Staunton, March 21 – A Ukrainian-style Maidan is “impossible” in Belarus not just because the word doesn’t exist in the national language, Nikolay Statkevich says, but because Belarus currently is in “an entirely different situation.” Its revolution thus will be different, and the outcome of that revolution will be different as well.
While many continue to think about the developments in Belarus in terms of what happened in Ukraine, the Belarusian opposition leader says, they should in fact be focusing on the differences: “we have no independent electronic mass media, no opposition fraction in the parliament … we have a different situation, a different history and a different mentality.”
Statkevich, who was a prisoner of the Lukashenka regime until about a year ago, makes and develops those observations in an interview yesterday to Novy Chas. (For the Belarusian original, see novychas.by/asoba/mikalaj-statkevicz-my-naziraem-naradzenne-nacyi; for a Russian translation, see belaruspartisan.org/politic/374053/).
Compared to Ukrainians, he argues, “Belarusians are more ready for reforms and if you like we could be more successful in the construction of a legal state because we have a different relationship to the law. This is connected” with the differences in the historical development of the two peoples.
“In Ukrainian society, the ideal is to be found in the history of the Cossacks,” Statkevich says, “courageous and worthy people but how they relate to law and to the property of others is well known. Ukraine has and will continue to have problems as a result.”
The Belarusians have a very different background: there was “a large stratum of free citizens, there was a social lift on which any individual could ascend … They knew how to live according to the law. We had a legal state, not ideal but legal” which might have continued in a good direction has Belarusians not made a mistake in their voting in 1994.
The current round of protests,” Statkevich says, “has already changed the situation because it has changed society itself. People suddenly became citizens, not simply individuals who received something good or bad from the state but namely citizen who want to decide their own fate, the fate of their children, the fate of their country.”
To a certain extent, he says, “what is taking place now can be called an internal and spiritual revolution.” People who only yesterday were frightened “suddenly feel in themselves strength, dignity and the courage for change.” And thus “we now are observing the birth of Belarusian civil society, the birth of the nation.”
The Lukashenka regime has been frightened by what has occurred especially the demonstrations outside of Minsk, a development it did not expect. It “suddenly saw the level of hatred to itself. But unfortunately, in authoritarian and centralized countries, the question of change undoubtedly will be decided in the capital although changes without the support of the regions will be impossible.”
What will happen next, Statkevich says, “will in large degree depend on the powers that be themselves.” If they crack down in a brutal way, that will lead to their own “brutal” end. If they don’t, then “the struggle will be drawn out. We do not want force and blood, we do not want to destroy our home, we want simply to put it in order.”
One thing the Belarusian people and the Belarusian opposition fully understand is that they must both act responsibly lest any violence provoke “external interference” by Moscow. “We would not want to lose out home.” Thus, we hope for negotiations with those now in power, although the chances for that may be small.
If Lukashenka is really as concerned about Russian intervention as he suggests, he should “as a first step return to Belarusians a Belarusian information space.” But as someone who has done so much against the nation, the Belarusian leader is unlikely to do so. Even as he calls others “agents of the Kremlin,” it is obvious that he is the main one.
Now, Moscow isn’t providing Lukashenka with the aid it did; and consequently, he can’t even pay those who guard his state in a worthy fashion. He is at a dead end, but so too is the country as a whole. Unfortunately, the entire population is under “terrible stress.” No one wants to do anything that will cost the people their country.
There is no doubt, Statkevich says, that “we are present at the end of this system. And honestly speaking I am now more concerned about what will occur after it.” Belarusians must act in a way that will simultaneously ensure that Belarus will not lose its independence but be able to move toward democracy and freedom. All divisions on those issues must be overcome.
“We are one people and one nation. We have one home. And we must think about how to arrange life in this home,” the opposition figure says. “This is our state, and we must not destroy it” in the course of trying to change and improve it. That makes the task of Belarusians harder but far from impossible.