Lukashenko warns of border threats as Belarus opposition calls for Minsk rally
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On June 8, a joint picket of representatives of the right-centrist coalition was held in the center of Minsk on Independence Avenue. Participants of the action expressed solidarity with opposition politicians detained by the order of the current authorities by representatives of the power structures of the Republic of Belarus.
It also became known on Thursday morning that the most popular political opponent of the incumbent president of Belarus, the former head of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko, and also his son Eduard stopped communicating. This was reported by members of the team of Babariko’s campaign headquarters.
Voice of America continues to monitor the political situation in Belarus. The correspondent of the Russian Service recorded an interview with another contender for the post of the head of the republic – the former Ambassador of Belarus to the United States Valery Tsepkalo.
Anna Plotnikova: The slogan of your pre-election campaign was the words “Belarus of the Future”. How do you see the future of your country “with a capital letter”? What kind of relations should Belarus have with neighboring countries? Will the country look for its own special path, will it remain a part of the Eurasian integration project, or will it try to enter Euro-Atlantic structures?
Valery Tsepkalo: I would not like to view the future foreign policy of Belarus in the context of the dilemma: “either – or”. It seems to me correct to say that we will be friends with our neighbors, both in the east – trying to build normal good-neighborly relations with Russia, and in the west. By the way, both in the south, where we border with Ukraine, and in the north, that is, with the Baltic countries.
Naturally, we have a lot in common with Russia – both history and culture. We also have the Treaty on the Union State, some of the provisions of which, from my point of view, are very good. This is the absence of borders, and the ability to move for citizens of two countries, and the ability to work without registration, receive medical care, and many other social moments..
In fact, we have a free trade zone with Russia, but the Customs Union, unfortunately, does not work. About four hundred positions remain inconsistent. Therefore, you need to dwell on what works.
Well, and, of course, we must revive good relations with the EU countries and the United States of America. In the mid-90s, we had a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the EU. We signed it, it was ratified, in my opinion, by two-thirds of the parliaments of the EU countries, but then, due to the internal political situation in Belarus, the ratification process was stopped. And now this process just needs to be revived, it also makes it possible to freely create a free trade zone with EuropeWith the United States, we also had a most favored nation regime in trade – a generalized system of preferences. And when free trade unions were banned in Belarus at the end of the 90s, this regime was suspended. Even later, sanctions were imposed. And I think if our political regime changes, all these agreements will be revived. The opportunity for Belarusian goods to be exported abroad will improve, as well as in the opposite direction.
And European and American investments will come to the economy of Belarus, which is very important and necessary, because we understand that in the West there is not only money, but also new technologies, without which, in principle, it is impossible to develop. Therefore, we need to talk about a balanced foreign policy and necessarily about Belarus’ accession to the World Trade Organization..
A.P .: Since 1994, you have been a member of Alexander Lukashenko’s team. Why did you decide to compete with him in the current elections, and is your political background in the past 26 years hindering you??
V.T .: Perhaps, somewhere, it really interferes. But in the Belarusian political system it is impossible to implement anything at all – you won’t even build a candle factory – if you have not received approval from above. Therefore, two points must be understood: firstly, in 1994 there were other historical conditions, society was more patriarchal. And now it is a different country, Belarusians travel the world, we are not a closed system, as it was in Soviet times. And 26 years ago, Lukashenka was a reflection of the rural ways that dominated our country in those years..
Now we can talk about Belarus as a different country with a different society. And the leadership of Belarus needs to reflect the aspirations of the Belarusians and their wishes. And they, of course, consist in the fact that we have a normal legal system, independent courts, a multi-party system, democracy, in which people could freely gather and discuss any issues. Freedom of assembly and meeting is an integral part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the Republic of Belarus..
A guarantee of free business is also needed, because now people who have their own business are, by definition, considered criminalized if they do not have close relations with the authorities. And some provisions in our legislation contradict others, as a result of which the business climate is rather difficult..
And if we talk about the situation in 1994, it is known that Viktor Gonchar, and Yuri Zakharenko, and Dmitry Bulakhov, and Alexander Feduta, and Mikhail Chigir, and Leonid Sinitsyn were in Lukashenko’s team. Some of these people then disappeared without a trace, some went into opposition, ran as presidential candidates – in particular, Chigir and Sinitsyn in 2001. The fate of Anatoly Lebedko and Alexander Feduta, too, I think everyone knows.
All these people are members of the team that once really wanted changes in Belarus, but their expectations were not met. The count was on collective leadership with general decision-making, on the democratization of the country and the change of power. And to the conviction that Lukashenka is constantly talking about – that he will not “cling to the chair with blue fingers,” and that if the people decide to re-elect him, he will leave, which he has repeatedly swore. He spoke about this in 1994, and then we all believed in it and thought that 10 years of collective leadership, rather, could be added to the asset. But we simply could not foresee in 1994 that in 26 years Belarus would not build a normal democracy, as did all our neighbors in the north, west, south, and also in the east..
AP: You are considered a technocrat manager with experience in diplomatic work. To what extent do you think this image of a presidential candidate is in demand in Belarusian society, given that the former director of a state farm has been running the country for more than a quarter of a century??
V.Ts .: Hard to say. For this, we launched a political campaign to understand which image of the future today is more in line with the expectations and aspirations of Belarusians. Let’s see which image is closer to them..
It seems to me that today, taking into account new technologies and the development of globalization, Belarusians are much closer to the image of a person who has extensive international connections and speaks foreign languages. Who can build normal, friendly relations with both the West and the East, and in general – with any countries of the world. Who created such a structure as one of the most successful high-tech parks in the post-Soviet space .
Well, then we’ll see. Social psychology is not my strong point, I just want to present my country and my people with my vision of the future. And there it is up to people to decide what kind of future they want – agrarian-patriarchal, or new and technological, in compliance with the rule of law and human rights..
A.P .: The current presidential campaign in Belarus is marked by heightened “heat of passions” and, unfortunately, pressure on Lukashenka’s rivals, which is customary for the authorities. How do you assess this situation, in particular – harassment of members of the support team of opposition candidates, searches in offices and telephone threats?
V.Ts .: Naturally, I assess this negatively. Because this is an unequivocal pressure on people who have an alternative point of view. It is generally unacceptable, but especially during the election period, when citizens exercise their constitutional right to elect and be elected.
Of course, first of all, pressure is exerted on those who want to be elected, but indirectly also on those who, in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Belarus, should be able to freely choose both the president from all the proposed candidates, and that image of the country’s future. which they like the most.
A.P .: Another “alternative candidate” Viktor Babariko, in an interview with the Russian service of the Voice of America, answered the question about the possibility of creating an election coalition in the following way: “I believe that our task now is to change the situation, and if this requires uniting, then why not ? “. How would you answer a similar question?
V.Ts .: In fact, I believe that the most important task in Belarus now is to change the existing system of power. Return the provision on two, at the most, terms of tenure of one and the same person. Create a mixed parliamentary-presidential form of government, where the president is the head of the executive branch and can appoint the government based on the parliamentary majority. When all political parties can be represented in the parliament of Belarus, two-thirds of the seats should be held on party lists, and in this sense, the most worthy people should get into parliament. There will be formed the art of respectful attitude to opponents, the culture of discussions and debates. And all this in our country can only be with this form of government.
As for the unification, here we can talk about the second stage, and if Lukashenka goes there, then, of course, it will be necessary to unite with those candidates who will represent an alternative.
A.P .: And if it is clear that after the signatures have been submitted to the Central Election Commission and registration as a presidential candidate, it will be difficult for you to compete with Alexander Lukashenko – will you be ready to withdraw your candidacy and go to unite with a candidate who is more successful for the sake of a common victory??
V.T .: Now, I think, it is premature to talk about such a formulation of the question. Let me explain that there is still a lot of time left until August 9th. The issues of ratings and popularity should begin to crystallize in the course of the election campaign itself and in the course of campaigning. Now it is too early to talk about this, because so far we do not even have the opportunity to even voice our programs – this can only be done after the registration of presidential candidates. Therefore, here it is necessary to look at the proximity of positions. But I also do not exclude various kinds of alliances, alliances, groupings. It seems to me that this is a normal democratic practice typical for many countries of the world. That is, I do not exclude such a possibility in the future..