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What's in return? Turn the page?

Pavel Latushka
Pavel Latushka Photo: The NAM-media

The head of the National Anti-Crisis Management (NAM) and a member of the United Transition Cabinet Pavel Latushka left the Coordinating Council. As the main reason, the politician cites disagreement with a possible change in strategy to combat the Lukashenko regime. But circles close to the Coordinating Council also mention another reason — the possibility of introducing restrictions, after which Latushka would have to leave the "parliament" of Democratic Forces. He was asked what influenced this decision and how the politician views the reform of one of the first Democratic Forces structures to emerge after August 2020.

— You said that you left the Coordinating Council because of the change in the regulations, the possibility of the CC representatives to change the strategy to fight the Lukashenko regime, including the abandonment of the strategy of sanctions. And you also said that "the next time there will be a question of whether Lukashenko should be prosecuted, and the need to have a dialogue ... Please clarify, are we talking about any intentions written in draft documents or statements, or is it the position of individual deputies of the Constitutional Court? And what is this position?

— First of all, I respect all colleagues from the Coordinating Council, there are many selfless people and NGOs important for the democratic movement. Secondly, I will continue to fight, I will remain a member of the Joint Transition Cabinet and head of the NAM, and we will continue to implement our strategy.

Leaving the Council is not a personal matter, but a public tool to pay attention to what is happening on the eve of the new rules of procedure of the CC and what risks this will entail. The imperfect and not fully open procedure for the formation of such an important institution as the CC creates the risk of discussions about whether it has the right to be a representative body of civil society. The attempt, through a regulation (a document that prescribes the composition, main role, and activities of the institution), to actually change the consensus that the CC has a right to represent civil society. - ed.) to actually change the consensus that exists today among the main institutions of the Belarusian parliament is also a challenge that could lead to internal disputes. After all, the draft Regulation developed by a narrow circle of people says that the CC is a representative body of all democratic forces.

The same draft regulation specifies that the CC will be entitled to approve a strategy for all democratic forces, strategic objectives for the Cabinet and all political institutions that claim political leadership. The Coordinating Council also plans to represent Belarusians in the international arena. In this case, the problem of competing voices arises. And my appeal to the Friends of the Coordinating Council is not to create this conflict situation. We [NAM CC members] have repeatedly proposed to balance this system and interact.

I didn't say there was already a strategy or work on it. So whoever is trying to make these accusations against me is simply deceiving people. I said that what we hear from the public communication of the CC leaders who are trying to lead it is that they are against sanctions, against pressure tools.

"[Leaving the CC] has nothing to do with me personally, it has to do with an approach that could eventually lead to a change in the strategy of democratic forces in Belarus," — Pavel Latushka said on the air of Euroradio.

At the same time, when answering Pavel Latushko's statement that the leading members of the CC are against sanctions, the organization itself said that they had not taken any decision or statement on the subject.

Tihanowska and Latushko meet with Polish President Adziej Duda
Source: Press Service of the Office of Svetlana Tihanovskaya

This is a risk to a common strategy, based on the three demands of the Belarusian people (they are known and do not need reminding). That is why it was important for me to emphasize that the reforming of the CC creates a risk of transition from the strategy of pressure to the strategy of concessions to the regime. And it is created through the draft of a provision on the Coordinating Council, through which an attempt is made to subordinate the main participants, including the NAM.

— Can you clarify again what option of struggle with Lukashenko's regime do you see as the most effective?

— We can see that the external factors of pressure, which have never been used against Lukashenko's regime before, have increased significantly today. We can already see that they strongly trigger the system, depriving it of resources. Together with the anti-war sentiments of the Belarusians, they create the ground for a potential social explosion. It may happen [today and tomorrow], but not in the future. This is a reason to liquidate the regime, because if it does not happen, Belarus will have to live in the situation that we are now in.

We believe that we cannot give up these tools when the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted for Lukashenko's tribunal, when the trade embargo is actually implemented, when several countries pass resolutions recognizing the KGB and the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption as terrorist organizations. We cannot now give up these powerful tools of pressure, which, sooner or later, will lead to the fulfillment of people's demands, on the basis of which the CC was created. And what will replace them? Unilateral concessions, a negotiating position... Which is it? Turn the page?

As a diplomat, I understand that if our Western partners hear two messages: on the one hand, represented by the Cabinet, and on the other, potentially represented by the Council, what will they choose? Most likely, dialogue. Then, let us return to the history that has been repeated every five years.

Belarus is now a de-facto occupied territory, we have foreign military units. Can we now give up the fight for independence? Our partisans in Machulishte yesterday showed that only action and strong pressure [can change the situation]. I believe that we need to continue to use three tools. These are the internal underground, the creation of a proto-army, elements of which are embedded in the Ukrainian army, and the third tool — international pressure on the regime.

Coordinating Council 2020
Coordinating Council. Minsk, 2020 Source:

— Is the strategy of struggle chosen and pursued by the DemForces working?

— It's all relative and very valuable. We don't have the result we hope for. But I would not agree that it is not working. Lukashenko is constantly under a lot of pressure — internal and external. But it is impossible to turn the situation around in an instant.

That is why the NAM believes that it is necessary to unite on these three main directions and direct forces. Resolutions of the European Parliament and PACE do not fall from the sky, and resolutions of the parliaments of the Czech Republic or Lithuania do not appear by themselves. These are the work of the institutions which are working today.

The regime senses all of this, and creates threats for it. The main thing is that we are moving towards a situation when this threat will be so strong that it will lead to shifts and changes in Belarus.

— And yet, you can hear from some Belarusians that not enough is being done. If someone came to you with such statements, what would you say?

— I agree. It's always not enough, because the result we hope for is not there yet. But it's one thing to say these things and criticize while standing on the sidelines, and another thing to join in on the action. I am always open to criticism from both my colleagues on the CC and from the media. That's fine, but in this situation it's important to show as much unity as possible. There is a threat that this unity could collapse.

Right now, from my perspective, there is a threat of a change in strategy. I see this kind of communication - public and non-public. It can lead to the fact that someone will try to negotiate with Lukashenko and we, on the contrary, will drag him under an international tribunal in The Hague. Will such strong contradictions help us to achieve our goal? I think not.

— There is a theory that your resignation from the Coordinating Council is a step forward in connection with the vote on the impossibility of combining several positions in different structures of the DemForces. Is this true?

— I won't disagree, that's one element of my move. But the main thing is not to personalize the fate of Pavel Latushka. We do not give out or take positions, we get criminal cases. Today it became known that Latushka, Tikhanovskaya and other colleagues were sentenced to 19 years in prison.

I had a meeting with a small group of developers of the first version of the CC rules of procedure, who proposed not to allow a representative of the Cabinet to be a member of the CC at the same time. I gave them an example: if we watch TV in Poland, we see that the Prime Minister, who is also an MP, and the Deputy Prime Minister, who is the head of the ruling party, are sitting in the Sejm. It is the same in Lithuania. After all, a parliamentary republic is built on the principle that when parliament is elected, it forms a government that has fairly good ties with it.

My proposal is that it would be better to invite all members of the Cabinet to the Coordinating Council and, conversely, to make a representative of the CC a member of the Cabinet. Then we will build connections and coordinate more. After all, when the critical moment comes, when we need to make very important political decisions very quickly, do we need such connections and coordination? We probably do. But it seems to me that a group of people have decided that they have a different strategy and want to change the center of political power. This is not consistent with my strategy, my team and my approach as a cabinet representative.

The issue was not to exclude Latushka, it was a procedural vote (according to unconfirmed official information, the CC may impose a restriction that members of the Joint Transitional Cabinet cannot be on the Council. — Ed.), but it just so happens that only one of the cabinet members is a member of the CC, i.e. me. And this despite the fact that I received the most votes in the first CC and was elected to the Presidency.

I have never applied for the position of the CC head, because the main thing for me is not the position. But I said that Lukashenko would sue me for my activity in the CC, and its members would deprive me of my membership in it at the same time. Is it correct even from the moral point of view? It's a little unclear whether we are partners or not, do we realize that we are fighting against the same enemy?

But this is my private assessment, it has nothing to do with what I said above, because the main thing is the common cause.

If Latushka and the NAM members are not members of the CC, I understand that the next step is the task of excluding me from the Cabinet through the procedure of non-approval as a member. And I find myself in a situation where I will simply be the head of the NAM. Will I be able to effectively implement the strategy I mentioned above? I think it will be much more difficult for me, as will the NAM team. So, there's a long-term focused game going on. And we see this strategy: we must remove from the CC and the Cabinet precisely those who advocate an active position against the regime. I must emphasize: this is a forecast which I see as a politician and which my team sees. It is important not to waste time on processes, but to direct all efforts to the result.

There is no problem that the CC will ask to put public pressure, to send inquiries to the Cabinet. That's fine, but dominating one over the other is an approach that could potentially lead to conflict.

The other question I have as a lawyer is how to revoke the mandate of an already elected deputy. I was elected to the first composition of the CC by the strike of the Kupalovsky Theater, which confirmed my credentials in writing, and now my mandate is confirmed in the new composition of the CC. Moreover, the procedure of passing from the first to the second convocation was not determined by the presence or absence of membership in the cabinet. To deprive me of my mandate is simply not in line with the principles of law.

United Transition Cabinet
United Transition Cabinet. Vilnius, 2022 Source:

— Can the CC influence the activities of the Cabinet, and does it have a big representation in international relations?

— There is a question about the representation of the Coordinating Council or how it is formed: can it be accepted and assessed as absolutely transparent and representative, do we know the members of the CC, do we know their programs. Some members of the Council do not give their names. This follows from the principles of security. But can there be a situation where people we do not know vote on strategy decisions or on the exclusion and inclusion of someone on the CC. Everyone knows the position of Pavel Latushka and the NAM — it is public, and I don't know the position of these people, I don't even know their names.

As for the international arena, the Coordinating Council is a recognized body and has the right to represent Belarus. But there is a question that this was connected with the first composition of the CC, in support of which 500,000 votes were cast on the Golos platform. Is it possible to hold such a poll today? Let's do it.

We are all in an unusual situation today. The same claims can be made against both the CC and the Cabinet. So how can we say that some are more important and some less. Let's agree and build relationships — to create a single strong fist to confront the regime and change the situation in Belarus.



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