A conversation with Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Surrounded by the leader of the Belarusian protests Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in 2021, we intend to continue the fight and create additional pressure points on the Lukashenka regime inside and outside Belarus
Franak Vyachorka, an advisor to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, one of the leaders of the Belarusian protests, told in an interview to the correspondent of the Russian service of the Voice of America why the revolution in Belarus came as a surprise to the Kremlin, who are the main characters on the streets of Minsk and other cities, and what happened in the fight against the Lukashenka regime best and what not.
Taras Burnos: What are the plans of the Belarusian opposition in the new year 2021? What are the priority tasks?
Franak Vyachorka: We have achieved a lot in 2020. Lukashenka is not recognized in the world, elections are not recognized, the system is floundering, a huge number of defectors, people understand that his time has passed. On the eve of 2021, we received a completely new quality of civil society in Belarus. And the primary task is how to preserve this quality, increase, add new people, help those who are being repressed. Lukashenka’s system has also changed – now it is not just an authoritarian regime, but a regime with elements of a military junta. And accordingly, the forms of struggle and self-organization should be different. Now legal forms of self-organization in public associations, convocations of deputies, collection of signatures do not work. Now only street protests, grassroots and underground, work. It is very important not to give rest to this system. The more irritants and pressure points there are, the more mistakes Lukashenka and the environment will make, destroying the system from the inside..
T.B.: Does Svetlana Tikhanovskaya have a plan on how to make changes in the country and turn Belarus on the path of democracy?
F. In.: The plan, the strategy do not change – from the very beginning we talked about three points. The first is pressure. The second is negotiations. The third is new elections. The agenda of the revolution did not include plans for reforms, accession to the EU, or vice versa, to Russia. The Agenda is a transition to democracy, and those who go out or are in jail are imprisoned for the desire for democratic transformation. What are we going to do? Our plan is to create additional pressure points. Inside the country and outside. On the inside, there are workers’ strikes and protests, sabotage, insubordination, boycotts of the financial system or state banks and enterprises. Many people who used to be on the sidelines now understand that there is no other way and only reformatting the system will help to get out of this protracted crisis. External pressure points are the isolation of Lukashenka, the suspension of programs of assistance to the Lukashenka state. These are arrests of accounts of Lukashenka’s accomplices. When the pressure is maximum from different points, the regime will begin to make concessions and negotiate, and then the main goal will be to agree on how the new elections will be held, on what conditions, so that everything is fair.
The most difficult thing will be during the transit period and the period after. Therefore, we are already working on finding help, macro assistance, investment plans – everything that will help to quickly bring the country out of the crisis in the post-Lukashenka period..
T.B.: It seems that the Kremlin has also joined the fight for Belarus – information about a certain “plan B for Belarus” has appeared in the press. Does the opposition have its own plan, and understanding that in the fight for Belarus it is necessary to oppose Moscow’s new plan??
F. In.: I do not think that there is a new plan in the Kremlin. For the Kremlin, our revolution was as much a surprise as for Lukashenka, as for the Belarusians themselves. Nobody could believe that the Belarusians themselves would unite and organize themselves so quickly and clearly. They will build structures, they will boldly go out to rallies, despite the repressions. And the Kremlin, it seems, has no plans so far – they maintain the status quo and continue to passively support Lukashenka. Of course, we understand that the Kremlin is interested in preventing Belarus from turning to the West, the Belarusians are interested in making their country independent, free and democratic, in holding fair and independent elections. Lukashenka has an interest in staying in power at any cost. The success of the Belarusian protest could lead to a domino effect and similar protests in Russia. Perhaps this is the main reason why the Kremlin is so zealous for Lukashenka – they do not want to create a precedent..
As for the pro-Russian party, it is most likely an initiative of some activists in Belarus who offer the Kremlin their own version of the solution. This does not mean that the Kremlin itself initiates this project. It seems to me that the Kremlin does not work so well, if they had a strategy, it would not be in the form of such Google documents merged into the network..
T.B.: Protests in Belarus have been going on since August 9. What are the main results of the struggle you can name and why?
F. In.: First, this is the non-recognition of Lukashenka, his complete delegitimization. The second is a split within the power block. A huge number of security officials go over or went over to the side of the people. We see the mobilization of local communities at the “grassroots” level – courtyards have appeared, local communities, initiatives, groups have appeared that conduct flash mobs, such as the Free Choir, which sing Belarusian songs in the most unusual places in the city center. We see the self-organization of people, solidarity around the idea of change, we see unity – this is a great achievement. There are leaders, there is Tikhanovskaya as a symbolic leader and other organizations that recognize this leadership, a huge media network has been created, with which Lukashenka’s propaganda is not able to compete – these are, first of all, Telegram channels, we got the basis for building a new Belarusian society after Lukashenka.
And even if the Lukashenka’s vertical collapses, we will be able to build a new Belarus very quickly..
T.B.: Frankly – what didn’t work out and what worked best?
F. In.: Perhaps we didn’t manage to win over a larger number of high-ranking officials to our side, and here the main reason is that they don’t know how to leave, because the system is so built – it’s possible to get into it, but you cannot leave. Lukashenka threatens and makes it clear that any transition or protest is immediately a prison, there is no exit, the border is closed, and therefore, perhaps, we did not find an option how to ensure the transition of the highest echelon of power to our side. Perhaps we were not persistent enough at some critical moments, we could not achieve the release of political prisoners, but it was necessary to demand this more boldly, and could not help those who needed this help.
There were different reasons – there was no money, no means, no communication channels, the Internet was turned off. It was not possible to keep the Coordination Council in Belarus – its chairman, the presidium – in the republic itself. Many had to leave or go to jail. There were many mistakes and could have been done better.
What came out best? Managed to preserve the protest mobilization potential.
Perhaps this is the main achievement – the peaceful nature of the protests. Of course, there were ideas to make the protests more aggressive, with a violent confrontation, but objectively we had no prerequisites.
The protest remains peaceful and persistent, massive – this is a huge achievement of those who are fighting in Belarus. The main characters are not those who are in Vilnius or Warsaw, but those who are in Belarus – at large or in prison, who continue to fight every day. And all we have to do now is help them.