“There was an attempt at a coup d”état,” says Vladimir Makei. “Therefore, the actions of law enforcement agencies and authorities were absolutely adequate and necessary.”
The Belarusian foreign minister defended his government’s anti-protest actions in an interview with Euronews on Thursday morning.
Since the fateful election of August 9, 2020, his country has never been out of the headlines. Thousands were arrested during huge protests against Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule after an election result that many questioned. Months later, the president still presides and the opposition no closer to bringing about the change they believe the nation desires, but is there an acknowledgement of heavy-handedness? Of ignoring people’s human rights?
“Yes, maybe the authorities sometimes acted in an excessive way,” Makei conceded. But asserts that “there was an adequate reaction to all the non-peaceful violent protests that took place.”
“The fate of the country was at stake,” Makei asserted.
The wide-ranging interview spans not just the immediate fallout from Lukashenko’s election ‘landslide’ but also relations with the EU, the involvement of Russia, and how there will be amendments to the constitution this summer.
You can read the full Q&A here:
Annelise Borges: The administration you are part of has been accused of massive and systemic human rights violations in the wake of the contested presidential elections last year. I was in Minsk and I saw the brutal crackdown against protesters demonstrating out in the streets against what they believed was a stolen election. The UN has condemned the actions of your government and said Belarusians should have the right to express decent. Do you regret the actions of your administration?
Vladimir Makei: You know the whole problem is that you and I have different views on the situation that took place in Belarus last August and unfortunately today the mutual accusations have gone so far that we can’t win back as they say. We perceive the events of the last year from absolutely different point of view. Yes, maybe the authorities sometimes acted in an excessive way, there was an adequate reaction to all the non-peaceful violent protests that took place in Belarus last year after the presidential elections, in fact, there was an attempt at a coup d’état. Therefore, the actions of law enforcement agencies and authorities were absolutely adequate and necessary. The fate of the country was at stake. And if in this situation to put the fate of the country on one end of the scale on the other end of the scale those things you are talking about including human rights I am convinced that the leadership of any country would have chosen maintaining independence of statehood and sovereignty of their country. That’s exactly what the Belarusian authorities did.
AB: People keep taking to the streets, albeit in smaller numbers. This opposition movement is not going away: what is your plan out of this situation?
VM: The authorities and even colleagues from some international organisations with whom we have contacts and a dialogue. The average situation in Belarus is absolutely normal, it has stabilised and normalised and there are no protests that you mention. As to those individuals who were detained in the past, I must assure you that they were detained for specific crimes and rights violations. For example, I think that in European Union countries these crimes of terrorism would be evaluated differently, with arson in buildings, car bombings, etc. There have been 10 cases of blocking railway tracks and a huge number of traffic jams. This is all politically motivated. It is also clearly related to violations of specific legislation of the Republic of Belarus, such as attacks on police officers and threatening family members of civil servants and law enforcement officers, including children. All this is subject to criminal punishment in our countries. We also act in the same way in Belarus. So it’s not a question of someone being unreasonably detained. Those who were unjustly detained have been released and are being released. As for the detainees, they are undergoing trial and will be punished in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Belarus.
AB: As of today, 358 people in Belarus are considered political prisoners, according to human rights centre Viasna. So you are saying these people don’t exist? They committed real crimes?
VM: We are not representing the investigation committee and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so I can’t speak about each specific case. We can send you the relevant information confirming violations of the law by these particular individuals in each particular case. Mr. Onishchenko Mr. Altukhov Mr. Bich are detained for specific acts of terrorism, a coup d’état, which by the way the Western press and public opinion ashamedly withholds. It is no secret that just a few days ago the special services of the Republic of Belarus in cooperation with the Russian special services uncovered a plot against the Belarusian authorities to assassinate the Head of State. The removal of 37 members of the interned government and the subsequent elimination of why the west does not talk about it to public opinion and the media in Europe.
The US, UK, EU have said the elections in your country were not free or fair. What are relations like between Belarus and some of these Western powers today?
VM: Yes, unfortunately, at this stage, I have to admit that our relations with the European Union, with the so-called collective west in general, are in a crisis situation, although we have always regarded the European Union as a trade and economic partner second only to Belarus as a source of technologies and innovations for Belarus. And believe me, within the last five years since the lifting of sanctions against Belarus we have achieved much more than in the 15 years of the sanctions regime against Belarus, and everybody recognized it. In trade and economic sphere, humanitarian and human rights spheres, etc. What we have today. Even such a well-known human rights organization as Freedom House, which is attached to Belarus on April 26, stated that the idea of a more democratic Belarus is in a much longer perspective than before. I absolutely agree with this conclusion. The only question is why it happened why Belarus was thrown back and thanks to whom it was thrown back. The question is rhetorical. It is addressed first of all to those parents of human rights who are in Europe.
AB: The President of Russia Vladimir Putin hosted Alexander Lukashenko last week, can you tell us more about the content of the meeting of the two leaders? Is Russia your last resource when it comes to sticking to power?
VM: It’s not about Russia helping the regime stay in power. Not at all. Our relationship with Russia is dictated by our geographical location and our history. Russia is our neighbour. It is a powerful power both economically and militarily and is a geopolitical player on the world stage and this explains the need to build normal, friendly relations with this power. Moreover, our relations go way back and we are linked by centuries-long history of human contacts. This is also very important and we have achieved, within the framework of the union state, practically equal rights for Belarusian and Russian citizens. As to our relations with Russia, we are interested in strengthening the development of those relations, first of all from a trade and economic point of view. We want to ensure equal rights for economic entities of Belarus and Russia within the framework of the Union State. During the meeting you mentioned, they were talking about further strengthening of the union state, about the development of industrial cooperation, about equal gas prices for hydrocarbons and so on and so forth. And of course, given that it is beneficial for Belarus, that it strengthens its sovereignty and independence, we intend to further develop the integration processes with our neighbouring brotherly Russia. Moreover, I should tell you unambiguously, that the sanctions actions which the European Union and other Western countries are taking against Belarus only contribute to the further development and strengthening of the integration processes on a bilateral basis and not only on a bilateral basis, but also on a multilateral basis in the whole post-Soviet space.
AB: What is your plan going forward in terms of restoring the trust of your people? Do you have a message today for the people of Belarus?
VM: If you follow closely the events in Belarus then you would know that this message has been long launched into the public opinion inside Belarus there is an absolutely exclusive open dialogue which is aimed at the improvement of the constitutional process and at the introduction of amendments to the constitution. Everyone can take part in this statement. By August 1, proposals for amendments to the constitution will be prepared. They will then be presented for broad public discussion. Therefore, whoever wants to take part in this dialogue is involved, and we believe that only through a dialogue which is based on attempts to make a revolution or seize power through the streets and demonstrations, can the country’s legal framework succeed. Only through this kind of dialogue can we succeed and have true democracy in the Republic of Belarus, a democracy that is not imposed with sticks. But a democracy that matures in the minds of citizens.