Boycott to Undemocratic Elections in Belarus 2008!

Michael Batiukov

"The regime has given up on dialogue and democratization by unleashing a real terror against political opposition and the civil society. That is why the democratic forces are to start realization of a different strategy," believes the coordinator of the Charter'97 Zmitser Bandarenka.

You were one of the initiators of the dialogue of the opposition with the regime. Did this initiative make sense, while the political prisoners are still in prisons, peaceful rallies are brutally disbanded, and Lukashenka publicly insults opposition members on TV?

It did make sense, but you are right: today is the time for the opposition to abandon the dialogue too. I must remind that in the beginning of the 2007 Belarus was on the edge of an economic catastrophe after the decision of Russia to hike prices of oil and gas imported to our country. There was a threat of losing independence. In this situation the opposition intentionally extended a helping hand to the Belarusian government. No matter what Lukashenka would say today, offering a dialogue by the democratic forces helped to realize a number of investment projects in Belarus, considerably reinforced positions of the country in its talks with Russia, allowed to open credit lines in Europe. One thing is to deal with the last dictatorship in Europe, and the other with the government that have stated their beginning of democratization, readiness to conduct a dialogue with their opposition, and the beginning of a dialogue with the West. And the fact that the leader of the state publicly uses such words as "lousy", "scabby", "hell-raisers", he is just attaching these words to himself, demonstrating his own aggressiveness and lack of good manners.

Does opposition completely give up on the dialogue with the regime?

The dialogue opened absolutely new opportunities for the country. During their visits abroad opposition representatives said: in case all political prisoners are released, the US and European countries would have to take steps to meet the Belarusian regime. Recently in Washington we with high-ranking representatives of the US Department of the State discussed a possibility of a visit of Belarusian Foreign Minister and a representative of Lukashenka's administration to the US. America was really ready for a real breakthrough in the relations with our country. Readiness to grant a considerable assistance in solving energy problems of Belarus was mentioned.

If the Belarusian regime released Aleksandr Kazulin before the end of February, as the US and European politicians had been promised, since March 1,2008 we could live in a new Belarus. However, Aleksandr Lukashenko has chosen the side of those his associates who in no way imagine themselves in a democratic, European Belarus.

The opposition would be ready for a dialogue again only in case of real steps of the regime for democratization of the country.

So far the regime has given up on the dialogue and democratization, and unleashed a real terror against political opposition and the civil society. That is why the democratic forces are to start realization of a different strategy.

How does a new strategy of the opposition could look like?

The new strategy today is a severe resistance to dictatorship in all directions. In the situation when no liberalization is taking place, we cannot hope that the upcoming election to the "parliament" would be democratic and free, that is why slogans "Boycott to electoral farce!", "Boycott to Lukashenko's regime!", "Boycott to dictatorship!" are appearing on the agenda. The regime itself has pushed the opposition to change the approaches.

What could the boycott of the election bring? Parties are stating that the electoral campaign gives democrats an additional opportunity to inform the population of Belarus on the situation in the country.

There are cases in history when boycotts which had been carried out successfully, forced authorities to make considerable concessions at the imminent elections. An unprepared boycott is much worse. For instance, Belarusian opposition used partial boycott at the local elections in 1999 and 2007. It is not effective to announce a boycott of the election in a few days before voting. Such campaigns really result in depression of the society and withdrawal of activists. The boycott of the election in 2000 to a great degree consolidated democratic forces, allowed youth movements to emerge (Zubr, the Young Front). I think nobody would disagree that the defeat in the presidential election in 2001 was connected to the weakness and passiveness of the candidate nominated by the opposition. All the strong candidates either didn't have a right to take part in the election because of imprisonment, or had been murdered.

Boycott-2008 is also to become an obstacle to the intentions to combine the election with a referendum once again, for instance, with a referendum on a Constitutional Act of a Union with Russia.

But nevertheless, people would be herded to take part in an early voting. How a boycott could be carried out in such conditions?

The answer is contained in the question. Everybody knows that an early voting is used by dictatorships for mass rigging of election results. In normal conditions, including the elections in the 1990s in Belarus, 3-5% of voters take part in the early voting. That is why it is necessary to organize a control over the number of those who had voted namely on the major day of election. I think, foreign and Belarusian democratic observers are fully able to do that. I would like to remind that in 2000 right after the so-called election the Belarusian TV announced that the election haven't taken place in any regional capital and in Minsk because of a low turnout. And only in a few hours the regime changed the result. However, they had to hold repeat election in one third of city constituencies. Even in Mahilyou a second round was held. After the boycott campaign soldierly spirit of opposition was really strong.

That is to say, you do not hope that the regime would resort to holding democratic elections, after the chair of the central Election Commission Lidiya Yarmoshyna stated that proposals of the opposition on control over vote count by independent observes are "unworkable", do you?

I think the situation is to become clear in the middle of June. And starting from this time a boycott campaign by the forces of civil society could be started. At the initial stage parties would try to use opportunities of the election campaign for promotion of their ideas, but facing one more sheer lawlessness, they are to join the boycott. It is possible that not all would support the boycott at once, but finally the majority of democratic structures are to join it.

Does it mean that after the boycott would be announced, repressions would be stepped up?

Boycott is a response to repressions. Besides, a considerable enhancement of a solidarity campaign both inside the country and abroad is to become a response to the crackdown by the regime.

When opposition offered a dialogue to the authorities, it was said that the message was intended for officials primarily. What should the officials who wanted a dialogue do?

I think that winding up a dialogue with opposition, and especially with the West, shocked many officials. During numerous contacts of Belarusian democrats with state officials, both sanctioned "from above" or informal, we have become convinced again that an absolute majority of these people want positive changes and place their interests on a new democratic Belarus, and Europe. Now officials are to hear about detection of "a new group of corruptionists" from TV screens again. But I think that a new "turn of the screw" won't be long. The dictatorship simply doesn't have resources for that. A form of boycott to dictatorship could be chosen by anyone. It would guarantee actual uniting of all sound people both in opposition and in the government. It is obvious to everyone already that a very little group of people hinders changes in the country. And if they responded a dialogue with new arrests and pushed away an extended hand, we have nothing else to do but to rise to challenge. They, not us, have started the confrontation.

For your knowledge about elections in Belarus:

"Election" campaign in Belarus for the "Council of Republic" started on July 14, 2008

and should be finished by September 16 with the nomination of the candidates. Then the registration will take place from September 16 till September 20.

"Election" to the upper chamber of the "parliament" is indirect. "Senators" are not elected by the population, but by the "deputies" of local Soviets at their sessions by secret vote. "The council of republic" consists of 64 "Senators", 8 of them are appointed by Lukashenko. Others are elected by local Soviets, 8 persons from each of 7 regions of Belarus.