Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.
Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka controls hundreds of private companies through a mechanism known as the Management of Presidential Affairs which supplies him with money, and these should be targeted with boycotts, says a key adviser to opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
That is where the diaspora can do something specific “to show that collaboration with an illegitimate dictator, responsible for human right violations must be punished,” said Franak Viacorka during the “Democracy and the Future of Belarus” webinar, sponsored by the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto, October 16.
When asked by moderator Prof. Lucan Way of the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (CERES) of the U of T whether he can identify any Canadian or other Western companies that are doing business with those under Lukashenka’s control, Viacorka said civic groups are working on this and it also calls for an investment in investigative journalism.
New Pathway – Ukrainian News submitted a question regarding how effective sanctions against Belarus’ top exports of potash fertilizer and refined petroleum products could be, but that was never brought forward.
When asked about relations with Russia, both Tikhanovskaya and Viacorka said a democratic Belarus would want to maintain good relations with all its neighbours, including Russia, which it would treat like all the other neighbours.
Viacorka said that a democratic Belarus would be a neutral state and that Russia may find it easier to deal with it, rather than an unpredictable Lukashenka.
But panelist Mark MacKinnon, Senior International Correspondent for The Globe and Mail said that he considers that viewpoint overly optimistic since Russia considers Belarus more as an oblast (province) thank a sovereign state and “that means a democratic Belarus is threatening for the Putin regime.”
He also pointed out that a diaspora can make a difference in making newspaper editors aware that they are concerned about the situation in the homeland. This is what the Ukrainian diaspora did and which the Belarusian one is now beginning to do as well.
In her opening remarks, Tikhanovskaya said that Belarusian people had been opposed to Lukashenka for a long time, but were frightened of him and kept their comments behind closed doors.
“This year everything has changed because our Belarusian people woke up and they are ready to fight for the right …to choose a new future for our Belarus. We are now united as never before,” she noted.
Tikhanovskaya said the democratic forces have a three-stage program – first to pressure the Lukashenka regime, then to negotiate and finally to hold new elections.
Right now, they’re stuck in the pressuring phase because while they are calling for dialogue, the administration is not responding.
She said she will be a short-term president, acting on an interim basis until new elections are held.
Asked why the Belarusian people arose now and not earlier, she said the COVID pandemic was a critical factor because it made the people realize that the government wasn’t doing anything to protect them and they had to fend for themselves.
“We saw that since we can do everything by ourselves, we don’t need a dictator,” she noted.
Both Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister. François-Philippe Champagne, who was in Vilnius at the time, and his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevičius addressed the session at the beginning.
Linkevičius said we should focus on finding something tangible that would make a difference in the outcome.
Champagne said Canada stands side by side with the Belarusian democratic forces and with the United Kingdom, was the first country to initiate sanctions against the Lukashenka regime.
“This was largely symbolic, but it sends a message that the international community is not going to stand by in front of the gross violations of human rights in front of the increasing use of violence and that the legitimate will of the people of Belarus… be reflected in the ballot,” he added.