Authoritarian powers in Belarus today use any means of pressure on the freedom of individual, imposes slave ideology, provokes international and ethnic conflicts. Chair of the Human Rights Center Viasna Alies Bialiatski evaluates the human rights situation in Belarus.
"People, their rights and freedoms should be the main value of civil society"
The duty of the government is to make sure the individual rights and freedoms are recognized, observed and protected, this is laid down in Article 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus: "People, their rights, freedoms and related safeguards are the supreme value and goal of society and state. The state is responsible to the citizen for creating conditions for free and worthy development of the person."
Before the future presidential elections in Belarus the authorities, on the one hand, conducts all sorts of festivities and various window-dressing events, demonstrating to people how good life in Belarus is, and on the other hand, increases pressure on the independent press, liquidates public associations and political structures. Under such conditions human rights movements are very important. The correspondent of Euramost.org talks with chair of the Human Rights Center Viasna Alies Bialiatski.
- Zenon Pozniak recently said that what matters now for Belarus is freedom and independence rather than human rights. Could you comment this opinion?
- I believe that this is a strategic mistake and in some sense a dramatic mistake of the 20th century politicians – separating the human rights and democratic values from independence. Back in the 1980s the independent youth Belarusian movement, of which I was part, always treated these issues together – human rights and independence of Belarus, democracy and market economy are the things that have always been integral to me. So saying that independence and freedom are more important that human rights is, I believe, becoming similar to the ancient Chinese scholars who once attempted to find out which was earlier: hen or chicken. Such debates make no sense.
- Every person has rights in various spheres of their life. Which of the rights would you prioritize for the Belarusian citizen?
- This questions touches on how widely human rights can be interpreted. The right to medical care, the right to life, the right to labor, etc.
Our organization deals with human rights in the most classical sense: general civil and political rights connected with civil freedoms, with the freedom to obtain information, with the freedom of assembly, with the freedom of education – everything that is connected with the public development of the individual.
Civil society should have the independence needed to guarantee the protection of the individual against abuses of governmental power. In Belarus this is not a democratic society but a totalitarian regime.
- Is the traditional tolerance of the Belarusians the reason for this situation, and what has to be done to increase not simply the desire for a better life, but the desire to fight for your freedoms?
- In fact I am convinced that the Belarusians want a better life but everyone has their own understanding of better life. Say, a retired woman whose pension in the countryside is about 100 dollars thinks her life is good and no one would prove her the opposite. True, comparing her with the other people who live in the same village and work in a kolkhoz for two times as little money, she has enough money for the indispensables, she is satisfied despite the relatively small amount.
At the same time the mid-generation and the younger generation, especially those who have traveled abroad, have absolutely different priorities. I believe that educational programs, recreation travel are very important for the Belarusians to feel the normal state of freedom that exists in the other countries. Our Belarusian children, especially those who live far from bigger towns, get in this way what may well be the only chance to compare their life here and abroad. It is the people under 50 and the younger people who are feeling increasingly dissatisfied with their life now.
As regards the fight and possible concrete changes in society, I think the golden key lies with information. The media are a very powerful instrument of influencing people, their psyche and moral. The state-owned media have now monopolized all of the information space of the country, in fact there is only one point of view, including the issue of human rights.
When people learn what is actually happening they feel aversion. And desire for change is the next stage.
- The same Zenon Pozniak notes that 11 years of Lukashenko's regime has slowed down the cultural and spiritual life of the Belarusian nation, we have lost a generation. Maybe, that's the reason why the contemporary political movement has so few young leaders, why there is no worthy replacement?
- I agree with Zenon that over the past 11 years the spiritual development of the Belarusian has slowed down. The notion of human rights has been almost annihilated. Individual independence is being attacked on all fronts. This concerns the cultural development and the education and the right of assembly and the right to freely take part in elections and obtain objective results of these elections and the basic human rights. Let's take the right to labor – the employment contract system forced on the people several years ago has in fact put all state employees into a slave-like position.
At the same time I do not think that the problem with the younger national leaders is all that dramatic. Naturally, the enthusiasm that was observed in the late 1980s is not the same now, but the process of national movement, resistance to the Neo-Soviet regime does not stop. Sure, the years spent under Lukashenko show, his regime attempts to develop its own instruments of influencing Belarusian society as a whole. Especially in the past time work with younger people has been stepped up. First, through the liquidation of independent education; second, through introduction of politicized subjects; third, through duping the younger people through mass festivities that impact the mass conscience and drive the people literally into a state of psychopathy.
- Now the single candidate from the opposition is being elected. Speaking of the forthcoming elections, Alexander Feduta said that he is pessimistic and estimates the likelihood of the power change at 10%. The optimist Stanislav Shushkievich predicts that Lukashenko may well not see the election day. What is the likelihood of the power change in your opinion, and who will be the alternative to the incumbent president?
- It is difficult to predict changes in the social and political situation in Belarus. When Lukashenko came to power in 1994, no one could even imagine he would stay in power for 11 years, I think even he couldn’t. But that happened. That's why making any predictions is not serious – like telling the future on coffee ground. However, I think that the next year will be quite promising in the social and political respect, with the activity of Belarusian society playing a big part. The chance that the situation in Belarus changes depends on how much tolerance the people still have, because political parties alone, the forces of public activists have never changed the social situation.
- The Review-Chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in 2004 prepared by Viasna has grown much thicker in comparison with the same review for the previous year. What is your prediction for the human rights violations for the next year?
- What should be noted is not the growing number of human rights violations over the past year but the qualitative makeup of these violations: a week ago there were seven political prisoners in this country, one of whom was amnestied, but this list may grow at any moment – it is not a closed one.
So far the year 2005 was relatively calm, but the next 2006 will be, I think, quite unfavorable for human rights, which is due to the preparation and conduct of the presidential elections. Reprisals against and pressure on the democratic forces, the social and political activists will undoubtedly grow, and the registered rate of such violations speaks for itself.
-Are the human rights defenders themselves protected? Are you personally afraid of the incumbent regime persecuting you?
- Anything is possible in this country, so we must have a clear understanding of that and start from there. Personally, I have been involved with public activity for more than 20 years, this is the main component of my life, so I am not going to give in to the anticipated problems that can crop up in the future.