Alexander Milinkevich is leader of the opposition in Belarus. In the presidential election in March he won 6 percent of the vote according to official results. Independent sources denounce these figures, saying at least one third of the electorate voted for Milinkevich.
His supporters accused those in power of rigging the vote and launched protests. Retaliation was swift. Milinkevich was jailed for two weeks for organising illegal demonstrations.
He told EuroNews about his plans for democracy in his country:
EuroNews: Mister Milinkevich, welcome to EuroNews. What is the aim of your visit to France?
Alexander Milinkevich: I have been invited by the NATO parliamentary assembly which is examining the cases of Belarus and Ukraine. So we talked about the situation in Belarus after the election, and about the prospects for democratic change in my country.
EuroNews: You were arrested after the election. There was talk of tough repression on the streets of Minsk. What’s your analysis of the situation more than two months after the vote?
Alexander Milinkevich: Those in power did not expect such strong support for the opposition in this pseudo-election. A substantial number of people were behind us. I started the campaign with a backing of just 1.5 to 2 percent of the vote according to opinion polls. But our results reveal I won one third of the vote in the election. Obviously, those in power didn’t expect such results. They launched a policy of retaliation. A thousand people (more than that according to our sources) were arrested. They were jailed for 7, 10 or 15 days for so-called administrative reasons. And that’s how the government lost touch with the people, even those who backed them before the election.
EuroNews: You ran as the leader of a united opposition, but there are other leaders like Alexander Kozulin and Zenon Pozdnyak. What prevents the opposition from being united?
Alexander Milinkevich: Indeed, we have always said a strong opposition is a united opposition. My colleagues and myself have always done everything in our power to try to be united. But not everyone has the will-power, and some don’t know how to unite. Our coalition includes ten parties and hundreds of associations. It’s their right, but I think it has weakened our fight for democracy. In Ukraine, for example, there were more than 20 candidates, but only two were taken seriously, those who were either backed by the government or by the democratic forces.
EuroNews: Won’t the problems facing Ukraine and Georgia in the aftermath of their “colourful revolutions” dissuade voters in Belarus from making a democratic choice?
Alexander Milinkevich: Yes, the revolution in Ukraine, which is the closest to us, is very important. From a democratic point of view, considerable change has taken place -there is more freedom of the press, the elections are more democratic… but economic success is also necessary. That’s what matters most for many people.
Of course, state propaganda here in Belarus chooses to focus on the negative results. Positive outcomes, such as the rise in pensions, student grants or salary increases are not shown. Nevertheless progress is too slow, we would like to see more results.
EuroNews: Let’s talk about the economy. From the 1st of January, Gazprom will treble gas prices for Belarus. Isn’t that a deadly measure by the Kremlin against Lukashenko?
Alexander Milinkevich: First of all, it has to be said that the so-called “Belorussian economic miracle” is due to low gas and oil prices. There are going to be difficult times for Belarus, we had predicted that. Russia cannot maintain low prices for ever, particularly if it wants to join the World Trade Organisation, it will be subject to certain obligations. We should have prepared for this, but we didn’t do anything. I don’t think Russia wants to trigger a crisis in Belarus but this sudden increase will mark the downfall of our economy. I’m not one of those politicians who think: “Who cares if things are going badly, as long as we’re fine. People are taking to the streets, that is a victory for us.”
We don’t want a situation like that. We just want honest and fair elections, that’s our main goal. I hope Belarus will find a compromise with Russia and that prices will be increased gradually.
EuroNews: Mr Milinkevich, according to you, who are the main allies of the democratic opposition in Belarus?
Alexander Milinkevich: We’re relying mainly on ourselves. We’ve understood that if we want a democratic Belarus, it’s up to us to make it happen. But solidarity is very important, because sacred values are on the line: democracy, human rights, freedom. And today we have found support among Europe’s democratic countries. The United States, Canada and Japan are also behind us. We would also like to have the backing of Russia, it’s very important for us. The first visit I made as leader of the democratic forces was to Moscow, because in Russia, there are some people who spread rumours that we represent anti-Russian forces. But there aren’t any serious anti-Russian forces on the Belorussian political scene. There isn’t any anti-Russian feeling. We would like Russia to enjoy positive ties both with us and with those in power. Because the future is ours – the young, the educated, the active members of the population are behind us. And we believe – as we always have done – that Russia is a strategic partner for our country.