Svetlana Aleksievich: We must show that there are more and more of us
The writer – about the protest movement in Belarus
– You recently gave an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel. Many media outlets quoted the sensational statement you made in this interview: "The opposition coordinating council no longer exists. A new council has been created and the names of its members are kept secret to protect them". Do you really believe that the Steering Committee no longer exists? And what is this new secret advice?
– I am sorry that I, probably, could not accurately explain our realities. It’s not even the journalist’s fault, it’s just difficult for a person from another country, another culture to explain what is happening to us. I explained that there is a 5,000-member Coordination Council. There is a Presidium of the Constitutional Court of 7 people. And now many members of the Council’s Presidium are either in prison or abroad. At the same time, they work abroad as well. But there are 50 members who are in Belarus and make up the governing body of the Council. And when a German journalist asked me if I was in despair that the leadership of the Council – who is in prison, who is in exile? I replied that now there are new people in the Constitutional Court, there are people who have not been prosecuted, and who are now conducting the work of the Council. But their names are not advertised.
– Does the Council have a first person, a chairman? Some time ago, IT entrepreneur Maxim Bogretsov announced a claim to the leadership or representation of the Coordination Council.
– From the very beginning of the Council’s activities, it was decided that there would be no chairman. Bogretsov – one of the most active members of the Council, but not its chairman. Lilia Vlasova, a member of the Presidium of the Council, who is now in Belarus and at large, is also not the leader of the Constitutional Court.
– It was announced from the outset that the Coordination Council – this is not the headquarters of the revolution, not an alternative government, this is a public institution, the purpose of which – negotiate with Lukashenko on the transfer of power.
– Immediately after the elections, one could hope that Lukashenka would agree to such negotiations. It is now clear that he is not going to conduct any negotiations with members of the public, in particular, with the Coordination Council..
What’s the point in the Council if the other side flatly refuses to negotiate, for which the Council was created?
There must be a core around which all opposition forces gather. Lukashenka accused us of wanting to carry out a coup. Nobody was going to do this. The goal was to achieve consensus in society and, in agreement with the authorities, to make the transition to free elections and a more democratic state of society..
– And now this goal remains relevant, even if the other side is not going to negotiate with you and generally talk?
– Now even several states have recognized that the Coordinating Council represents the Belarusian society and can conduct negotiations, if they ever take place. Maybe my comrades-in-arms see it differently, but, in my opinion, now we exist as a kind of moral stronghold of the opposition forces.
– What is the relationship between the Coordination Council, the headquarters of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and the recently created Anti-Crisis National Directorate headed by Pavel Latushko (Latushko – former Ambassador of Belarus to France and former Minister of Culture. – Approx. RS)?
– Latushko said in one interview that society should be ready for what will happen after Lukashenka. There are many challenges ahead of us. One – this is a danger from Lukashenka’s side. But there is also a danger that our small country will fall under the strong geopolitical influence of a large country. As for Tikhanovskaya, she solves our international problems. It seems to me that she does it very successfully. Before our eyes, it has grown into an international policy. She negotiates at a high level and selects a team of very interesting people. Franak Vyachorka, for example, on her team.
These organizations complement each other. And they fit into the network context of our modern life, when it is impossible to understand who is the leader, who is the leader. There is network interaction. The authorities cannot understand who is leading the protests, who rebelled, who is the puppeteer. There are no puppeteers, everything is decentralized. This is due not only to new technologies, but also to the fact that we are full of authoritarian rule, authoritarian rulers. People instinctively seek another way..
– You already said about "geopolitical influence of one large country". Judging by the statements of the leaders of this country – Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lavrov, Sergei Shoigu, – they believe that there is clear interference and incitement from the West in Belarus, that Lukashenka has come up with a good plan for constitutional reform and it should be implemented. Is it possible to say that Russia is completely on the side of Lukashenka and will remain on this side?
– I don’t think Russia is on Lukashenka’s side. She is on her side. The popular movement caught Russia by surprise, she was not ready for this. But she also does not like Lukashenka’s current behavior, when the streets of our cities resemble battlefields. Russia will look for another option. It would be nice if Babariko was released from prison (former head of Belgazprombank, participant in the 2020 presidential campaign. – Approx. RS). He and Latushko – very interesting figures. I hope that we will not become a province of Russia, but will preserve an independent state. Although Moscow in any case will play a huge role in our life.
– A very interesting study of the protesters in Belarus was carried out by sociologist Oksana Shelest. One of the conclusions of her research is that the Belarusian protest is predominantly Russian-speaking. It doesn’t surprise you?
– In our country, they mainly speak Russian. But this is an amazing phenomenon: people speak Russian, but their consciousness is Belarusian. And they want to live in a separate country, have their own flag, their own history. How many people have I seen on the march, speaking Russian, but wrapped in a white-red-white flag.
– Why do you think this flag became popular so quickly? For many years and decades, he was a symbol of the predominantly national democratic opposition – a small part of society. Even at the first pre-election rallies of Tikhanovskaya, these flags were few. And then it burst, and, in fact, the whole protest – white-red-white. Why?
– We think about how we will live independently, how to preserve Belarus, how to become Belarus. I remember my feeling: I went to the window, under the windows was a column with a huge, multi-meter flag. As if we had a subconscious memory of Belarus, of ourselves, of our language, of our symbols. It came to the surface instantly. Any resistance needs a symbol. And since it was our symbol, it instantly took such a place in our lives. If we have our own country, it will definitely be with this flag.
– A question that causes a lot of controversy – Does Lukashenka still have popular, mass support? Not on the part of officials, not on the part of the OMON, but on the part of ordinary people. You once wrote about your neighbor Pyotr Seliverstovich, about other very popular characters. There are people who say that Lukashenka has only riot police, who are connected with him by mutual responsibility, now bloody. And the people – vs. Indeed?
– He still has popular support. No matter how much we wanted not to admit it, we stayed. We must admit this soberly. I think that when there was a vote in the elections, he received 20 percent. Especially in rural areas, people cannot quickly rebuild. People started to wake up, but in big cities it was faster. We saw the marches of pensioners that take place in Minsk every Monday. But there are also other retirees living in the village. And not necessarily there, I met them in Minsk too. These people are afraid of changes, their connection with Lukashenka is carried out through their past lives. And compared to what happened under Stalin, this past life from their point of view was a good life. But I think that these people, as they are called "yabats" ("I – dad" – slogan of pro-presidential demonstrations in Belarus. – Approx. RS), and that part of society that is silent, – they would immediately rebuild if the new Belarus won.
After all, every person, even if he cannot live a new life, would like it for his children and grandchildren. But today, especially through the propaganda that Lukashenka uses, he has some public support. The degree of brutality of the repressions is shocking. 27 thousand people suffered from them, these are the best people of our society, students, professors, doctors, teachers, engineers. One of those who went through the administrative arrest said: "When I am here, at large, when I see a city as if under foreign occupation, it seems to me that we will not defeat this colossus. But when I was in jail when I saw people like me, – I felt that we would win". Lukashenka inflicted a huge trauma on the people. And people don’t forgive it.
– Perhaps my next question will sound blasphemous. Although, judging by the remark of the former prisoner, which you quoted, maybe this question arises not only for me. If neither Babariko nor Tikhanovsky (Sergei Tikhanovsky, husband of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, blogger, public figure, now a political prisoner – Approx. RS), neither Tikhanovskaya would have gone to the elections this year, maybe there would have been no hundreds of criminal cases, there would not have been thousands of detainees, beaten, killed, there would have been no transformation of places of detention into torture chambers. And there would be elections, as in 2015, with the sweet and harmless Tatyana Korotkevich (Belarusian politician, participant in the 2015 presidential elections. – Approx. RS). Boring, but no atrocities. It would be better this way?
– Your question corresponds to the desire that Lukashenka has repeatedly expressed over these months. – how to return to the time before this election campaign. AND "yabats" sometimes they talk about it – how quietly, how calmly we lived until August of this year. I believe that social processes are similar to natural ones. It’s like saying – I wish I hadn’t gotten sick with this disease. But get sick or not – does not depend on our will. This is the logic of time, not personal.
– Lukashenka’s adherents dream of returning to "idylls", which existed until August of this year. Their opponents, and not only active participants in the protests, say that there will be no return, even if the revolution does not win. Really won’t happen? The people of my parents’ generation, your generation, remembered the 1950 thaw–60 years. And then, too, it seemed that the past would never return. But do you remember how the thaw ended? Triumph of reaction – the phenomenon is completely non-unique in history. Could this happen now in Belarus?
– Yes, you don’t even need to remember the thaw. There were 90s. At that time we so wanted changes, such a leap was in our heads. Although, rather, at the top of society. And below everything is unshakable. Naturally, a rollback occurs. But any thaw, any leap forward is impossible "roll back" to the end, it’s impossible to go back in time.
People do not want to live the way they did before 1990. And they will never live like this. People want to travel the world. A person wants his children to study where they want. Young people, when they are told about that life, before 1990, simply do not believe that it was so. But that was, and quite recently.
This leaves a mark and leads to consequences. If it hadn’t been for the Khrushchev thaw, there would have been no perestroika in the 90s. If it had not been for the 90s, there would not have been what happened in the 21st century in Georgia, in Ukraine, in Armenia, now in our country. Change is slow and sometimes painful, like we have now.
Roma Bondarenko was buried the other day (a protester killed by law enforcement officials. – Approx. RS).
In one of my books there is a story of a witness to the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the early 90s. He told how an Armenian family was killed in Karabakh. And the girl, the youngest daughter, hid in a tree. It was in the evening, she was shot, but not hit, and she survived. And the teacher who lived nearby said: "I don’t know if it was worth wishing for this new life to have this girl, my student, shot in a tree like a bird". And people were shooting, who also wanted a new life in their own way. These are difficult questions. But the path to freedom is very difficult.
In August, 200 people took part in demonstrations in Belarus.–300 thousand people, women carried flowers and gave them even to these masked idols. And then their boss took these flowers and in a rage threw them to the monument to Lenin. Then it seemed to us that we would have a revolution without blood. I am still a supporter of the bloodless option. I believe that if we take up arms, our victory will cost us even more. This is the space in which the dictatorship feels best. We must win in a different way. We must go out, we must show that there are more and more of us