The head of the Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend” answered the questions of the desk of the Moldavian radio “Free Europe”.
Belarusan human rights fighter Elena Tonkacheva in the interview with the Moldavian radio “Free Europe” talks about the possible consequences of Russian aggression in Ukraine and Russian propaganda for the Belarusan society and concludes that EU’s clear prospect for Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia is equally vital for Belarus. According to her, it might become an additional argument for the Belarus’ civil society representatives, who are against Lukashenka’s regime. Tonkacheva also believes that the experience in the law sphere and in the sphere of institutional reforms accumulated by Moldova is extremely important for Belarus.
The head of the Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”, active fighter for the freedom of Lukashenka’s political opponents, and a human rights fighter Elena Tonkacheva was sent out from Belarus early this year for the formal reason of her violation of Belarus’ legislation.
On July 22 Elena Tonkacheva took part in public debates on the Belarusan civil society’s potential organized in Berlin. After that the human rights fighter shared her thoughts with the correspondent of “Free Europe” Lina Gryu:
- What consequences can Russian aggression in Ukraine and Crimea’s annexation have for the Belarusan society?
- Since Belarusan society is heterogeneous, attitude towards the Russia-Ukraine conflict is different, too. The part of the society that has certain aim for the country’s independence and the need for political and democratic changes considers Ukrainian situation to be a threat to the country’s sovereignty.
By and large, I think that Belarusan authorities have certain understanding of this threat, though are not able to talk about it directly.
- What is the threat about?
- A year before the March events no one, including my colleagues from analytical centers, assumed that Crimea’s annexation is possible. But it did happen!
Taking into account the situation in Georgia in 2008, situation in Abkhazia and Transdniestria before that, and today’s situation in Armenia, I start thinking: why am I better than the others, having such territorial location, being economically dependent, and lacking clear political aim at state independence?
However, the other part of the society is in the power of the “Russian TV” and doesn’t even try to evaluate that.
Moreover, all the rhetoric about the “Brotherly people” should stop being acceptable after what happened with the “brotherly” Ukraine.
And we think that now we are in the moment when Belarusan government could start at least some interaction with the country’s civil society, because the issue of preserving the country’s sovereignty should be a consolidating process for the nation, which it isn’t and will hardly be in Belarus. Belarusan regime is trying to lead a political game – to sell the existing threat to Europe and trade it in its relations with Russia.
Thus, when European politicians are talking about Minsk being an engine of the peacemaking process it sounds a little bit sad for me, since Minsk isn’t such an engine and won’t like to play a serious part in this process. Minsk has merely provided a “flat” for meetings.
Those part of civil society organizations that I belong to and that works within the frames of the Belarusan National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum doesn’t find this process to be a serious signal of the official Minsk’s readiness to live in the regime of dialog space.
- By the way, which stance, do you think, should the EU take in relation to the Eastern Partnership countries?
- Watching the regional processes within the frames of the Eastern Partnership, Belarusan part of the civil society finds it important for Europe to give clearer preferences and signals for Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia.
Cause if it doesn’t happen, it is quite hard for us to see the prospect of European guiding lines for ourselves. We sincerely insist on the point that EU’s clear prospect for Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia is equally vital for Belarus; cause if there is none, our own movement towards overcoming the political crisis will be hampered.
It is also important to say that the weakness of the civil societies of all (!) the Eastern Partnership countries is that we are unable to be more humanistic than the governments of our countries even within our own area – within the frames of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, cause until now our colleagues from the civil society of Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Crimea aren’t present there.
I believe that our colleagues from the above listed regions should be invited for rethinking regional problems on equal terms. If we don’t invite them, it only means that we support the enclave development of the situation imposed by Russia to our country, which is totally wrong.
- You said that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has divided Belarus’ society in two halves. How big are these parts and which of them can win in the public opinion of Belarus? Cause usually the part that is thinking is the minority…
- Someone should form the agenda, and I am not sure that it is the majority that introduces consistent reforms in the countries with non-developed democracy, but intellectual circles.
The question is when these circles will be able to offer the society a clear development prospect. For now it isn’t happening, since all the channels of communication are very limited. But at the moment when we will have to make a choice it is on us that people’s sympathies and support depend.
- How big is the influence of the “Russian TV” and Russian propaganda? How can we fight it from the inside? Can European partners help us and with what?
- In this history of information wars Russia finds itself a winner and isn’t going to stop. Thus, we should oppose something to it; and without due resource support on the part of the international community it will be hard to do it.
And if Ukraine and Moldova have some approach of how to deal with it, Belarus doesn’t use any filters at all – the state sees no need in it. I don’t know, why, but I can guess that they do not set such tasks. However, it is clear that civil society and media should seriously work on the strategy of anti- propaganda at a proper level without regressing to the methods used by Russian propagandists.
- “Eastern Partnership” program that you’ve mentioned is now in the stage of development. What are the main and the most important moments for the Eastern Partnership countries that should be considered for the program to become efficient and more powerful?
- First, I think that there is a need of two different offers inside the “Eastern Partnership” program: for those that demonstrated aspiration and certain orientation towards mutual responsibilities – Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia and for those that didn’t – Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
The most important thing that these countries should preserve common area, which means that we cannot separate one trend from the other today; otherwise we will lose a lot. But if we stay together with understanding that we have two offers, then we have a basis and possibilities of common work.
And this is very important, since for me today reforms made in Moldova are more significant than those of European colleagues with their sheer European experience. It is so because the experience of the Moldavian colleagues gives me a possibility to see models that have been taken in the quite similar social and culturological basis and that are working now, which means that they can be really implemented.
So for me such regime of communication is even more pragmatic at the moment then the direct attempt to borrow reforms and so on.
The question is how can Europe combine the two offers. And the answer to this question is important for Belarus’ potential development.
Eastern Partnership program is built so that despite the fixed role of the civil society and its support with resources, the influence of the platform’s NGOs on the other levels of Eastern Partnership (such as governmental summits or a Parliamentary assembly “Euronest”) is very limited. And in this meaning a certain restructuring should happen, where support of the governments of the countries-members on the part of the EU should be interrelated with the participation of national civil communities in realization of governmental programs that are supported by Europe. But we don’t have enough of that.