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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Ales PILETSKI: “From Minsk, it looked like the people and the opposition are united, but in Kyiv I realized I was wrong”

Belarus Euroradio journalist tells of a few days he spent in Maidan and about the way Ukrainian events are perceived by our northern neighbors
12 December, 2013 - 10:48

We met Belarusian journalist Ales Piletski in Minsk in 2011. In half a year after presidential elections, a rough dispersal of the protest rally of those who disagreed with the elections results, and a new wave of repressions in the country, an economic crisis started, followed by more rallies. Back then, Ukraine watched the development of events in Belarus, wondering whether they meant a start of a new stage. Last Thursday we met Ales in Kyiv in the Independence Square. He, as a journalist of Belarus Euroradio, came to Ukraine to prepare a report on protest rallies. So I have used the occasion to find out how Belarus finds the recent Ukrainian events. Piletski’s direct speech is following:

“Independent Belarusian mass media support Ukrainians (obviously, governmental periodicals do not cover the events in Kyiv). The authors, mostly in Belarus, write about lawlessness carried out by the government, about Berkut. They spread videos of terrible dispersal of the Euromaidan in social networks. Everyone is supporting the protesters, everyone is on the opposition’s side, and remarkably, they do not differentiate between the two,” Piletski says. “When I came to Kyiv, it was the day of voting for the government’s resignation, I went to the Cabinet of Ministers building straight away, and when it became clear that the resignation was not going to happen, I went back to Maidan. Vitalii Klitschko, Oleh Tiahnybok, and Arsenii Yatseniuk were speaking from the stage at the moment, and I noticed with surprise that people did not treat them like their leaders. I realized that people mostly did not come out to support the opposition, they came out to express their disagreement with the government’s actions. They protest against actions, and that is a good thing. In Belarus, people protest against Lukashenka.

“It was also a discovery for me that the opposition leaders in their statements stake on holding early elections, the government’s resignation, they stress the cruel dispersal of protesters. Hardly any of them talk about the need to return to signing the Association Agreement. The topic of human rights is also very painful in Belarus. But when I hear such statements made by the opposition leaders, it seems to me that in the first place this people are interested in overthrowing the government and occupying its place, rather than finding the guilty of repressions and punishing them. I, as an unbiased person, think that it would be logical to demand an absolutely transparent investigation of the events that occurred on the night of November 30. And if it turns out that Azarov or Yanukovych personally gave orders to Berkut, than their resignation can be demanded.

“We have been shooting videos for the Euroradio’s website for the whole night today [the conversation took place on December 5. – Author]. We have shot videos on how Maidan looks like at night, we talked to people, to a cook, a girl, who hands out pancakes to protesters after work, we visited the city hall. And I saw that people are well organized. Not only self-organized, since there is an opinion in Belarus that Ukrainians are good at self-organization ever since the Orange Revolution. But people are also well-organized by those responsible for coordination. For example, there are experienced people who know how to set up borders. And I was also given a new pass at the press center every day, which is also right. In Belarus, the opposition has not reached this level yet; it cannot organize a protest like it is done here.

“Another thing is that in Minsk it is intellectuals for the most part who visit protest rallies. These are people with established views and beliefs. And here are all kinds of absolutely different people. We filmed in Maidan yesterday, and of course people see the radio’s logo on the camera, they come up and ask where we are from. I say that we are from Minsk, and someone says ‘Oh, my wife is from Minsk,’ or ‘I studied in Vitebsk.’ These are ordinary people, they do not necessarily have a shaped political ideology. They are just sick and tired of this government. Belarusians are tired of their government as well, but protest rallies are visited only by those who have established political beliefs. Everything is different here. I met a guy named Petro from Luhansk yesterday. He told me he had always supported Yanukovych, voted for him, and now he came here to protest and he strongly insisted that I should point out that he was not paid to come there. These facts speak volumes. I think the opposition should also pay attention to the people’s attitude, because they can easily end up in Yanukovych’s place if they do gain power. As a colleague of mine (a photographer I am staying over with in Kyiv) said, people who are capable of gathering a million crowd for a protest, are capable of coming out to face any government if it does something wrong.

“On one of the days after the rally, Arsenii Yatseniuk urged people to go block approaches to Viktor Yanukovych’s administration. People went there. So did our operator, photographer, and I. So, we go and I see that it is not only men walking near us, but absolutely everyone: girls wearing high heels, older people, retirees. And I got scared at that moment. Because I know what such march would end like in Belarus. There would be shooting, gas, dispersal. But Ukrainians just marched on, and no one even thought about coming back. Perhaps, it was the strongest impression during all these days. I realized that people are absolutely fearless, despite the fact that a very cruel thing happened on the night of November 30.”

At the end I asked whether Belarusians viewed the changes in Ukraine and our integration in Europe as a possible push towards changes in Belarus.

“Something like that happened during the Orange Revolution. It is not present now though. There is an opinion that first, changes will happen in Moscow, and then they will come in a wave to Belarus. But there is great solidarity with Ukraine. Journalists at our editorial office competed for the right to come to Kyiv to prepare the material. Everyone wanted to come. By the way, today [on December 5. – Author] Belarusian oppositionists came to Kyiv, chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Aleksei Yanukevich and deputy chairman of the For Freedom movement Yuras Gubarevich. I think that the Belarusian opposition needs to constantly be here to see how protests are organized. It can really be useful experience.”

By Viktoria SKUBA