraine. It does not correspond to the interests of the Belarusian people.
Therefore, to talk about who could potentially represent Belarus at these negotiations, it is certainly the democratic forces. And this option cannot be ruled out, but still. Democratic forces are something general that may not be formalized as institutions. And I again raise the question of what we have been talking about for these one and a half years — that it is necessary to make a decision and create national authorities as bodies that represent the real interests of the Belarusans. This is a difficult political decision that can be implemented today, unfortunately, outside of Belarus. But it is a basis so that in the future we could ensure the preservation of the independence and development of the state of the Republic of Belarus. This is an important, major political decision to be taken. If we do not take it, then we’ll be in this process for a very long time, hoping that the situation will resolve itself.
The first thing we do. We have now started a campaign "Putin's puppet, Alexander Lukashenko, must be punished. We say that Lukashenko is Putin’s puppet, and this campaign was launched in London. A number of publications have also appeared in the Italian press. We are communicating this position to all foreign ministries. The NAU has initiated working consultations with as many foreign ministries as possible. Consultations have already taken place with the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Czech Deputy Foreign Minister, the Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister, representatives of the leaders of Latvia, Luxembourg and France. All this is done in order to convey the position of democratic forces of Belarus on everything that is happening today in our country. To convey the position that Lukashenko is, under international law, an accomplice to aggression, because he has provided the territory of Belarus for missile and air strikes on Ukraine. He provides the entire military infrastructure, helps materially and logistically.
We have received information that even ammunition from military depots in Belarus has been provided. Lukashenko is a co-aggressor, it would be a mistake to share the responsibility of Putin and Lukashenko. It would be a strategic mistake that the European Union made in 2020, guided by it in 2021, and it cannot be repeated at this particular time.
The next thing we do at the NAM (National Anti-Crisis Management) is our project of de-occupation of Belarus. We regard Belarus as temporarily occupied territory. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are on the territory of Belarus, we know how they behave in the Brest and Gomel regions. They are not subject to the legislation of Belarus, Lukashenko cannot give them any instructions today.
In fact, Belarus is in the status of temporary occupation. Recognition of this status guarantees the territorial integrity of Belarus and gives us very serious arguments not to lift sanctions against the Russian Federation until the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation let go of the territory of Belarus. We are well aware that internal protests with Russian armed forces in Belarus will be much more difficult, they will be difficult to implement. Therefore, this is one of the key points we are dealing with now. Lukashenko should sit in the dock, as well as representatives of the Russian regime.
There is much debate about the collective guilt of the Belarusians for Belarus' complicity in the war. How do you look at this question?
This is a difficult question.
From one point of view, the recognition of Belarus as temporarily occupied territory means the position that Belarus can avoid the compensation that will be paid to Ukraine from the Russian Federation. I would not like to talk about material values when people are killed, children, women, just Ukrainians are killed on the territory of Ukraine.
Of course there is an understanding of the collective responsibility of the Belarusian people, so it was very important for us not to allow the troops of Belarus to enter the territory of Ukraine. I characterized it as a historical catastrophe for relations between the Belarusian and Ukrainian people; it cannot be allowed. Even though the troops did not enter, we already see the consequences. In Ukraine, for example, the renaming of subway stations is initiated; the right to study Belarusian literature is cancelled; the recognition of higher education diplomas is revoked.
It is necessary to separate the actions of the Lukashenko regime. Because this is not a war between Belarus and Belarusians, this is a war of the Lukashenko regime. It is a war between Russia and the Russians who support Putin’s actions.
Most Belarusians are against it and show it through their actions. In fact, a National Liberation Movement has been created. The guys who are now fighting in Ukraine — they are fighting for the independence of Ukraine and Belarus. Guerrillas who go out to fight in the raids are also part of the movement. Cyber partisans, volunteers who help those who have to leave Ukraine. Samizdat, protest actions, a coalition of protest yards. And glory to these people who are doing it. It’s all together effectively a National Liberation Movement. It may not be labeled on such a large scale, but the fact that we have to move in that direction, I’m sure. And it’s also a political decision that democratic forces need to make.
If we speak about the recognition of the democratic forces of Belarus abroad, a dualism of power must arise. When it does not exist — who can participate in negotiations? Lukashenko? What guarantees will he seek? He will seek only self-survival, in order to preserve the power, which he himself has usurped. He will not act in the interests of Belarus. When an institution of power in exile emerges, it means we can ask a broader question, i.e. we can block all possible foreign policy contacts of the Lukashenko regime and exclude it from international organizations. This is a decision that is overripe, not that it is not ripe. It has to be taken.
On the other hand, we know that just a few days ago, Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, implementing Lukashenko’s instructions, sent a letter to the foreign ministries of the European Union, the United States and Great Britain. It says that the participation of Belarus in the war against Ukraine is an insinuation. That is, the Lukashenko regime does not sleep, it uses the channels of the intelligence services. Because diplomats do not talk, the regime is still in isolation. And they go out to communicate, they try to prove to the West: "No, we have nothing to do with this.
As if the whole West went blind, as if they closed their eyes. When I tell the representatives, I will not name which respected countries, that Lukashenko himself admitted that the first missile strike was launched from the territory of Belarus at 23:00 on February 23, it comes as a surprise to them. I wonder: what do diplomats of the Western countries of Belarus do? What is the German embassy in Belarus doing when their ambassador apologized. For what? How does he inform Mrs. Berbok, the Minister of Foreign Affairs? I have a question when one of the Foreign Ministers tells me that we will keep the Belarusian embassy here in order to get information about what’s going on in Belarus. Do you really understand anything in diplomacy? So you will be informed by Belarusian diplomats of the regime about what is going on in Belarus? Well, then you will be blind and deaf.
Western diplomats, wake up! The strategic mistake that has been made for five years is being repeated. I have been part of this process; I know how it happens. And you are now buying this bogus coin from Lukashenko’s side.
According to what we got during last week’s Security Council meeting, Lukashenko instructed intelligence to go out to all foreign policy contacts. The word "political prisoner" was heard. Lukashenka wants to repeat the history of trade with political prisoners.
I am grateful, for example, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, who told me clearly that their policy would not change. Two years ago they refused from contacts and they have a very clear, real understanding of what is going on in Belarus.
Do we believe in the story that Lukashenko will release 1120 political prisoners tomorrow? I do not believe it. I would like Statkevich, Babariko, Tikhanovski to be free. It would just be easier for me as a human being. These are the allies that would be together and we could fight.
Do I believe that? No, because I don’t believe Lukashenko. He won’t do it, he will be afraid. Do we believe that he will restore the 600 non-governmental organizations? When did Makei say that we would destroy all civil society? You’re reading letters from Makei now, and the German ambassador goes to Makei regularly, conducts some confidential negotiations.
Do you believe that? I don’t believe it. Can we imagine that he will allow political parties to operate, that we will have elections on a competitive basis? Unfortunately, there is also a part of democratic forces in Belarus that is trying to sell the idea to the West: "let's lower the degree of relations with Lukashenko, let’s try to negotiate, let’s come to the 25th year and go to the elections". Who believes
in the fact that after yesterday I get a call from Minsk and a man is summoned to the KGB for signing for Babariko? Who believes that in 2025 the Belarusians will sign for an alternative candidate and not be afraid? I don’t.
I say to western politicians, let us proceed from the basic estimation of this situation: what is possible, what is real, what is not, and let us build our strategy proceeding from that.
Is the voice of Belarus' democratic society heard?
We are doing everything to make it heard. We are communicating; we have sent letters to all foreign ministers. We have proposed to hold working consultations at the level of foreign ministries in the very near future. We proposed to hold working consultations at the level of foreign affairs departments in the very next days in order to convey to them the position of misunderstanding in the Belarusian society concerning the unequal assessment of Lukashenko’s actions. So far, the thesis that Lukashenko is an accomplice to war crimes has not been raised. Yes, it was spelled out in certain documents of the European Union when adopting the initial package of sanctions. But again, it was not spelled out the way it should be.
And the question is, what follows? Do you enter into communication or not? Unfortunately, there are signals like that. I hope that these are just signals, this illusion that it is possible to negotiate, just won’t be demanded. Because history has shown us too many lessons, both from Belarus after 2020, and from Ukraine today. It is impossible to engage in self-deception.
In fact, Western politicians can probably learn from us how to fight for democracy and human rights. Democracy and human rights and freedom have a price. Does the European Union have to pay for this? Probably yes, because these are values of principle for them. The Belarusian and Ukrainian people, what do they pay for it? With their lives and health of their citizens, who are being killed and political prisoners jailed. Europe is afraid to pay with money; it is discussing all the time. Do we want to pay with our lives? No. Does Europe want to pay with money? No. But you know what the difference is? It’s a value difference and a material difference. So maybe it’s time, Europe, for us to teach you what values are?
How do Belarusian embassies in the world work now? Questions of Belarusian citizens are not solved there, tell us what you know about this situation?
The embassies are completely isolated, there are no communications of a political nature, economic ties have simply stopped, no investor will invest in Belarus now. We know that business relocation is taking place.
One of the projects that our National Anti-Crisis Management team is running is "Not a cent for the war." We offer businesses not to leave Belarus, we offer businesses to stop, to suspend relations with Belarus, when through taxes they finance Lukashenko and finance all this military apparatus of suppression and including the war against Ukraine.
So embassies do not do economics, do not do politics, do not do culture, because no one will help them now. In fact, consular functions are performed. We know that the Belarusian diaspora that has left now, it is limited in many ways and is not ready to go to embassies because it fears persecution and delays in processing documents.
We are trying to find more understanding among the governments of the European Union as to how to solve the problem of the Belarusians. Unfortunately, we see that it is very difficult, the reaction is not quite adequate. This is also our problem, also a challenge.
Have we forgotten 2020? Have we forgotten that the Belarusians are still fighting? Forgive me for addressing European politicians today, I am no longer a diplomat. I am a politician. As someone who has had eight criminal cases, one of which is the death penalty, I have the right to ask this question. On behalf of Viktor Babariko, Nikolay Statkevich, Pavel Severinets, Sergei Tihanovsky. I have the right. They cannot, I can. And that is why I ask: why are Belarusians treated this way in Belarus? Where is the value understanding of human rights and freedoms?
I have a question to Andrei Dapkiunas, Ambassador of Belarus in Vienna. Who was my friend, who is one of Yanka Kupala’s relatives. And what does he do today? Is he engaged in securing independence?
I talked to several ambassadors as the war broke out. They all said to me, "Well, you see, Pavel Pavlovich, what we are doing now is defending the country’s independence. How are you defending it when Russian troops are on the territory of Belarus? When the entire image, the entire reputation of the Belarusian people, the state of the Republic of Belarus, has been destroyed? What are you defending?
Do as Natalia Khvostova, Consul General of the Consulate General in Munich did, what a deed it is. She is a woman, a mother, alone, but she took this step. And you? You’re just weak.
What do you believe in now? What gives you hope?
I am a strong person. Thanks to God, thanks to my parents, who brought me up that way. I will hold out, I believe in victory. Today we met with the Belarusians in the Czech Republic, and I said that I would fight as long as I have strength and health.
Because if I don’t do it, who will? I am not unique, I am one of the "ones". Out of thousands, out of millions. Each of us must fight. I believe that Belarus has good prospects for an independent, free and democratic country on the map of Europe.
As a friend of mine said, "Well, we are such a unique country! It’s a pity Korotkevich once wrote in "The spikes under your sickle": "May you have the worst government in the world!
I believe that we will have a country, a state, and a better boss. Maybe not the worst, but certainly better.
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