Hoe pak je tiran aan?
De medewerkers van Charter97, het medium van de vrije pers voor Belarus, voerden een vraaggesprek met de oud-bewindsman van Buitenlandse Zaken die nu onder meer fellow is van het German Marshall Fund. Kern is de vraag hoe de EU en haar lidstaten kunnen bijdragen aan een betere toekomst zonder onderdrukking en corruptie in die laatste dictatuur van Europa.
Demeš heeft daarover geen illusies, omdat hij weet hoe de boerenslimheid van dictator Loekasjenko er regelmatig toe leidt, dat hij verdeel-en-heers-spelletjes kan spelen binnen de EU. Zo is hij al jaren goede maatjes met Silvio Berlusconi, zolang althans diens kameraad Poetin behoefte heeft aan het ontzien van Belarus.
Een uniek land
Mr Demeš, today we can see that Europe is ready to repeat the old mistake and start a dialog with Lukashenka. Can this dialog have any result, given that all previous attempts to negotiate with the dictator ended in violent repressions in Belarus?
In the European Union’s foreign politics, Belarus is one of the hardest cases. It is a unique country difficult to develop a relation with, and the only country expelled from the Council of Europe for breaches of human rights.
Officials from the European Union are searching for new approaches that would solve the situation. But Lukashenka has been ruling for 19 years, and he knows perfectly well all strong and weak points of Europe. He realizes that in the European Union with its 27 members, everything is done by a consensus. And if one country is opposed to a decision, it will not be taken.
During this time Lukashenka has demonstrated that he is an experienced politician – with very low morals. His amorality was revealed when opposition leaders disappeared in the country. Still he has not explained what had happened to his political opponents.
Lukashenka’s attitude to the political opposition after the recent presidential elections, when the political prisoners were tortured in jails, shows that the legal situation of Belarus is not normal; Lukashenka is the one who gets to decide upon everything. How reasonable is it that the president grants pardons? Nowhere in Europe does a prisoner have to appeal for pardon to the president who gets to decide whether it will be granted.
Lukashenka switches his approaches all the time, which makes him unpredictable. When you make a deal with someone you expect them to keep their word. As for Lukashenka, he is pragmatic, and he is able to change his decision despite his word. If researchers will study his relationship with the EU 20 years from now, they will be shocked.
It is impossible to reach an agreement and have a normal conversation with Lukashenka. For me, his only logic is the geopolitical “pendulum” between Russia and the EU. He knows the Russian mentality well; he knows how Russia functions, how it feels about Belarus; and he is perfectly aware of the European Union’s working principles. Lukashenka is balancing between two geopolitical realities. He has only one goal: to keep his power. The values that Europe is based upon don’t mean a thing to him.
A great number of experts have been analyzing Lukashenka’s politics, but I haven’t seen any psychiatrist who would analyze his mental health. Lots of books have been written about the “isolation”, “dialogue” and so on, but a book about Lukashenka’s mental health is lacking.
Psychiatrie van de macht
So what kind of dialogue is possible with a mentally sick person?
I would not compare a dialogue and psychiatry. There are two types of people in the EU. People of the first type believe that a dialog is necessary because it will give more chances to change the situation. But I am convinced that while Aliaksandar Lukashenka rules in Belarus, a dialog will never change anything. Lukashenka has already showed his nature. In my view, it is impossible to expect him to change his interior and foreign politics.
Lukashenka is a dictator. He will not change his politics unless he is under pressure from outside. It means that a dialog with Lukashenka will not lead to any liberalization. I am positive that the relationship with the Belarus of Lukashenka should be built on the position of force. Moral arguments don’t work.
During these 19 years many politicians from the EU and the U.S. have tried to educate Lukashenka about the north–south and east-west axis. But the dictator is comfortable in Minsk. He believes that Belarus is a kolkhoz where he is the leader who doesn’t accept any advice. That is why he will not change anything.
The last disappointment of the West was the events of December 19, 2010. Lukashenka allowed all candidates to obtain registration and broadcast a TV-statement. The people hoped for changes. But Lukashenka showed that on his watch, everything can only turn to the worse. In my view, today there is enough information for the upholders of the dialog idea to realize that it will not change anything.
What can you say about the concern of European politicians who claim that Lukashenka will turn to Russia if the regime is isolated?
I believe that Lukashenka fears Russia more than he fears the EU. Russia always acts from the position of force. Lukashenka realizes that if Russia pushes a little bit harder, his political death is unavoidable. For him, Russia is the main enemy, because he can lose his power.
So for him, the only way out is playing games with Russia and with the European Union. He lives in fear expecting the threat of losing his power from both the West and the East, so he tries to keep balance. Lukashenka will end as soon as the balance is lost and one part weighs down.
Hij wint als wij zwijgen
Pavol, you have been working with Belarus-related issues for many years, in the German Marshall Fund, and today in the European Foundation for Democracy. In your opinion, what should be done today to finally make Belarus a democratic state?
Unexpected processes are taking place today in the European Union’s economy and politics. Europe’s in crisis, the Europeans are busy with the question of preserving the eurozone. But it is crucial that Belarus should be on the mental map of the European politicians. Lukashenka wins when Europe doesn’t talk about Belarus.
We need to find new tools of support for those who want to change the situation in Belarus: independent media, civil society, democratic opposition. We should show more solidarity with the people who fight for their country.
It has become harder to help Belarus since Lukashenka made this help illegal. Ales Bialiatski was imprisoned for having got foreign support. Now the European Union has changed its tools of support not to hurt anyone. Europe will never obtain new approaches until it develops a clear strategy regarding Belarus.
You know very well what dictatorship is. What can Belarusians learn from Slovakia’s experience?
The dictatorship in Slovakia was different. Under Meciar, foreign institutions had their offices in Slovakia and received open support. It doesn’t work in Belarus. Meciar’s rule cannot be compared to Lukashenka’s. Meciar was a light version of an autocrat.
We need to develop a strategy of cooperation between the civil society and politicians who want to change the situation. In Slovakia, we have had a democratic round table together with representatives of the civil society, trade unions and politics. Together we decided what each of us should do, we appointed the roles. There should be a consensus in the struggle for the country’s freedom. Another question is, how it should be done. Many Belarusian politicians and leaders from the civil society have left the country. It was different in Slovakia.
Your task is to find cooperation between those who are left in the country and those who are abroad. It is a new task for you, and its role is crucial because it affects the Belarusian nation, and gives impulses to the West. Lukashenka’s positions are growing stronger when there is no agreement.
Helderder, sterkere stem
I can see that the situation in Belarus is so rough that it is basically impossible to struggle in the country. After the elections of 2010, the regime has become even more violent. It destroys everyone who thinks differently. So what we have is small steps that can be used to show one’s courage and aspiration to freedom. Today it is impossible to organize massive protest rallies in Belarus. Those who protest get to prison.
That is why I will not try to tell the Belarusians who live abroad, what they should do. They are the only ones who know what can be done in the struggle for freedom. For those who live abroad the situation is completely different. They live in a free world.
So they need to think more of how the Western discussion about Belarus can be influenced. Journalists, activists and politicians need to develop a clearer and stronger voice. There has never been so many respectful and educated Belarusians abroad.
USA blijft hard
I believe that today you have more chances to impact the discussion not only in Brussels, but in other capitals of the European Union. You should always consider the period you live and work in. As for the U.S., it has lots of other tasks in the world. The U.S. believes that Belarus is a European country, and expects Europe to have new approaches.
The U.S. has a much more rigid attitude to Belarus which hasn’t changed even with Barak Obama’s office. The U.S. has basically isolated Belarus; there is no ambassador, the diplomatic contacts are on a very low level. Europe needs new effective approaches to how Belarus can become free. Your situation is unique. We expect the Belarusians who live in the European Union to come to us with new ideas.
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