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Frédéric Petit: "In Belarus, the awakening of a society with a multiple identity".

drapeau opposition belarusse
uzhursky - Shutterstock.com

Frédéric Petit is a MoDem MP for French citizens living abroad and is in charge of Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans. Particularly concerned by the situation in Belarus, which he considers to be a pivotal territory between Europe and Russia, he shares his concerns about respect for human rights and his hopes that this crisis will be the breeding ground for a democratic revolution in this country.

Why do you find the situation in Belarus worrying?

The crisis in Belarus is worrying in more ways than one. At least two elements are alarming in the immediate term: on the one hand, the flagrant human rights violations that are currently taking place in the country; on the other hand, the impossibility to predict the outcome of the crisis.

Since the announcement of the rigged results of the presidential election more than three weeks ago, a large popular protest movement has emerged. Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets every day, but the situation seems to be getting bogged down. The authorities show no willingness to negotiate with the members of the National Coordination Council. Worse, they are arresting its main leaders. The regime has put in place a repression, which it would like to be discreet but which we are reminded of every day thanks to the work of journalists still present on the spot: every day, opponents are arbitrarily arrested and detained in terrible conditions (lynchings, torture, humiliations...). At least six people are still missing, it is not known if they are imprisoned or what the police in Lukashenko have done with them. The regime has since cancelled the accreditations of Western journalists (only Russians are still accredited) and those who remain practise their profession with the permanent risk of being imprisoned. All these arrests, the conditions of detention, the attacks on press freedom and information already constitute a serious threat to fundamental freedoms and human rights in this country.

This situation is also worrying because it is simply impossible to predict what will happen in the coming weeks. We don't know how long this crisis will last and at the moment it is getting worse... On the one hand, Lukashenko is playing for time and shows no sign of opening up; on the other hand, the protests are not weakening and the strikes are continuing. The country is already experiencing economic difficulties and in the long term, a strong slowdown or even a collapse of the economy should be avoided. But it is not clear how this crisis could end. What worries me is indeed the current stalemate and the blatant lack of prospects.

Does the political crisis that this country is going through represent a danger for democracy?

It's very paradoxical! Because on the one hand, it represents on the contrary a tremendous hope and an extraordinary impulse for democracy. In this crisis, we feel that a Nation is being born or reborn. This is very encouraging for the future of the country. Previously, we had the feeling of a sleeping country, of an amorphous civil society. There was no strong will among the majority of Belarusians to live in a democracy. Today, it's obvious: from workers to senior managers, from farmers to students, Belarusian citizens want to freely choose those who govern them.

On the other hand, the political crisis continues, the repression can still get tougher, and protests weaken. And this dictatorship will then still have good days ahead of it. However, the movement of protest and awareness will not fade away any time soon. If this regime does not give in on anything, a new uprising will emerge, which could be less peaceful.

How do you explain the rise of the opposition to President Lukashenko in Belarus?

It's a surprise! First of all, the regime underestimated the importance of the circulation of information via internet applications, but also because of the proximity to Poland where Belarusian emigrants work and where free news channels are broadcast. Then, to appear legitimate, Lukashenko continued until then to maintain a semblance of democracy by organising regular elections. While he took care to imprison or ban the main opponents, he had authorised Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's candidacy in the belief that she would be harmless. He clearly underestimated the courage and organisational capacity of this woman whose husband, Yutubeur and opponent, was put in prison by the regime. Yet she was able to gather all the democratic forces around her and, on many occasions, drew tens of thousands of demonstrators into the streets. Independent polls gave her a clear victory in the election, as the country wanted change. Election fraud was evident and documented. It was this first spark that triggered mass protest. The second spark will be the repression initiated by the regime the day after the election.

But this profound desire for change, the vote of the working classes (normally acquired in Lukashenko) for Tikhanovskaya, very few people had anticipated it, especially because of the absence of political projects and real programmatic stakes in the presidential election. In a text, which was little covered in the Western media, Svetlana Alexeievitch thanked the demonstrators for having restored her nation's "dignity".

There is an overly conventional view that Belarus is an independent 'state', but the room for manoeuvre economically, and to some extent even culturally, remains very small, regardless of who wins the presidential election. Belarus was one of the Soviet republics that did not function too badly, and Lukashenko's seizure of power in 1993 was not so much a 'nostalgia' for communism as a desire, which was in the majority at the time, not to embark on an isolated adventure in a country without its own natural resources.

Today, the Belarusian government must above all behave as a wise, tough and skilful manager in negotiations with its Russian neighbour (and associated, it should be remembered, with a confederal union signed in 1999). The fact that a new team is coming into business will not change the country's conduct any time soon. The Belarusians need to make a cultural project, to take to the streets, not so much to change their lives radically, as to affirm together a multiple and complex identity. This demand may appear worrying for the authoritarian powers, but it will undoubtedly prove useful for today's multipolar world, as it has been elsewhere in the past.

Find the entire interview on the website of the Mouvement Démocrate