Ales Bialiatski: By supporting Lukashenka, the West supports Putin
On the day of memory of Vaclav Havel, Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and a former political prisoner Ales Bialiatski came to Prague at the invitation of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Belarus service, the human rights defender tells whether Belarus can have its own Vaclav Havel, and if we should expect a warming in relations with the US and the dangers of supporting Lukashenka by the international community.
Radio Liberty: The current Czech Foreign Ministry distanced itself from the policy of Vaclav Havel in the field of human rights. You personally met with Vaclav Havel. What, in your opinion, has changed since then?
Bialiatski: Of course, there are certain warning signs, such as statements of President Zeman. The Czech Republic’s position towards the common EU stance in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian war is uncertain. But it seems to me that the good principle laid by Vaclav Havel in the Czech policy still remains. At least if we talk about the human rights situation in Belarus, the Czech government takes a clear and precise position.
Radio Liberty: You have had a meeting at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please tell us if the Czech Republic remembers about Belarus, have you heard words of support there?
Bialiatski: It was an ordinary working meeting in the department that deals with the problems of Eastern Europe, including Belarus. Basically, I was talking about the human rights situation, about what is happening in our country.
The authorities began to prepare for elections to be held next year. This includes repression against specific people, as well as the adoption of amendments to the law, which concerns the dissemination of information in Belarus. The authorities are creating a legal basis for the termination of pluralism in the media space. Moreover, these restrictive amendments will also apply to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, because our website is included in the list of banned resources at public institutions. All this indicates that the authorities released me with one hand, but the other hand continues to be engaged in repressive actions.
Radio Liberty: US announced their intention to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, despite the fact that this country still holds prisoners of conscience and political repression continues. Which in this case can be expected by Belarus?
Bialiatski: Cuba is a unique case. The situation there has not improved for a long time, even though the people have been brought to poverty and destitution. However, we do not see any resistance there, as this isolation gave an opportunity to create such a large concentration camp. With regard to sanctions applied in international politics, I am a supporter of them. But they are like a medicine: if you give too little of it to a sick society or a sick state – it will not help. If you give a lot – it can do harm. And it is necessary to determine the individual dose, the form of sanctions, which could help stop the illegal actions of the state.
With regard to relations with Belarus, I do not think we can expect major changes. Because the main reasons for which political sanctions were introduced have not disappeared. Therefore, logic dictates that there will be no changes with the sanctions. But I emphasize – political sanctions, as economic ones were little and now they are almost canceled.
Radio Liberty: Will Obama change his policy in relation to the country where there is repression, as an example for the EU, which may refuse the use of sanctions against Russia?
Bialiatski: In some extreme cases, the mechanism of sanctions is the only peaceful mechanism that remains in international relations. The crisis of the financial system in Russia is a result of sanctions, through which the EU achieves its objectives to give a call to the Russian authorities about the conflict in Ukraine. It depends on whether Russia will listen. But the Russian authorities are using the situation of conflict and tensions with the European Union to deal with non-governmental organizations and the media in the country. Russia is becoming a classic police state.
Radio Liberty: How then Europe should behave towards Belarus, when there are differences in how to behave with Putin?
Bialiatski: By supporting the Lukashenka regime the international community supports the Putin regime. I am referring to the economic, political, and moral support. It follows from the close economic and political ties that over 20 years the Belarusian regime has established with the Russian state. We have got in so many associations – EEC, EurAsEC and others – that we ourselves are confused in so many acronyms. And in fact it is a gradual loss of independence of the Belarusian state and its entry into the East Asian corporation, which does not respect human rights, where there is no human dignity and social rights and freedoms are not secured.
But if we talk about sanctions, back in 2011 it was the economic sanctions – although small – that played a huge role in the fact that the scale of repression in Belarus stopped political prisoners were very quickly released, and there were a few dozen people in prison then. It was an instrument that worked for the release of political prisoners.
Radio Liberty: Today the whole world remembers Vaclav Havel. Will Belarus have such a person as the first president of the Czech Republic?
Bialiatski: I am convinced that even if we do not have our Vaclav Havel, we will certainly have a democratic leader. But the important thing is that we had a situation that could give birth to and support this democratic leader.