One of Lukashenko’s most active opponents, businessman Valery Cepkalo, who was once on his team, is being questioned about “What’s New Newspaper” in Belarus. Lukashenko prevented Cepkalo from registering for the presidential election, declaring some of the signatures collected invalid. Fearing for her life, Cepkalo left the country in July and is currently living with her family in Latvia.
In Belarus, Valery Cepkalo established a High Technology Park and is still involved in information technology. “Kas” Jauns Avīze “knows that Cepkalo has met with Liepaja Deputy Mayor Uldis Seskas, discussing the possibility of his participation in this type of company in the city of Windmills.
Latvia does not intend to comply with the request of the Belarusian Committee of Inquiry to extradite Cepkalo, accusing him of corruption. Fabricated accusations are a common practice of the Lukashenko regime. According to the Vesna Center for Human Rights, there are more than 160 political prisoners there, and Cepkalo would most likely be among them if he remained in Belarus.
What do you think is the real purpose of Lukashenko’s People’s Assembly and what will it give him?
I don’t think I’ll give anything. Lukashenko’s main goal is to show that he has the support of the people and society, but in reality only very strictly selected people, who are in some way directly dependent on him, take part in this meeting. These are people who work in public institutions and receive a salary from the budget, or employees of state-owned companies.
Lukashenko currently has no convincing support in any of the social groups. If he had, delegates to the meeting would have been nominated in real working group meetings or social groups, as was the case on previous occasions. This time there was nothing like that, because the authorities were very seriously afraid that people who might get up in the hall and say something unpleasant to Lukashenko might come to the meeting.
Of course, this meeting will not mention in a single word the falsified elections and the right of the Belarusian people to decide their own future. Lukashenko simply does not answer such questions.
Some political scientists, especially in Russia, have said that this meeting was similar to Lukashenko’s second inauguration.
If we remember, he played his inauguration in great secrecy and selected the participants of this meeting in the same secrecy – in fact, it is a copy of the Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, from beginning to end. I am convinced that this will be perceived by the international community and that there will be no progress towards recognizing Lukashenko’s power after this event.
Jelena Lazareva, the head of the Latvian Belarusian Cultural Association Prameņ, a former deputy of the Saeima “Sadarbas”, also spoke at this meeting * …
In Latvia, the Belarusian community is quite stratified. We also understand that there are one part who have lived here since the late 1990s – they gathered around the Belarusian embassy from the beginning – these organizations also receive funding and, of course, support Lukashenko’s rule. If they have also nominated someone to take part in this meeting, what can I do there – I would just like such a person to at least answer the basic questions for themselves.
Do the Belarusian people have the right to free elections and their future choices? How does she deal with the fact that around 30,000 people have already been arrested and many of them have been tortured, beaten, raped and several brutally killed?
Is it normal for people to be sentenced to a real term in prison for false testimony, but this witness does not even name his name and show his face in court? Is it normal that there is no criminal case so far for beating and killing people? Ask her…
You yourself have been quite close to power in the past – the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Ambassador of Belarus to the United States. Why did you get into the opposition?
It was a completely different time – I worked from 1994 to 1997, but since then there have been huge changes both in the world and in Belarus. In the first and only fair election, the people really voted for Lukashenko, because he was like a fresh change to the Communist Party’s nomenclature.
He was a man of the people, the chairman of the collective farm, and he learned to speak a language understood by the people – I remember that my grandmother was also enthusiastic about him. He was well versed in all the intricacies of agriculture, including milk yield and silage production. However, over the years, people’s attitudes changed, because we had to start thinking not about how much meat can theoretically be produced, but how to actually buy their meat.
Unfortunately, he remained at the level of the chairman of the same collective farm, and in order to retain power, Lukashenko effectively destroyed democracy. He still has not kept pace with the development of society, because where does life experience come from? From communication with people. He simply does not have such an experience, because since coming to power he has been isolated from people and thinks only of maintaining his power. His view of an ideal country is like an ideal collective farm.
Ten years later, and the question arose in society – what next, how can the country develop? The collective farm has been built, but he simply has no idea about further development. If Lukashenko had resigned after the first two terms, his people would probably have been mentioned with a good name.
Contact opposition leader Svyatlan Cihanouska?
We communicate quite often, once a week, definitely, and my wife does it even more often. We also try to meet at least once a month to discuss current events and future plans.
How do you forecast the further development of events in Belarus?
If, in May 2020, when Lukashenko’s actions against other presidential candidates and the arrests of the opposition began, someone told me that 300,000 people would take to the streets in Belarus on 13 August, I would not have believed that. No one would have believed it. Of course, we can and do plan our actions, but it is very difficult to predict how the situation will develop.
One thing I know for sure is that it is no longer possible to bring Belarus back to the state it was in before the last presidential election. In the eyes of most people, this regime will never be legitimate again – I will not know how long it will last, but Lukashenko’s latest speeches and actions show that his every next step worsens the situation in the country.
Money and resources are becoming less and less, and most importantly – he still has no idea what to do next. His supporters and the state apparatus are also waiting for a clear language from Lukashenko on the way forward for the state and its economy. Instead, he goes on to say that everything is fine with us, we just have to calm down, stop the protests, and then think about the changes to the constitution.
We understand that these are just tactical tricks, and this situation hanging in the air can continue for years – Lukashenko is ready to promise everyone and everything, but in any case, his goal is to maintain his power by any means.
So far, oppositionists have emphasized their desire to maintain good relations with Russia. Have the recent events, the repression of protests in Russia, not changed this attitude?
My personal opinion is that Belarus is where it is, and we have no chance as a ship to swim elsewhere. We need to use our geographical location, and once Russia is our neighbor, we need to take advantage of this fact. We need good relations with Russia, as we do with all the other neighbors in the European Union. I believe that in today’s world, interstate relations must be seen through the prism of good relations and the search for enemies should not be pursued. Not a witch hunt, but a search for friends and allies.
* What is interesting – Jelena Lazareva is a member of the Advisory Committee of Representatives of Minority Non-Governmental Organizations under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.
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