Instead of wasting time in pseudo-elections, the opposition should fight for the political prisoners.
A number of oppositional forces in Belarus intend to take part in the presidential elections 2015, according to recent reports. Ales Lagviniets from the movement For Freedom, Uladzimir Niakliayeu from Tell The Truth, Anatol Liabedzka from the United Civil Party are expected to be among the candidates. Just like in 2010, there are other attention seekers ready to please their ambitions who lack both experience and public support. It is hardly reasonable to take part in elections in a dictatorship with no chances for victory. However, the following issue is alarming: none of the potential candidates links their participation in the elections to liberation of the political prisoners.
Meanwhile, our political prisoners are the people whose conviction has no legal grounds. After the elections 2010, a whole group of popular politicians were sentenced to prison. This group included presidential candidates Dzmitry Vus, Andrei Sannikov, Mikalai Statkievich and others.
The main reason behind their imprisonment was their taking part in the elections, not breaching the law. Arrests and repressions that followed resulted in a large-scale demolition of the oppositional structures in Belarus. Only the movement For Freedom remained safe because of its chairperson Aliaksandar Milinkievich’s sudden and unexplainable refusal to participate in the elections 2010.
The events of December 19, 2010 have never been investigated. The circumstances of that day and all that was taking place on the Square was discussed during trials only as fragments in the context of the actions of the accused, and never as sequences of coherent events. In order to conceal the coherent picture of the Square, the regime held several separate trials instead of one general. The powers have never given any explanation to this unreasonable decision. As a result, instead of clarifying what actually happened on December 19 and convicting those who stood behind public disorders, the powers convicted the people who threatened Lukashenka’s dictatorship by mere practicing their legal rights.
Since then, some of the prisoners were released, some are still in prison, like Mikalai Statkievich and Ales Bialatski, while some had to leave the country. Many of them lost a part of their rights to political activity. One could assume that in this situation the rest of the opposition would unite, fight for the release of their colleagues and work to convince foreign governments that they should press Lukashenka’s regime to release the political prisoners. Instead, they seem to be planning to repeat the mistakes of 2010. One could hope that one of them will eventually reach the presidential post and rehabilitate the innocent prisoners. However, neither in Belarus nor outside its borders does anyone believe that fair elections are possible in Lukashenka’s regime.
Leaders of the Belarusian opposition need to learn basic rules of solidarity. And it’s not enough to simply learn them, it is crucial to be consequent and to apply these rules. Apart from the issues of morality and ethics, there is a pragmatic calculation that the consolidated forces will push the powers to make concessions, and will defend basic conditions of political activity – legal struggle for the power can never be punishable.
The opposition should target all its efforts to liberate the political prisoners who are still kept behind the bars, and to restore the rights of those who have lost them. These people must be able to participate in the political process on equal grounds. If it cannot be achieved, the elections should be ignored.
The society, in its turn, will watch closely what the opposition does to help its fellows. Political prisoners and victims of repressions are the leaders that are so few in Belarus. They are courageous and strong, and ready for sacrifices to make the powers obey the law.
Ignoring the basic principles of solidarity is against the common interest. This is not about boycotting the elections; it is about Belarusian politicians showing solidarity with their fellow politicians, fighting for their liberation and equal political struggle. It is necessary to be firm with the powers and defend the first rules of political struggle. At the same time it is a chance to finally make the powers act in a decent way.
The coat of arms Pagonia is one of the most ancient and respected national symbols of Belarus. From the very beginning, when it was used as the coat of arms of the Great Dutchy of Lithuania, Pagonia has embodied the military principle of the Belarusian state – to catch the aggressor and release prisoners. Basically the entire Belarusian opposition considers Pagonia to be the national coat of arms, and it means that Pagonia’s internal meaning, defense of common interests and solidarity, should guide them in their work.
In the dictatorship, the Belarusian opposition has to make it a rule.
If the oppositional candidates participate in the elections 2015, while their colleagues watch the race from their prison cells, we can talk about the selfish and greedy nature of the opposition. And hence, if the new candidates get to prison because of their short-sighted craving for foreign donations, they cannot count on the solidarity of those who remain free. They shouldn’t forget that today’s prisoners have not committed a crime. They were captured, just like in the times when Pagonia was the coat of arms of the Great Dutchy of Lithuania. And they must be released immediately to protect human rights and the society’s interests.
Valery Kavaleuski, Nasha Niva