October 17, 2006, Volume
MILINKEVICH SAYS BELARUSIANS MUST COMBAT 'TOTAL FEAR.'
For many, Alyaksandr Milinkevich has become the face of the Belarusian opposition. The leading challenger to incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the country's March 19 presidential poll, Milinkevich came away with just 6 percent of the vote. But he succeeded in rallying the Belarusian public to an unprecedented degree, with as many as 10,000 people gathering in central Minsk to challenge Lukashenka's win on the night of the ballot. RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari spoke to Milinkevich on the sidelines of the 10th annual Forum 2000 in Prague.
RFE/RL: You have said that the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka cannot be deposed through elections, but only with the help of street protests like those in Ukraine in 2004. What conditions are needed in order for Belarusians to take to the street on a mass scale?
Milinkevich: There are no longer any elections in our country. As in any dictatorship, elections can't bring about a change of power. Only the street -- people at meetings and in demonstrations -- can make things change. Our country is not Ukraine and not Serbia. In Ukraine, apathy had to be overcome to take to the streets. In our country, we had to combat fear, total fear.
RFE/RL: Thousands of people protested in Minsk immediately after the March presidential elections. But those numbers quickly dwindled, and since then, the opposition has been unable to mobilize more than a few hundred, mostly young people, for street protests. Have you been disappointed by the failure to build a big protest movement?
Milinkevich: It's true, what happened was a little surprising, even for me -- and I didn't think there would be many people. But dictatorship is not defeated with the first blow. We must work. But I'm not fighting Lukashenka -- he doesn't interest me. What I'm fighting for are ideas, because everything is distorted by the ever-present propaganda. Even today, without demonstrations, we carry on this work on a daily basis; we distribute information, we mobilize people, we travel to towns and villages.
RFE/RL: You're often criticized for spending your time meeting with European politicians abroad, rather than with your compatriots at home. How do you intend to communicate with ordinary voters in Belarus, especially given the fact that such contacts are often officially prohibited?
Milinkevich: After the elections, I met with many foreign leaders, but this was not political tourism. If we want to think about our future, we must be in touch with people who are influential in Europe. In addition, we are in danger because it is not only democracy we are fighting for -- we are also fighting for our independence [from Russia]. And here, Europe's help and understanding are absolutely essential.
RFE/RL: In March you announced the creation of a broad democratic movement For Freedom in Belarus. Has this initiative progressed beyond its declaration? Quite recently you have said that you're taking personal responsibility for the establishment of this movement. Does this means that parties united in the Political Council of Democratic Forces have ceased to see you as the leader of the united opposition and refused to cooperate in setting up the new movement?
Milinkevich: After the elections, we understood that many new people not belonging to parties and NGOs came to help us during the elections. I wanted the dozens of parties forming the coalition to start uniting all these people. Unfortunately, the parties failed to do this and people are now displeased. I am still the leader of this union of parties, but it is progressing very slowly. It's not that easy. After the elections, or even before, this movement will break up into parties. There are social democrats, Christians, liberals. But now we all need to be together.
RFE/RL: Should the Belarusian opposition seek support from Moscow to oust Lukashenka?
Milinkevich: Freedom is above all our own affair. But our movement needs support in Brussels, in Moscow, and in Washington. I don't think Moscow will decide everything, but I am always seeking contact with decision-makers there. This is necessary, because our leader has been saying for years that [the opposition] are Russophobic, that we are anti-Russian, and this is not true. Of course I'm pro-Belarusian, but I would like to have the best of relations with Russia.MINSK THEATER GROUP APPEARS IN NEW YORK.
Belarus's Free Theater company will make its first U.S. appearance on October 16.
Appearing at the Impact Theater Festival in New York, players will read in English work from Belarusian playwrights.
Free Theater co-founder and playwright Natalya Kolyada says the company's members have been subject to harassment, beatings, blackmail, and imprisonment at the hands of the authoritarian government in Minsk.
She says the Belarusian government routinely intimidates actors and playwrights who join the Free Theater. Some of their actors, who also worked with state-supported theaters, have since been fired.
But after an article about the Free Theatre was published in "The New York Times" in February, Kolyada says there has been an avalanche of letters and emails from sympathizers in the United States.
Kolyada, who founded the theater with her husband Mikalay Khalezin, says that last week they received a warm letter of support from Harold Pinter, the English playwright and Nobel Prize winner.
"For us it was always of utmost importance that what is talked about in the plays be heard throughout the whole world," Kolyada says. "Because the subjects of the plays are important themes for Belarus: the tragedies of the people who disappeared, the political prisoners, the detained, people who were tortured, representatives of the counter culture who have no place in the official system, they do not exist, the government says. So, the idea that it will be staged or read in New York was unquestionably supported by us."
In the New York readings, select scenes from three plays are on the schedule, each one lasting around 15-20 minutes.
One of the scenes comes from "They saw dreams," a play by Kolyada.
It concerns the experiences of women whose husbands have "disappeared" in Belarus under the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
One of those women is Iryna Krasouskaya, who will attend the readings in New York. Her former husband, businessman Anatol Krasouski, "disappeared" in September 1999, along with the prominent opposition leader Viktar Hanchar, after visiting a sauna in Minsk.
Krasouskaya, who has since remarried and is now living in the United States, told RFE/RL about the first harrowing months after her husband's disappearance.
"Honestly, I don't know how I survived because I always thought I was a very weak woman. My husband was always trying to protect me from life's misfortunes, sometimes he wouldn't tell me about life's hard realities, he thought that I was a very weak person," Krasouskaya says. "When he disappeared I didn't know how to survive and I didn't think that I would survive, it was hard. Suddenly the money disappeared, suddenly we discovered irregularities in the company, psychologically it was so hard."
The Free Theater has received a lot of international support. Among its patrons are Vaclav Havel, the renowned playwright and former Czech president, and Tom Stoppard, an acclaimed British playwright.
Aaron Landsman, a New York-based actor and producer, is the driving force behind the theater's first appearance in the United States.
"I was in Texas for some work-related stuff and I started reading this article about the Free Theater, which was actually on Radio Free Europe's website. And I saw pictures of one of their shows and it looked really fascinating and looked very similar to some of the work I do," Landsman says.
Landsman wrote the theater offering his help and, in March 2006, he says he received a "heart-breaking" e-mail from the Free Theater describing the kind of problems they encountered in Belarus. He decided then to produce readings of their works in the United States.
Landsman found receptive ears in New York. The readings will take place at Barnard College's Performing Arts Center in Manhattan and will be introduced by Tom Stoppard.
"Tom Stoppard has been an advocate for the Free Theatre because he went and visited them, saw other shows, and has been talking about their work mostly in the U.K.," Landsman says. "So, his presence there is going to draw more people, and he is going to talk for about 10 minutes at the beginning of the reading about the Free Theatre, about his experiences in Belarus, and possibly about may be what we can do here from now on to help."
The festival runs through October 22. (Nikola Krastev)
FUKUYAMA SAYS IDEAS ON LIBERAL DEMOCRACY 'MISUNDERSTOOD.'
Professor Francis Fukuyama is best known for his idea that the world settled on liberal democracy after the ideological struggle of the Cold War. After giving a lecture at the 10th Anniversary of the Economic Education and Research Consortium in Kyiv, he spoke to RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent Marianna Dratch about the unrealistic expectations of the Orange Revolution, the development of civil society in Ukraine, and how his ideas on liberal democracy have been misunderstood and misused.
RFE/RL: Some time ago, you wrote that Ukrainians believe that the strongest nongovernmental organization in their country is the mafia. What, in your opinion, has changed in the past few years?
Francis Fukuyama: What's been very impressive about Ukraine has been the emergence of Ukrainian civil society. I think in Russia in the 1990s you had some evidence of civil society in terms of free media, civic groups, and so forth. Ukraine had relatively less of that, but then all of a sudden with the Orange Revolution it became apparent that there were a lot of groups out there that were willing to participate politically to the point that you could actually force the second election and a change in the outcome. I think that's a positive form of social capital, as opposed to the negative form of social capital as presented by the mafias.
RFE/RL: But many people in Ukraine are now disappointed in the Orange Revolution and they mistrust the government. The parties that led the Orange Revolution have gone to the opposition. So what happened to civil society?
Fukuyama: I think that the expectations that were created by the Orange Revolution were probably unrealistic, that you would have the transformation of Ukraine overnight into a well-functioning liberal democracy. I think that really takes time. And there were conflicts of interest within the Orange coalition and problems in leadership and all of that sort of thing. It's not surprising that things haven't gone as well as people hoped back then. I think the important question for the long term is whether people can remain mobilized so that there continues to be pressure on the government to reflect the wishes of the Ukrainian people. I don't think you're at the point yet where you can say everyone is simply going to back to being passive.
RFE/RL: The crucial question is how to build social capital. Is it possible to build up social capital from top to bottom, or from abroad?
Fukuyama: No, I think that social capital is almost always built from the bottom up, through people working together, the way they're trained and educated and so forth. Governments can only create a framework in which people can create social capital for themselves, and so the government has to avoid being too interventionist in controlling everything. People have to be allowed freedom to associate and to work with each other. But the government has to provide the basic security stability, social order, and political order. That's also another necessary condition for social capital to arise.
RFE/RL: And what about foreign governments or foreign sponsors or international organizations trying to sponsor NGOs in certain countries?
Fukuyama: I think you have to put that into the broader context of globalization. It's simply the case that a lot of things move across international borders -- money, ideas, communication, information. So I think it's inevitable that people look to foreign models and ideas, they get funding from outside in shaping their own society. But in the end it is the people in the society that create civil society, they create social capital, they create democracy. It's not something that can really be done by any group of outsiders.
RFE/RL: You have often been criticized for cultural determinism. This is an important issue for Ukraine, because in its history, Ukraine has been torn between different empires and now the unity of the country is still a test that people have to face. What is your advice on this? How do you close the cultural gaps within a country?
Fukuyama: I think that cultures change over time. Right now you have a very different global condition where you have influences that don't come just from the neighborhood, they come from all over the place, from Europe, from America. I think the important thing is to remain open to those other types of ideas and models. Also the way that people get training and knowledge, that has a big effect on culture. So all of these I think will affect Ukrainian culture in the future.
RFE/RL: Professor Fukuyama, some of your critics say that your ideas about the primacy of liberal democracy created a climate suitable for the self-assured behavior of the U.S. government in world affairs. Do you feel responsible to any extent for this?
Fukuyama: Well, no. I think that the Bush administration, to the extent that they thought they were using my ideas, really misunderstood them.... They were really Leninists because they believe that they would use power to advance democracy. And I have always been more of a Marxist, in the sense that I believe that democracy comes about as a result of a long-term process of modernization that's driven by forces within each society but that you can't speed up that process from the outside. And so to the extent that they thought that 's what I was arguing, I think they misunderstood what I was saying.