It is the time of Kalinouskis and Kasciushkas in Belarus today.
The other day the famous Belarusian film director Jury Khashchavatski brought his documentary “Common president” to Warsaw. Back in 1997 he warned the world of the danger of Lukashenka’s dictatorship, but few listened to the warnings.
Today the world is harvesting the fruit of its short-sighted policy, Jury Khashchavatski says in an interview to the charter97.org web-site’s chief editor Natalia Radzina.
- Mr. Khashchavatski, last time we met was 3.5 years ago on the day I was released from prison…
- You have remained just as beautiful. I have grown older. But you all do well. I admire you.
- I very well remember our latest meeting, you very much supported me then. What do you recollect from those dreadful times, when so many people ended up in jail after the presidential elections?
- Between us, I still feel shame, because due to my health (I am asthmatic, I suffocate when it is freezing) I could not go to the Square manifestation. My friends got jailed. I felt so ashamed I was not with them!
I came to you and Dzima Bandarenka as soon as you got released also because when my legs got broken in 1997, who came and supported me morally and physically? Exactly you! So why talk about this… We must always be together: fight, get kicked, go to jail, get released and get victorious.
- You were attacked, beaten and got your legs broken in 1997 right after the release of the “Common president” film. The other day you showed this documentary in Warsaw in the framework of the events on the occasion of the International day of solidarity with Belarus. Did you think then that in 17 year Lukashenka would still be in power?
- No, by no means. I was a bad prophet in this sense. I would always say: “He will last half a year, he will last a year…”. I would always go wide of the mark. I did not take into consideration, how strongly the dictator was supported by Russia, despite Putin hating him and he hates Putin.
I did not understand it then, which I regret, because I got many misled by speaking it would all end soon. No, this has not ended, this keeps going and it will continue for some time.
- Until when?
- Two things are needed. Belarusians must awake, their own feel of dignity must get awaken in them. This is very important. And Putin’s regime must run out of money. Judging by the whole world’s unification against Russia, we must not wait too long…
As to Belarusians: many, who live close to Poland and Lithuania and go there often, see that prices are 2-3 times lower there, they understand a lot, but they won’t come out to protest! This is a phenomenon.
- The fear of repressions that people have should also be considered. There are 7 times as much policemen in Belarus than it was in the USSR. But Let us come back to the Square manifestation. In 2006 you made a film with the same name. The film’s characters say that coming out to protest was a turning point and the main event in their lives.
- Yes, this was the main event in their lives, because they did what they had to do. Many of them spent jail time, many got expelled or fired. You were jailed in 2010. I think that today you, and Dzima Bandarenka, and Andrei Sannikov, and Ira Khalip are happy for one simple reason – you did what you had to do. You have nothing to reprimand yourself of. This is the thing. And the people, who went out to the Square to protest in 2006 and 2010 also did well, they can also be proud of themselves.
It is very important not to miss such a moment, rise above yourself and your fears. It is clear that it is bad in prison, uncomfortable, but it is necessary to disregard this.
- Is there any alternative to a Square protest in terms of brining changes to Belarus?
- No. Except, may be, for one – the death of the main character. He has grabbed onto power like a bug and will not give it up. Viktor Shenderovich wrote the following about dictators like this: “Putin cannot get his hands of the sinecure, off the steering wheel, because as soon as he does people will come to take his fingerprints”. It is the same here. Too many crimes have been committed, too many people killed.
Apart from that, let us speak honestly: in terms of economy Belarus has already been given up to Russia. Long and tedious work is required in order to try to win back the real sovereignty. It is the most terrible thing that Lukashenka did to our country in 20 year. On paper the sovereignty exists, but in reality it does not.
- Several years ago you filmed a prophetic documentary “Lobotomy” about the Russia-Georgia war. You spoke of how Russia population gets brainwashed by propaganda. It seemed an overstatement then, but today it is a real problem.
- I would enjoy telling you that I am such a smart person and could foresee everything in advance. It is not like that. Documentaries are an amazing thing. They built themselves, they speak for themselves. It was a revelation for me too.
I may be mistaken in documentaries, but I never lie. It was the truth that told us what would be. Documentary filmmaking is an incredibly interesting thing.
Already back in 2009 I knew absolutely for sure that Russia will attack Crimea. In many interviews I then said it in regards to the Mistrals, I made warnings: expect them to appear in Crimea. This followed from the logic of my documentary, the truth that it laid upon. Only those can understand me, who made documentaries…
- How did Putin manage to lobotomy the whole country in such a short term, to deprive such a tremendous number of people of the ability to think?
- It is terrible! When Zianon Pazniak used to say that Belarus is a modeling facility, a testing ground for Russia, I used to laugh, I would think he was crazy. But Zianon turned out to have been right.
I remember 1997. I show the documentary, explain that Lukashenka is a dictator, that you would cry because of him, and they tell me: “Why do you worry so much? There is a great democratic Russia nearby! Everything will be well with you! Your local dictator will have no choice. Look how it is great in Russia already: there are oligarchs there already! Berezovskiy, Gusinskiy…” And where this Berezovskiy is now?
I would then respond that it was very dangerous to count on that. It is obvious that Belarus is small and Russia is big. But any virus is small and a body is big. A virus can kill this body. It was obvious that Russia would take our path, and it did. If you look how it did it, what measures were taken, you will notice that this is an absolutely complete repetition of Lukashenka’s steps.
Had Europe acted tough on Lukashenka back then, boycotted him, halted all the trade relations – he would not have make it! He would have got destroyed by Russians themselves!
So one should not now say that we, the opposition, are weak. For all these years we have been fighting the Russian money, which is huge. All our oppositionists struggle to find some mere dozen thousand dollars for campaign materials and stuff like that, but they face Russian billions. This is the most terrible thing.
I am curious, for example, whether the former head of the OSCE observation mission Hans-Georg Wieck understands that there is blood of Belarusian oppositionists on his hands too among others? In 1999 he assured Belarusians that a round table should be arranged with the authorities.
Does the Euronews TV channel realize the whole responsibility for what is taking place in Ukraine? I read the blogs of Russian paratroopers, young men, who go to fight in Ukraine on the side of the separatists. One of the main arguments is the events in Odessa.
I intentionally recorded the Euronews piece about the events in Odessa. This is fascinating. There is the start of the events. There is the final part. But the main part – as there was an attack on the Euromaidan, as they started to shoot, when there was the first victim among those, who simply walked down the street with Ukrainian flags – is missing. (By the way, a day before the tragedy the Anti-maidan walked around with flags and no one touched them!). They did not tell about this, the did not look deep into the situation, they intentionally mixed the facts… How many liters of blood does the Euronews have on it?
So one must understand that no one is perfect, and neither is Europe.
- I know that you have an idea to make a film titled “The seduction of Europe”. What could this documentary be about?
- About how pro-Russian lobbyists, Russian ways of doing business by the means of bribery and embezzlement is making its way to settle in Europe. In Belarus we would get indignant about the corruption schemes involving solvents and thinners, we would accuse (rightly accuse) the Belarusian authorities of that, but no one even once asked the question: who was their partner in the West? Who received it all? It would not have been possible without Europeans.
It is clear that Russia was involved in the scheme. But today we know that due to the sanctions the transit Belarus becomes the main field for dirty games. And Europe may turn its blind eye to this for the sake of money paid to bureaucrats.
I would very much like to make such a film, but, considering the harshness of the topic, it must be based upon legally perfect facts. For that I need enormous legal resources, private detective agencies. This is very expensive, I am not going to find that kind of money. Although, I should make it.
Yes, the Malaysian Boeing, this tragedy cleared the heads of many. But I am afraid that this is not for long.
- Ukraine’s new authorities suggested Belarus as a negotiation ground for talks with Russia, although today it is a ground for the deployment of Russian troops and military equipment.
- They repeat Saakashvili’s mistake. He also tried to balance between values and economic benefits. But if you have come to power by declaring moral and ethical values, you must not betray those. Why do I love the founding fathers of the USA? They managed to organize the state in sucha way that even after hundreds of years the USA does not step away from the principles of freedom and democracy. This is what Saakashvili could not understand and so far cannot Poroshenko.
Russia does its trade via Belarus by paying an interest to Lukashenka. Now grey schemes will flourish. The dictator will be able to make a fortune on contraband. It will be god knows what here. This is very sad, because Belarus deserves better.
Of course, we are all mortal, and so are these authorities. They will pass, but what will be left after them? This is the question.
- You have a touching film “In the search of Yiddish” telling the story of Belarusian Jews, made together with Aliaksandr Haradnitski. How would you asses Israel today’s policy toward Belarus?
- As to the “In the search of Yiddish” documentary: Belarus has a lot to learn from Israel. For example, how the language was revived. Belarusians must too revive the language so everyone started speaking it.
As to Israel: after the words that there are political prisoners in Belarus, but only criminals, I have got very disappointed of the Israel’s ambassador to Belarus. I am an old Odessa hooligan, and if I get near to Iosif Shagal, I may not restrain myself…
I think that this is a scoundrel, who has nothing to do with the great state of Israel and by some mistake ended up as an ambassador to Belarus. He should be deprived of the name, spat in the face and kicked out of the country.
- The day before I asked you about the atmosphere in Minsk and you answered that there were too many low-educated delinquents. Is this the outcome of Lukashenka and Russian propaganda?
- This is a disaster. 20 year ago I started making the “Common president” film. Now the children, who were born then, are 20 years old. What did these authorities want of them, what did they teach them? The Youth Union, the scale of values, on which the greatest one is Lukashenka with his bald spot and illiteracy…
I am not saying that they managed to fool everyone. There is a large number of highly intellectual well-educated young people, but the delinquents command the parade, who wander around the city after a hockey or football game and scream “Hooray!”, pull this red-green rag behind them, the name of which is “sunset over a swamp”, and know no history of the country they live in.
They were born and brought up by this regime, and we will have to take a long time to bring these people to senses by explaining what is what.
- In one way or another you too, part in all the presidential elections in Belarus: you worked for the teams of Domash and Hancharyk in 2001, in 2006 you supported Milinkievich, in 2010 – Andrei Sannikov. What, in your view, should be the strategy of the opposition in the 2015 elections?
- I am absolutely sure that in the 2015 elections everything will be falsified and counted the way they need it.
Apart from this, in the 2010 elections Andrei Sannikov won. At least, this politician was making it into the second round, and had there been a second round – he would definitely have won. Another presidential candidate Mikalaj Statkievich is still in prison. That is why it does not seem fair the public and to myself to participate in these elections.
They must be boycotted, boycotted by everyone in a peaceful way – not to go vote and that is it. I think there will be no Square protest after these elections, because the Ukrainian events have strongly scared the people. But there is no other way to achieve the truth.
That is why one must spit on these authorities and take no part in the silly show.
- What should we expect after 2015?
- The collapse of the Putin regime, followed by the collapse of the Lukashenka regime. Practice has shown that it all depends on the situation in Russia. Even if by god’s will Lukashenka passes away and gets off the helm, another one will emerge in a moment. Very serious changes are needed.
But one should not get sad. Look how Europe lives. Everything is well there, only a bit boring. There is nothing to fight. So they fight the global warming and other stuff… With something that has been made up, because all the problems have been solved.
We, on the other hand, are having exciting times! You may become a fighter, may become a person, get a name in the history. You can do a lot today. The times when there were Kalinouski, and Kasciushka before that – this is the kind of times we are having now! May be, guy, you will do something that books will later be written about. You may become unforgettable people. One should not hide, one should fight and win!
- Meet to at the Belarusian Maidan?
- Meet you in the Belarusian Square in a free Belarus. I hope to live to that moment and see it all. I hope, we will live long and happily in our own country and will have everything we need.