Viktar Babaryka, arrested on June 18th, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, arrested on May 6th and Valery Tsepkalo forced to flee first to Russia, Ukraine and finally to Poland, where he is currently with his wife Veronika Tsepkalo, who remained in Belarus till the eve of the elections, supporting the only accepted opponent candidate to Lukashenko, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Thousands of videos are spreading on social networks, independent media as TUT.by and Telegram channels as Nexta, showing hundred thousands of citizens protesting peacefully on the streets of Minsk, with hundreds of arrests and tortures in jail by the OMON. Maria Kolesnikova, last member of the opposition still in the coutry, has been missing, no news of her for several hours now.
Valery Tsepkalo, opposition candidate to the presidential elections in Belarus 2020, former Ambassador to USA and Mexico, and founder of the Belarus Hi-Tech Park (Eastern Europe Silicon Valley), answered our questions about the delicate political situation of the country.
How do you consider the current political situation?
Belarus is in a very deep crisis right now, and above all, an economic, social and political crisis. It’s the crisis of the system of values because the current President…that I don’t want to call President since he falsified the elections. But Lukashenko wants to continue building an obedient society. He thinks he can do everything with Belarusian people: ignoring the Constitution, ignoring the law, including the electoral one. But at the same time Belarusian people want democracy, want to have the right to choose their leader and right now in Belarus we can see a real conflict between different system of values. On the one hand, values related to the autocracy, the dictatorship, in which one person rules the country. But at the same time, Belarus people want to see the country as a democratic and civilised nation, where we have an independent Parliament, where we have independent Courts, where we have independent media and where we choose the leader, that Belarusians want to see.
Do you think it is possible in the near future to revoke the authoritarian amendments to the Constitution made by the Lukashenko regime? And – finding – a balance between the -political, juridical, legislative – powers in the country?
Well, at least the previous constitution was much better than the current one because Lukashenko just modified the Constitution for himself. But I think that the discussion about the Constitution is not on the main agenda of Belarus society at this moment. It will reflect the attention of the Belarus public, and the real problem now is Lukashenko himself. The real problem is that he wants to stay in power.
Against all, against our people, against the Constitution, against the electoral law. He just wants to stay in power, that’s basically his agenda. I think that [..] these matters can be discussed later on. How we will form the Government, how we will choose the Parliament, whether will be a proportional or a majority system, whether the members of the Parliament will be elected from the parties from the – various – constituencies. It doesn’t matter now. We can discuss these matters in a later stage because now with Lukashenko we don’t have the chances, because if he stays in power for longer, he would just throw away all these discussions, trying to grab the power with all his desire.
That’s basically the problem that we have. Let us decide about the false elections, let us remove Lukashenko from power. Let us declare a democratic Belarus, a democratic State and then I think we can discuss the rest.
From the perspective of the political opposition in Belarus, you are currently merging the forces with the other members of the opposition. Do you think there is a plausible candidate for the Presidency? Who would be the new face of democratic Belarus?
I think it’s premature to talk about new elections and yes we united our efforts against Lukashenko because Svjatlana was the only registered opposition candidate. So I made the decision to help her with the presidential elections. I also spoke with the team of Viktar Bakaryka asking to do the same thing, because he was also not allowed to run for the presidentials. Then he was put into prison, Lukashenko was so scared. We decided to join, to unite our efforts and actually Belarus people didn’t vote particularly for her, but against to Lukashenko, that was the major objective of Belarusian they would like to see anybody except him, that was basically the idea.
We started as independent candidates in our political campaign having our own vision, our own agenda with our own understanding of what Belarus of the future should look like. But because the three of us were taken away from the race, then they made the decision to register Svjatlana: her registration was approved and recognised as valid. It was allowed because they believed that she would’ve had any chance to win him, with a positive agenda, according to which you should start talking about reforms in the industry, agriculture, health care, education and morally destroyed by the existing regime. Then we decided to formulate the negative agenda, making her stands very very strong, that was what people want, to let Lukashenko go, and have free and fair presidential elections with all the political prisoners kept in prison an being able to participate.
You are supporting protesters from abroad and I know there is an American-Polish Fund, can you talk about this more?
At this moment we are registering the fund to support Belarus democracy and then we can approach the Polish Government and the whole European Union, and also the Polish-American fund in order to finance those who fight against the existing regime, who fight for democracy and it’s based on the criteria of help, delivered to those who were injured who suffer because of this regime, physically, morally or just by losing their jobs or in other ways. So we will offer this criterion to all the stakeholders, to all the potential sponsors so far this process.
What do we have at this moment: Lukashenko has all the power in his hands, all the financial and other resources and he doesn’t allow to choose those internal resources to support people below, citizens. So this is the way we can help Belarusians, raising money from those who feel sympathetic to the citizens, a fund to make Belarus a free independent State. It’s important because they would feel they’re not left alone with this regime, they need to feel the support of the world community. And the interest of the international media as well, supporting the efforts to change Belarus into a democracy.
As former Ambassador, and as an expert of international law, the role of Belarus right now is been watched by Russia, USA and the European Union? How’s the – geopolitical – situation right now? I know that in other previous interviews you talked about Belarus as a neutral State.
We have to regain the international treatment that we had, we cannot say that we are going to get rid of this and sign that. It’s very problematic. We were able to see how this switches, changes in the geopolitical orientation, and what problems they caused in Ukraine, when they were trying to convince Ukraine and the public to join the European Union. Just in one day, they decided to switch and say, “okay, we’re now with Russia”, splitting the country in two pieces. And I think that was a very big mistake, because we have to continue the geopolitical orientation as it is now. Having Russia as our major ally. However, we would like to start a very sincere and open dialogue with all Western countries in order to have better relations with them.
We have to assume that the treaties that were used to sign with the EU, and restore some regimes that we had originally with the United States and other countries in the world. They were frozen because of Lukashenko, his political crackdown towards the civil society, the independent trade unions, the political parties and so on. These trade regimes are no longer in course because of our internal situation. If we would be able to improve our internal situation, then we could easily improve the relations with the Western countries.
However, we should give the same level of understanding trade, cultural exchanges and some support that we have with Russia, which is our biggest partner in trade, and on other spheres too. So Russia will be for many years our major trading partner, it’s a very big market for us and traditionally we are strongly culturally linked.
So do you see positively the sanctions from the European Union to Lukashenko, right?
Sanctions definitely will come, that’s very clear. That’s a normal approach from the site of the EU countries. And I think they will make Lukashenko’s position even worse, because if there are sanctions than there are very few chances that he would be able to build up any kind of resistance.
In hundreds of videos online of the protests are no EU flags, any reference to the European Union. Instead strong symbols of the roots of democratic Belarus. Can you express your opinion about society and their sentiment right now?
Our society would definitely have the benefits from our cooperation with Russia, but also, since we are close to three countries of the EU, to have close relations with the countries of the European Union. We would like to create the so-called “belt of friendship” around the borders with Russia and Ukraine, and the countries of the EU, that’s basically the aspiration of the Belarus people. That’s my firm belief also, my aspiration. You know even the geopolitical orientation is a secondary issue, because we may discuss as much as we want, but the issue is that political prisoners still cannot just speak openly on their own vision of the future, how they see the future of Belarus.
Cover photo by TUT.BY