Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Alexander Milinkevich Attempts To Confront Fear And Stump For Perestroika In Lukashenka's 'Happy Home' Of Belarus

"Hello and good health to Pinsk -- a town I have had a long association with. I have many friends here and connection here. And I know about this town very well and about its history.

You can look at our country these days and it is as if we were again in the time of Perestroika because everyone in the country is thinking these days about politics. But it is very important that we think of politics at this time. The current regime is far from reality in terms of economics. They say that we have “stability”. But I say this stability is stagnation. We are living in isolation; our young people must run to other countries in order to find money. We have some 70,000 or 80,000 people in Moscow, and as many in Europe and the US because here there is no place for them to work. Pensions have become smaller than the money we pay for middle-wage jobs. I disagree with these things and with how closed we are as a nation. I want to go forward.

My campaign team consists of 12,000 people. 5000 helped me gather signatures across Belarus. Amongst the leaders of my team are 6 academics, 22 doctors, and candidates of scientific works, and bosses of factories and Kolhoz (Collective Ownership, the state farming organization). I have people from all walks of life on my team but the one thing that they all have in common is that they now afraid for their positions and jobs and they are afraid to say that they worked for me. This is the sort of country that we live in.

But we got together and we have made a program. We made this program from speaking to people across our country. For a half a year [prior to the one-month 'official' campaign period], we went around the country and spoke with people and in doing so we received thousands of suggestions from people about what sort of things they like and don’t like about the country. We built our program on these suggestions. We call it the Narodnya Program, the people’s platform. We made this program and it stands on Freedom, Truth and Justice.

What are we speaking of when we say the word freedom? Firstly, people need personal freedom to live. People need freedom of opinion; they need economic freedom and freedom of movement. But firstly and most importantly, they need freedom from fear. And this is the most important thing that we want to do for Belarus, to release the people from having to live their lives in fear.

So what would I do if I were to be elected president? My first act as president will be to close the '[employment] contract system' because the most horrible thing about it is that you only have your job for a certain length of time. And people are afraid that they will lose their jobs. Other countries do not have such a system and people are free to find the best jobs for themselves that they can. But here in Belarus, you have to know somebody in order to get a job and then management uses the 'contract system' to control its people, building on their fear rather than their work. This is wrong. This we do not need. (Solid applause)

About the media: At the moment television and print journalism in Belarus is all propaganda and nothing more. They don’t show us 'the life' [Lukashenka's mantra for the utopia of his 'happy home' of Belarus] in the world on television, and the same is true for newspapers. We want to change this because we want to see, listen to, and read something that is real. As of now, we have only three state newspapers which show us nothing but propaganda and all of the independent newspapers have been closed down. Editions of the Narodnaya Volya (The Will of the People) are sitting [undistributed and unsold] because they are not allowed to be sold in the state-owned kiosks. Here in Pinsk, you have a problem with a newspaper as well. In all the world people have access to cable television except here in Belarus. Here we spend money to make an ugly television tower. You know our television situation yourselves. There is nothing to look at but endless propaganda for the president. We hear nothing about foreign countries and he (Lukashenka) makes us like zombies with the endlessness of his propaganda. People ask me all the time about how much all of this propaganda must cost and how Lukashenka pays for his commentary shows and the (bubblegum) entertainment concerts that are constantly on the air. This situation must change. (Mild applause)

There is a large difference now between simple workers and the bosses in terms of wages. Though the accepted number for the middle wage is stated as being $250 a month, this is far from the truth. The great majority of simple workers still receive less than $100 a month on which to live. And what is more, you can only get a job if you have a friend in the organizations. This is a closed system and people have nowhere to go to make a better life for themselves. In order to find a job you have to know someone and then once you have a job, you are obligated to work under a one-sided contract. This is not the way that it should be.

In Estonia, they have a smaller country than we do. They have fewer people and they have a smaller land mass on which to live. But in Estonia, the average wage is 700 Euros a month. Do they have better workers than we do? Are their experts better than our experts? Are their workers any less skilled? And they have the same technology as we do. Why should they be earning three times what we are? Where is this right?

And when it is time to go to the universities, children from simple families do not have access to a free education system because the places without payment [scholarship places] are taken by families with 'connections' and so children from the villages must pay in order to get into the universities. This is not right.

Our country is producing many products now and this is the truth. We are doing much better. But the problem is that the products cannot be sold abroad. Did you know that we have more than $1 billion in goods sitting unsold because there are no markets to sell them in? And what is more, we have in our factories old machines which produce goods of lesser quality and which are therefore uncompetitive. We can’t find markets because there is a wall that we ourselves have built between us and Europe. Yes, we have an ally in Russia and we sell goods there. But we are now selling less and less every year. This year we sold 45% less than last year because Russia has started to produce higher quality products themselves.

Yes, I am strongly in favor of integrating with Russia. I believe that we are a common people and that this is a good thing. But Russia is producing more goods for themselves and they are buying from Belarus less and less. Therefore foreign investments are needed. We must have modern machines in our factories if we hope to compete. Of course, there are countries that would make these investments. And foreign investment is not only credit (loans) which our children will have to repay in the future. And yes, of course, these investors will receive profit, but the results to us will be that our country will have places for our people to work, we will receive better wages, and from these new businesses we will take taxes. (Polite applause)

Gas: For now, we have cheap gas from Russia. Right now, we pay only one fourth as much for our gas as Europe pays. And yes, this is a great asset to our country. But the prices will grow and this will happen very soon. This will be our biggest problem. Our program has some ideas about how to handle this, but in any case, it is a very serious thing.

About the elections: Since we have begun our campaign, 220 people from my team have been fired from their jobs and some students have been removed from the universities. We have submitted some 74,000 names of people who would act as observers on March 19th. 74,000 names! And do you know exactly how many have been accepted? One! (strong reaction) This is correct. Only one person out of 74,000 names was given accreditation. We will, of course, ask about this again. In every place where there will be a vote, I want at least one of our people there. Only after this can we say that the voting was correct. And if we cannot see that the vote is fair, we will take to the streets and our voices will be heard.

Not long ago, both Alexander Kazulin [the second opposition candidate who was arrested and beaten last week] and myself were asked to withdraw from the elections. At the meeting of All-Belarusian People’s Congress, Mr. Kozulin was arrested for fighting with a security guard and was taken into custody. He suffered a broken lip because of this. In his last meeting in Minsk, 10 people were arrested simply because they were listening. Everywhere around Belarus, and especially in Minsk, people are searched during our rallies and those who have Milinkevich election materials have been arrested, and this even now [during the one month 'official' election period] during the candidate’s time when these materials are allowed. This is our country! People are afraid to say the truth!

Therefore, I am standing here asking you to vote from your heart and from your soul. You be the judge as to what is right and what is wrong. Do not be made to vote from fear. And most of all, when the time comes to make your vote, please think of your children and your grandchildren; this is the most important thing.

Thank you for listening to me."

[A transcribed question and answer period follows].

Alexander Milinkevich's Campaign Speech, Saturday Night, March 11, 2006, in Pinsk, Belarus via The Being Had Times: News From Belarus and Eastern Europe and as translated from the Russian by writer, educator, and ecologist Adam Goodman, an American resident in Belarus (and before that in Poland).

Translation (c) Adam Goodman 2006. With thanks.

Alexander Milinkevich, the Belarusan Opposition Candidate who wants Belarus to be a significant European nation in the heart of the New Europe, rather than a quasi-fascist Eurasian Authoritarian regime in the heart of the New Europe.

Leading Belarusan Opposition Candidiate Alexander Milinkevich is trying to confront Belarus's rigged electoral process and President Lukashenka's system of 'friendly fascism'.

Given that omnipresent fear in Belarus has made over one-third of the population disinterested in politics and afraid to vote (according to recent social science polls), Milinkevich and Lukashenka are most likely virtually tied in the polls going into this Sunday's election. However, Lukashenka has decided that it is 'appropriate' that an opposition politician, in his Belarus, receive no more than 10 or 12% of the vote, at most.

Photo credit: Associated Press With thanks.


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