POLITICS
Sannikov on Belarus, Russia and Georgia
28 April, 2017
On March 25, there were many angry faces in Minsk. Why? Because a certain “last dictator of Europe,” as he is affectionately dubbed by his European counterparts, saw it fit to introduce a new legislation in the country aimed at… well, laziness. The law against “social parasites” angered many a “lazy” person, who claim that instead of solving unemployment, the government has put blame on the people. The political opposition, united in coalition, stood together with society on the streets.
And while the protests were peaceful, there were arrests nonetheless. Are there clouds gathering over Lukashenko’s future? Could this be the start of what many view as the most durable, if undemocratic, leadership in the post-Soviet space? Andrei Sannikov, a chief rival of Lukashenko and 2010 presidential candidate (for which the Batska promptly sent him to prison) spoke with Panorama Talk Show and GEORGIA TODAY from London, where he was granted asylum after Lukashenko finally pardoned him, under Western pressure, in 2012.

What’s your take on the protests? How different is this from the protests of the past?

They were triggered by the so-called decree on Social Parasites. According to which, if a person does not work for 183 days a year, this person has to pay taxes. But it was only a pretext because when protests started, the slogan was “Out! Go away!” Immediately, it started to get political because people are fed up with the 23 years of dictatorship. It’s too much. And the life, especially this year, is very difficult for Belarusians. Unemployment is growing, prices are up, and salaries are down. The economic situation is catastrophic.

You mentioned the President should go. Do you really see that happening through these protests?


That’s what the people demand. So far the opposition is trying to keep it peaceful. And that’s why the offer from the opposition is negotiations and eventual elections, free elections under international supervision. That is the best way out that would help us to avoid conflict inside and outside the country.

Do you see a link between the protests in Belarus and in Russia? Are these people with the same beliefs?


I think so. There is recognition of impossibility to live under dictatorships. Although this dictatorship in Belarus has been much longer than in Russia. People are fed up with it. They started to revolt both in Russia and Belarus. The system is very strong and they started to use violence against, let me stress, peaceful demonstrators. But the indignation is there. The rejection of systems both in Belarus and Russia is visible.

An authoritarian leader and a pro-western former minister who resigns and challenges him to elections – there was the same prelude for you and ex-president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili. But while Saakashvili vs Shevardnadze ended in the former’s favor, the same couldn’t be said about Lukashenko vs Sannikov. Why do you think that happened?

You must understand that we both had authoritarians and let’s not hide behind the words. Because we’ve had a clear, ruthless dictatorship in Belarus for many years. There was never dictatorship in Georgia, you never had Lukashenko. There was never dictatorship in Ukraine. They had a lot of corruption but not dictatorship. In Belarus, unfortunately with the help of Russia and frankly, with the help of Western money, the dictatorship is quite strong. It’s a personal regime of Lukashenko that uses most of the money to keep the repressive apparatus. And that is why the persecution and control of society is really strong there. That is why the protests in Belarus see only the bravest people are coming into the streets. And they face not only imprisonment; they face charges for long-term imprisonment and death. It is the most ruthless dictatorship on the territory of Europe.

You are Lukashenko’s biggest political rival and you even had to go to prison for your political activities. Had you won the 2010 elections what would Belarus would be like now?


You know, we were actually winning. That’s why I found myself in jail and with most of my team members, other candidates and other opposition figures. Had we won in 2010, Belarus would have been a different country. And the relationship would have been predictable. Because despite the support that Russia gives Lukashenko and despite his claims that he is the best friend of Russia, they cheat on each other. It’s not a normal relationship even in oil and gas. So there are no norms and rules of behavior even between Lukashenko and Putin.

Would Russia allow Belarus under your leadership or any other Belarusian’s leadership to leave its orbit?


Many people asked in the 2000s if Russia would allow Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia to join the EU and NATO. Before that there were questions whether Russia would allow Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia to join the EU and NATO. That’s not the question about Russia. We do understand the Russian factor but let’s think about our countries. You called me a pro-Western opposition. No, I am pro-Belarusian. And I’m not saying that I’ll think like Lukashenko. People did not decide to be in this close relationship with Russia and the people have expressed their willingness to have a better relationship with the EU.

There are people in Georgia who applaud Lukashenko’s wisdom and cunning, seeing him as a leader that managed to avoid direct confrontation with Russia, something that more democratic Georgia and Ukraine couldn’t do


Look what Lukashenko let Belarus become. It’s the most catastrophic economic situation since the collapse of the USSR. Inevitably, dictatorship leads to such things. As for how it could have been different, it couldn’t. I do understand that it is the hardest way for our independence, both for Georgia and Belarus. And for Ukrainian independence. And here we have to rely on actual understanding of our situation by the western countries. I do not see this understanding. Let’s be frank, the West is not very helpful for our independence. After Russia started the war in Ukraine, there was more awareness of what’s going on. More awareness of the dangers coming out of today’s Kremlin regime. Finally they will come to the conclusion that our independence – Georgia, Ukrainian, Balarus is indispensable for the security of the independence of Europe, EU and the West in general.

Vazha Tavberidze

Source: Georgia Today
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