How Different Are Russian and Ukrainian???
Belarusian writer Viktor Martinovich in an interview with the Voice of America – about the mood of the last few days, why he did not go to the Coordination Council and the prospects for peaceful protest
Ksenia Turkova: How would you describe the mood of the last two or three days? Does it feel like the protest is subsiding?
Victor Martinovich: The protest is not declining, but a kind of revenge of the government’s supporters has begun. This is expressed in the form of rather surreal rallies: people reproduce everything that happened before in the framework of the white-red-white wave. All of this is reproduced with red and green flags. On the other hand, arrests began again, and massive pressure on people began. For example, a member of the strike committee Belaruskali disappeared today. In addition, it has just become known about the initiation of a criminal case against those who entered the Opposition Coordination Council. Of course, this is an attempt to demoralize. The main instrument of demoralization is fear, the return of fear, because it was on fear over the last ten (at least) years that everything was kept here.
K.T .: Why would Lukashenka’s supporters, as you say, repeat everything in a mirror?
V.M .: They try to convince [people] that they also exist. They are even trying, perhaps, to convince people that they are the majority. This happens in a rather controversial way, because, I repeat, they even come to the same places where rallies of supporters of change were held just a couple of days ago. They show that they also exist, behave rather harshly, say all sorts of bad things to the camera about the people who came out [to the protests]. These are mainly state employees [employees of state-funded enterprises and organizations] – this can be seen from the faces. I do not know what was the motive for which people get on buses and come from all over Belarus to one point. I do not exclude that among them there really are supporters of the authorities, but most of them are probably just state employees who work out their contracts..
K.T .: That is, the protest rather does not subside, but rather concentrates?
V.M .: This is such a swing: on takeoff, it seems to us, the protesters, that everything – the regime will fall, and during the decline it seems that everyone will be shot. And this has happened many times. The first time, probably, the decline began when Viktor Babariko was arrested. You see, the system is very effective at instilling fear. They know it. In general, a person is a very vulnerable creature: in addition to a body that can be crippled, he has a psyche that is very easy to press on. And in this sense, when, together with Babariko, they took his son, and when, for example, there were reports that they were putting pressure on the children of members of the initiative group of Tikhanovskaya, it was generally strange that the rise still began.
The problem with these protests is that they have no leader at all. This is truly self-organization, and this is the innovation of this protest. However, any structure, any people, any lists of organizers – they make the protest very vulnerable due to the fact that the addresses immediately appear where the GULAG will come.
K.T .: That is, when a protest does not have a leader, and it is just a street, a spontaneous protest, it is less vulnerable.?
V.M .: Yes, absolutely. It is not clear who, except for passers-by and participants, to arrest. It is not clear who to put pressure on. In this sense, if fear is your main tool, bullying is much more difficult. This is the advantage [of protests without a leader].
We had something similar in 2011 during the protests against the sharp rise in gasoline prices. There was no leader then either. That protest was “leaked” just at the moment when a certain guy suddenly appeared who said: “You know, I am the leader of the protest” – and began to give interviews on behalf of the leader of the protest. And then this guy just merged. He just was gone. And this episode shows that yes, the only way to destroy a protest without a structure is to create such a structure in a simulation way and then destroy this simulation. I can only say that, according to my feelings, even if with the help of fear everyone is now seated at home, the resentment against deception will not disappear anywhere. And the rage over the torture that was applied to those detained on August 9-11 will not disappear anywhere. A lot of videos appear, a lot of written testimonies of people who were beaten, who were naturally tortured, with whom they behaved as they would not behave with prisoners of war, enemy prisoners of war. All this is another explanation why the mood does not go down..
K.T .: On the other hand, the Ukrainian protest had leaders. Yes, there were several leaders, there was no single center, but, nevertheless, the revolution won.
V.M .: Any comparison of us with Ukraine or Russia is completely incorrect. The situation that has been building in Belarus for 26 years is unprecedented. There is no such country as Belarus in the post-Soviet space. For many, it seems to me, one of the factors in going out on the street was the realization by a large number of people of exactly what methods are being applied to those already detained in prisons. I follow politics a little bit because I am a writer. It is my responsibility to be aware of and talk about it. But for ordinary citizens it came as a shock: that we, it turns out, lived in such a strict, relatively speaking, state, so vertical and so based on fear. So any comparison with Ukraine is incorrect. How long did Yanukovych hold out there? And here, for 26 years, the power system has been built and fear has been instilled. Even Russia, I repeat, is not an example for Belarus, because in Russia, at the very least, votes in elections are still counted. In Belarus, votes are not counted in any way.
K.T .: You wrote on your Facebook page that you were offered to join the Coordination Council, but you refused. Why?
V.M .: Everything is very simple: first, the regime succeeded in endless dialogues back in 2000 during the work of the Opposition Dialogue under the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group. This has been done for years and some insignificant officials have been offered as negotiators. For years they have been talking about something with them, and the regime has been managing people all this time with the help of prisons in Akrestsin Street and prisons in Volodarsky Street. This is the first reason I thought it was dubious. The second reason is that when there is such a state, the question of anyone’s legitimacy becomes very dubious. I have a big doubt that people went out and are taking to the streets for me and that I have the right to sit down at the negotiating table and speak with the authorities on their behalf. They are not for me there: they are for Tikhanovskaya and against Lukashenka. Accordingly, all negotiations should be conducted by Tikhanovskaya. The third point is that this time, it seems to me, there will be no dialogue, because Lukashenko is absolutely convinced that he will be able to convince everyone that he won the elections: he formed a new government yesterday, that is, he shows that the topic the transfer of power is not worth it for him. And he will stand on this to the end. You can be absolutely sure of this. So what to talk about? What kind of dialogue? What coordination, what advice?
K.T .: That is, there should be no council or similar body at all – it should only be protests, only the street?
V.M .: there must be a combination of factors, including diplomacy and some other methods, for example, the strikes that are now underway. But on the other hand, some kind of negotiator is also needed, but I doubt that this negotiator should be collective, that this negotiator should include dozens of people. Rather, Tikhanovskaya or some member of the headquarters would be a more explicit, clear negotiator.
K.T .: You said that the Belarusian protest is in many ways innovative, and one of these innovative features is that the protest is emphatically peaceful. We have all seen these pictures of Belarusians getting up on benches after taking off their shoes. The protest is always emphatically peaceful, very friendly. How effective do you think this particular form of protest is?
V.M .: You know, this is a conversation about good and evil. Good cannot defeat evil, because evil is always evil. Good cannot “love” evil to the point where evil ceases to be evil. Therefore, in order to defeat evil, good must become evil itself, and this is the path that I do not accept. A Belarusian is a person who loves painting fences so much that he simply does not accept the idea that one can climb onto a bench during a rally and not take off his slippers. I want to remind you that when Yegor Martinovich, editor of the Nasha Niva newspaper, was detained, his car, in which he was driving, remained open, with open windows, and there was a laptop in it, no one tried to arrest him in two days of his arrest open, no one stole the things that were there. This is about Belarusians and about Belarusian protests, during which not a single shop window was broken, during which people did not start throwing anything at the police first, as they [the authorities] are now telling.
K.T .:Do you have an answer to the question why people woke up right now? After all, before that there was torture and much of what is happening now happened.
V.M .: The precondition was the situation with the coronavirus. She showed that a system in which not the president listens to doctors and makes decisions based on their recommendations, but doctors, opening their mouths and ears, listen to what the president will say – and he said that the coronavirus does not exist because we cannot to see him in the air – this situation was terrible. She showed that before that lies were about raising wages or living standards, but now it came directly to the issues of life and death. This is a situation like in the series “Chernobyl”, when no radiation was seen in the air either. This was one of the factors. Plus, of course, the situation [in Belarus] was severely crippled by the prolonged conflict with Russia, which washed out of the budget all the money that could have been used to stabilize state employees. State employees receive beggarly salaries. People in factories, in fact, have nothing to lose. This sparked protests.
K.T .: You have a feeling that victory is still possible?
VM: Until now, I had one principle: if you want to predict the development of the situation in the politics of Belarus, choose the worst scenario. It is he who will come true. But this forecast of mine at the beginning of the campaign has already been disavowed several times. For example, I was tacitly convinced that it would be difficult to collect signatures, but signatures were not just collected without money, but queues of those who were ready to leave a signature lined up. So I now put my pessimism on the shelf: firstly, so as not to look like a fool later, and secondly, in order not to demoralize people who act, who do not talk, unlike me.
Journalist, TV and radio host, philologist. She started as a correspondent and presenter on NTV under the direction of Evgeny Kiselev, worked on TV6, TVS, REN TV, radio stations Echo Moskvy, City FM, Kommersant FM. From 2013 to 2017, she lived and worked in Kiev, participated in the creation of the information radio station Radio Vesti, directed the Russian-language broadcasting of the Ukrainian channel Hromadske TV, was a host and executive producer. Since 2017 works for Voice of America in Washington DC.