“We’ll massacre all the scum that you have been financing” – fighting words from Europe`s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. During his interview with BBC’s Moscow correspondent, Steve Rosenberg, Lukashenko expressed his contempt for what he calls Western-sponsored NGOs in Belarus. Lukashenko can hardly hold back his anger against the questions posed by Rosenberg on the oppression of his own citizens. He even threatens to break off the interview at any time. His indignant and at times fiery temper is proof that Rosenberg successfully puts his finger on the weak spots of Lukashenko’s regime.
The status quo in Belarus remains worrying. The numbers make it very clear how paranoid Lukashenko’s regime has become: nearly 900 political prisoners are in jail (including 7 children , according to Belarusian human rights organisations), over 270 non-government organisations have been banned and over 35 000 ‘criminal cases’ have been brought to court. This is a paranoia reminiscent of Stalin’s Terror, in which enemies of the system were to be found everywhere and the Belarusian intelligentsia were duly purged.
More absurd charges are coming to light every week, including the arrest of citizens for following Telegram channels classified as ‘extremist’ by the regime.
A few points should be made about Lukashenko’s BBC interview that make it stand out from his previous CNN interview with Matthew Chance. Firstly, the effect of the interview being conducted in Russian is remarkable. The removal of the language barrier releases many more emotions on the part of Lukashenko. Aside from this, there are three major moments in the interview (among others) that make Rosenberg’s interview politically fascinating.
In saying that it is “absolutely possible” his troops helped migrants cross into Poland, Lukashenko makes his clearest confession to date of Belarus’ participation in the humanitarian crisis on the Poland-Belarus border.
He does, however, deny inviting migrants to Belarus. Nonetheless, Lukashenko’s geopolitical top trump is clear: Belarus is a buffer zone to the EU. Conclusions from his recent phone call with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel make it obvious that Lukashenko intends to use this geopolitical advantage to turn (EU) states against each other. His proposal that the EU take 2 000 stranded migrants at the border was rejected by the German Chancellor.
The EU’s primary response to the humanitarian crisis has been sanctions. The sanction packages aim to punish individuals and institutions that support ‘illegal migration’ to the EU. This will include sanctions against transit states en route to Belarus.
Merkel’s telephone call with Lukashenko has raised eyebrows not only within the EU, but also within Belarusian opposition circles. There is a growing unease among the political class that this call from Merkel has sent a sign of implicit recognition of Lukashenko as leader of Belarus. The official statement from the German government following the phone call avoided, however, referring to Lukashenko as President.
Another significant moment in the BBC interview comes when Lukashenko confirms that protesters have been beaten by his police: “Ok, ok, I admit it, I admit it. People were beaten in the Okrestina detention centre. But there were police beaten up too and you didn’t show this”. He refuses to refer to detainees as political prisoners, insisting they are ‘people who broke the law’; seemingly his only line of defence.
It is also fascinating how skilfully Rosenberg exposes why he has the ‘last dictator of Europe‘ sitting across from him. The Moscow correspondent asks how the alleged election victory of 80% is compatible with the protesting crowds. Lukashenko reacts like a defiant child: “There is no sense in your head, Steve, and in the heads of your masters.”
One can imagine exactly which pictures of the interview were shown on Belarusian state television.
In his interview with Rosenberg, Lukashenko persists in shifting blame for the unrest in Belarus on the West with senseless accusations. When Rosenberg questions the official result of the elections, Lukashenko goes so far as to say, “there are more and more people coming to their senses. So it’s not 80% any more. Now it`s more like 87 or even 90%”. A quick look at the decreasing numbers of protests suggests that, rather than a sudden rapprochement with their leader, a deep fear for survival keeps Belarusian people away from the streets. The similarities with the Great Purge of the 1930s are never far from mind.
Steve Rosenberg’s 33 minutes with Lukashenko peel back the latter’s thin veneer of composure. Underneath, revealed for viewers to see, is a man unhinged.
All views expressed are the writer’s own.
Article Image Source: Notes From Poland