The only Belarusian opposition leader who has not gone into exile, Maria Kolesnikova, is positive about the future of the pro-democracy protests in the eastern European country. EURACTIV’s media partner EFE reports.
Embattled Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, she said, has shown weakness by repeatedly turning to the Kremlin for support.
“With a Kalashnikov in his hand, he is trying to show us that he is a strongman, but everyone knows he is not,” Kolesnikova told Efe in an interview.
Kolesnikova added that images of Lukashenko toting an assault rifle while carrying out inspections, in fact, had the opposite effect for the leader, who has been in power since 1994.
“Belarusians are prepared for a marathon of protests,” she warned after more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Minsk for the third consecutive Sunday over the weekend despite the threat of a police clampdown.
Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed last week to the creation of a joint Russian-Belarusian police force that could be deployed in Belarus if deemed necessary.
“Lukashenko asked a neighbouring country for help. Intervening in the affairs of other countries is a crime,” Kolesnikova said.
She rejected these so-called political obligations in the deep bilateral ties between Minsk and Moscow: in her opinion, neither the Union State nor the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization justifies foreign intervention.
She believes that in his message to Belarus, Putin subtly called on the government in Minsk to heed the message of the street protests.
“In Putin’s declarations, everyone focuses on the first part and ignores the second, which is much more important. Putin says that if people are coming out to the street then they are not happy and they have to be listened to in order to reach a compromise.”
However, rather than doing that, Lukashenko chose to fly in a helicopter above the protesters, met with his riot police and called protesters “rats.”
The key to the success of the protests, Kolesnikova said, is for the opposition not to set its sights on taking power but instead work to change the country, a process that cannot be done overnight.
“Our objective is not to fight for power, we are not a political party,” she said in reference to the opposition transitional council led by exiled former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
The body has been described as anti-constitutional by Belarusian authorities.
Kolesnikova said Belarusians share three common goals: to hold new elections, release political prisoners and investigate the alleged assassinations and acts of violence against prisoners.
“What we know for sure is that we are a majority and that our conscience as a population has completely changed. Now, Belarusians have dignity and demand respect. This sense of freedom cannot be extinguished in any way.
“It’s difficult to talk about long-term plans, given that every day there are changes in Belarus.”
Although the opposition council has no definitive roadmap for change in place, they have not wasted time in launching a campaign for change, first of all with an initiative.
A musician by trade, Kolesnikova is the only member of the all-female anti-Lukashenko troika who remains in Minsk.
Tikhanovskaya and Veranika Tsapkala both went into exile after the controversial presidential elections on 9 August, in which Lukashenko took 80% of the vote according to the electoral commission, a figure that has been dismissed as fraudulent by the opposition.
“We feel the pressure, but I think we find ourselves in the same situation as nine million Belarusians. Every one of us perfectly understands what is going on and we all feel the same pressure. This will not stop us.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]