Question: Don't you think that the majority of Belarusians are all but satisfied with the current state of affairs, that they are afraid of possible changes, that they see no alternative to the system that takes care of them, guarantees jobs and bread for them, and provides them with the possibility to settle accounts with [local] officials?
Alyaksandr Milinkevich: I see the opposite, and during my many trips to Belarusian regions I have become more and more convinced [of it]. A significant part of the people -- and their number is steadily increasing -- has become fed up with leading a life of indignity and of the uncertainty of the future. People have become fed up with the contract [employment] system that has made slaves out of them, that has made them dependent on the arbitrariness of brainless supervisors. [They have become] sick of the endless lies on television about the subsequent successes of the Belarusian [economic] "miracle," boorishness, and the everyday humiliation of an honest and decent people. [They have become] tired of being kept by the authorities on a short leash. They want to live, not to struggle to survive, they want justice and the rule of law. True, not everyone today can speak openly about this, but a breakthrough is under way.
Question: If the united opposition suffers a failure -- and nobody doubts that this will be so -- and if street protests fail, what next? Will the opposition remain united, with you as the leader, and will it continue fighting?
Milinkevich: You need to realize the significance and seriousness of what has happened. It is the first time during Belarus's independence that all healthy democratic forces, despite their [different] political views, have united to change the situation in Belarus for the better, to build a state that will respect its citizens and will be respected in the world. Everybody understands that squabbles between [democratic] parties and organizations play today only into the hands of the ruling regime. Our coalition is a significant achievement of Belarus's democratic forces. We understand perfectly well that the day of 19 March will perhaps not conclude anything. We have agreed to go forward together and, thank God, everybody understands this necessity.
Question: Don't you want to join the "popular vote" campaign organized by supporters of Zyanon Paznyak? [Editor's note: Presidential contender Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the Conservative Christian Party, has called on opponents of the incumbent president to cast fake ballots on election day and take away the originals, which will be counted later by an independent commission. The goal of this "popular vote" is to find out how many people actually voted against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in order to substantiate possible claims of vote rigging.]
Milinkevich: It is important for us today not to lose people, to bolster their faith in victory. The "popular vote" aims not to activate the democratic-minded electorate but rather to discourage people. Just like a boycott. If we could be sure that we are able to explain the sense of the "popular-vote" idea to the overwhelming majority of Belarusians and tell them where they can take alternative ballots, we could count on some success. But we have no such possibilities today. It is much easier -- and we are calling on everybody to do this -- to rally around the campaign of a single contender who has the support of the united democratic forces.
Question: How is it possible to raise the political awareness of the population? What are you planning to do to inform [people about your presidential bid], apart from meetings with voters and articles in the independent press?
Milinkevich: We rely on the remaining independent newspapers, radio [programs] made by Belarusians, samizdat, and the initiatives of active and indifferent people in the regions.
Question: Are you planning to address the Belarusian people with the help of the Russian media?
Milinkevich: There are some projects.
Question: Could you identify the plussesin what has been done by the current authorities?
Milinkevich: As regards the plusses, the country has not been sold out. Second, the country has no extensive unemployment, even if there is some hidden unemployment. I do not consider the timely payment of pensions as the authorities' [plus] -- it is the authorities' duty [to pay pensions timely]. Cleanliness in the cities is a good thing but they are often Potemkin villages.
Question: What will happen if everything goes according to the 2001 [presidential-election] scenario: Alyaksandr Lukashenka gets 75 percent of the vote, Milinkevich -- no more than 15 percent? There may be no more than 10,000 people on October Square [in Minsk]. They will stay there for several days and go home. And you will be arrested for organizing "mass unrest."
Milinkevich: If the authorities stage a dishonest election, there will be more people [on the square]. I am sure that there will be no 2001 scenario. Belarus is different already today. And after 19 Marchit will be a totally different country.
Question: What will happen after the announcement of the election results from a screen on October Square: Lukashenka 82 percent, Milinkevich 4 percent? Will the crowd roar and tear up the square in front of the presidential office? Or will [U.S. President] George W. Bush lose his temper and launch a missile?
Milinkevich: We are not working [just] to hear from the mouth of [Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya] Yarmoshyna that we have lost. All of us are realists. We have our feet on the ground. Our goal is to change the social mood, to prove that the current authorities cannot win a democratic election.
(translated by Jan Maksymiuk)