A place in the small world

At the end of December 2005 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gave an interview to “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” (“Russian Paper”). We are publishing it here in concise form
“Rossiyskaya Gazeta”: Alexander Grigorievich, what is your today’s vision, after almost 15 years since the break-up of the Soviet Union, of the place of the Republic of Belarus on the political map of the world with regard to its near and far abroad and what are Belarus’ relations with its neighbours? Do you see Belarus as a resident of the common European house or a country that goes its own special way?

Alexander Lukashenko:
The Soviet Union was one country, with its definite place in the system of international relations. And all of a sudden, after the break-up of the USSR, within that geopolitical space there appeared fifteen new states. But they cannot be pooled arithmetically and the Soviet Union’s place in international politics cannot be divided among all. New states appeared, but in this small world, if one may say so, all the places had already been taken. Russia has it easier, of course, as it was the Soviet Union’s legal successor and it took the place of the Soviet Union.

“RG”: Together with all the problems and debts of the USSR...

Alexander Lukashenko:
Yes, but all the other republics were left with no place in the sun. And now imagine: there stands a tight line of people pressed to each other and suddenly there come 15 more that also need space. Naturally, we might have “pressed somebody up”, or “brushed against someone’s shoulder”. There was no such country as Belarus before, absolutely autonomous, independent, with its own foreign policy, its own interests and its own view of the world. And, of course, we had to look for our own place in the sun. Geographically it is all simple. It was determined by the Lord...

“RG”: Belarus is the centre of Europe.

Alexander Lukashenko:
...Yes, Belarus is in the centre of Europe. This says everything. We do not have to think whether we are “with Europe or without Europe”. This is our given, our geographic position. As for the state with all its attributes and institutions of power — this is what we had to create. And we did it. And we had to implement it into the existing system of world relations and international relations.

“RG”: And the world had to recognize Belarus?..

Alexander Lukashenko:
This is the major difficulty. The world had to recognize us, but this process is not yet over. This is the objective state of things. That’s why someone criticizes us, because, I repeat, we “brushed
against them”...

But this process will pass off. We do not depict it as a monster and do not cry that we are “being beaten and abused”... This is a natural, objective process. It will slip by. It is already slipping by. Belarus is gradually but consistently taking its own worthy place in the world. Because we are pursuing a fair, open and dignified policy that our people deserve.
The world has changed, and nowadays we are a European state. Not the largest one, but rather big. No, we do not claim solving some global problems, but we are aware of our role in the current processes. And we shall do all that is needed to assert the interests of the Belarusian people and our state. Let no one be offended by this. We are going to carry on the implementation of a respectable and independent policy.

“RG”: Another question. Russian economy and Belarusian economy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia’s economy took one course and Belarus’ economy took another. There is an opinion, and among part of the population too, that Russia has a more market-oriented economy with its advantages and disadvantages, while Belarus has a more state-controlled one where President and the state play a great role. To what extent does the two countries’ difference in economies and economic ways of development hamper building of a single state? Someone thinks that it is impossible at all. That is to say that if two economies cannot be merged, there is no talking of creating a single
Union state.

Alexander Lukashenko:
You know I cannot imagine how two economies shall “merge”. Any state has enterprises being the basis of its economic might. Do you have private enterprises? Thick as blackberries. Are there any in Belarus? There are. Do you have joint stock companies with a state’s share and companies that are purely private? You do. And we do as well. Do you have state-owned enterprises: communal and federal ones? You do. And we also have enterprises of communal and national ownership. You may be unfamiliar with the fact that today in Belarus joint stock companies produce, I believe, more than half of the total output. But even this is not the point. Deng Xiaoping once said, “It does not matter if the cat is white or black. If it can catch a mouse, it is a good cat”. And China has demonstrated this. But I have a counter question: what are you proud of? Of the fact that you have passed what the state should control into the hands of several people? Of the fact that you have put the sweetest spots of the economy into the hands of 5 per cent of the population who are living in clover, while 95 per cent are dog-poor? Maybe, I beg your pardon, one day you will have to learn from Belarus both in the economy and in other issues. And we shall willingly share our experience. For the 10 years we have doubled our gross domestic product. By 2010 we are going to triple it as compared with 1995. Here you are with the “economy”!

“RG”: Belarusian Parliament has passed a resolution to hold presidential elections in Belarus on 19 March 2006. What is the reason of holding the elections 4 months earlier than the due date and what are you going to concentrate on in the course of the election campaign? Will it be an election campaign at all? In fact, no one doubts that you will win the elections.

Alexander Lukashenko:
You say that the elections have been scheduled “earlier” than the due date. Actually, I hadn’t even thought about it before it was mentioned in the media. Just didn’t think of it in terms of “earlier” and “later”. Our Parliament set the elections date in accordance with the Constitution that directs to hold presidential elections no earlier than five months before the expiration date of the incumbent President’s powers. That means that the date was set lawfully. Honestly, I wanted the elections to be held in summer. July 9 is a day-off. From the perspective of pre-election techniques, everything would be perfect. By that time we would have already done the sowing, and this, of course, would be an exemplary campaign. We would arrange everything at a high level.

This issue was considered in Parliament and oppositional deputies also spoke up. Sergey Gaidukevich, my opponent candidate at the elections, was the first to speak. Besides, he wrote me a letter: “Why are you holding elections, — he wrote, — in July, and not in March? While in March people will have more free time...” Far and by, the deputies made this decision.

“RG”: There are controversial points of view regarding President of Belarus and you perfectly know them. Some treat you with respect and call you a strong person…

Alexander Lukashenko:
...the last dictator in Europe.

“RG”: Yes, the others regard you as the last dictator in Europe, which you perfectly know. Is it possible to combine strong and effective authority with democracy in the country?

Alexander Lukashenko:
First of all, on dictatorship. Have you ever thought that if this is dictatorship, then it is, first of all, the process when a person takes up a lot, almost all, major administrative functions and rules the country with determination? But if the person has taken up these powers, he bears responsibility as well. Have you seen many leaders who would pluckily assume responsibility? No. Some of my colleagues pay such a trick: when it comes to some negative things, they claim all the negative to result from the parliament’s bad legislative work and the government’s inadequate executive work. But when it comes to some positive things, they attribute them to themselves, the president. We have never done so. Yes, according to our Constitution, President coordinates and directs the activities of all the branches of power — executive, judicial and legislative. But this does not mean that I do the Parliament’s job and only I enact laws. Just like in the Russian Federation and other courtiers, we have special law-making procedures. President is authorized to submit a draft law, lodge an objection, set a veto or sign it. According to the Constitution, President is the Head of the State, but not the head of the executive power. I coordinate the work of all the branches of power. Right? The people supported this Constitution at the referendum. You may say that the people “made nothing of it” — Lukashenko proposed and the people agreed. Alright, let it be so.

But I assumed responsibility first of all. That is why you should not think that, if someone calls me “a dictator”, this is the very truth. President of Belarus is a person that has immense powers and is liable for that, including criminal liability as well. I am no eternal President. OK, I will not be “made accountable” today, but if I have “overreached myself”, I will be “made accountable” tomorrow. And any head of the state knows about it. I am not at all afraid of that, because I’ve been pursuing a sound policy to the benefit of the people and I have done nothing wrong to be “made accountable” for.
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