Thursday, March 16, 2006

Democratic Opposition Challenger Alexander Milinkevich On The Difficult Birth Of A Modern Democratic Belarusian Nation

... "I see the opposite [of satisfaction with the current Authoritarian regime], and during my many trips to Belarusian regions I have become more and more convinced of it. A significant part of the people -- and their number is steadily increasing -- has become fed up with leading a life of indignity and of the uncertainty of the future. People have become fed up with the [employment] 'contract system' that has made slaves out of them, and that has made them dependent on the arbitrariness of brainless supervisors.

They have become sick of the endless lies on television about the successes of the Belarusian "economic miracle", the boorishness, and the everyday humiliation of an honest and decent people. They have become tired of being kept by the authorities on a short leash. They want to live, not to struggle to survive, they want justice and the rule of law. True, not everyone today can speak openly about this, but a breakthrough is under way. ...

You need to realize the significance and seriousness of what has happened. It is the first time during Belarus's independence [since 1991] that all healthy democratic forces, despite their differing political views, have united to change the situation in Belarus for the better, to build a state that will respect its citizens and will be respected in the world. Everybody understands that squabbles between democratic parties and organizations play today only into the hands of the ruling regime. Our coalition is a significant achievement of Belarus's democratic forces. We understand perfectly well that the day of March 19 will perhaps not conclude anything. We have agreed to go forward together and, thank God, everybody understands this necessity....

It is important for us today not to lose people, to bolster their faith in victory. The "popular vote" aims not to activate the democratic-minded electorate, but rather to discourage people. Just like a boycott. If we could be sure that we are able to explain the sense of the "popular-vote" idea to the overwhelming majority of Belarusians and tell them where they can take alternative ballots, we could count on some success. But we have no such possibilities today. It is much easier -- and we are calling on everybody to do this -- to rally around the campaign of a single contender who has the support of the united democratic forces....

We rely on the remaining independent newspapers, radio programs made by Belarusians, 'samizdat' [the underground, officially banned press], and the initiatives of active and concerned people in the regions....

If the authorities stage a dishonest election, there will be more people on the Central Square [of Minsk]. I am sure that there will be no 2001 scenario. Belarus is different already today. And after March 19, it will be a totally different country....

We are not working just to hear from the mouth of [Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidiya] Yermoshina that we have lost. All of us are realists. We have our feet on the ground. Our goal is to change the social mood, to prove that the current authorities cannot win a democratic election."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty On-Line Press Conference With Democratic Opposition Challenger Alexander Milinkevich on January 23, 2006. Published January 30, 2006 (translated from the Belarusian by Jan Maksymiuk).

'Democratic' elections are not the only ways in which Belarians are trying to understand and address their futures in the New Europe.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka and Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidiya Yermoshina are trying to stage another "Potemkin Village 'Democratic' Election" in the heart of the New Europe. However, the people of Belarus, having enjoyed economic growth for four years and no earlier economic "shock therapy", are now ready -- according to Belarusian 'independent' pollsters -- to align themselves with Belarus's democratic forces. The majority of men in Belarus now favor the democratic opposition, while Belarusian women -- especially elderly women, rural women, and less-educated woman -- are afraid that they will lose the low, but stable, employment, family-income support, and pension payments promised under Lukashenka.

Are the European Union members and the United States truly ready -- unlike in Eastern Europe and Russia after 1991 -- to address the real economic, social, and ecological fears of Belarusians -- especially Belarusian women -- as they are asked to let go of their fears and embrace a more open, modern, market-organized, and technologically-assisted future?

Photo credit: Agence France Presse With thanks


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