Yana Toom: Lukashenko can not hold back desire for payback

MEP Yana Toom (Center).
MEP Yana Toom (Center). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

MEP Yana Toom (Center) told ERR that Estonia rushed its decision to not recognize the results of recent elections in Belarus, giving long-time president Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term.

The Riigikogu will meet on Tuesday afternoon (at 4 p.m. - ed.) for an extraordinary sitting on Belarus. If you were still in Riigikogu, would you vote in favor of the statement to not recognize election results because they were not free, honest and democratic?

I have not read the text yet but what is happening in Belarus deserves to be condemned, I would certainly vote in favor of the statement.

(88 MPs drafted a statement called "In support of Belarus' democracy and civil society" which will be read at the extraordinary Riigikogu sitting - ed.)

Did Estonia rush its announcement of not recognizing election results and the selection of Lukashenko? There has not been an election in Belarus for decades where the police have not beaten protesters, yet the Estonian Ambassador to Belarus has still presented his credentials to the Belarusian president.

There has never been a wave of violence in Belarus like the one happening right now. There have never been such protests either. But the Estonian government rushed and unfortunately must go back on its words soon. There is no opposition candidate there, even Svetlana Tikhanovskaya announced she would not run again. Lukashenko will remain in power and the regime will get even worse.

How would you characterize Alexander Lukashenko? Is he a beloved leader of people, president or dictator?

He has gone through each of those phases in his development. The first thing I think of is that he is a good Kolkhoz foreman who knows how things have to be. A majority of Belarusians accepted that for years even though the economy stagnated.

Many Estonians who have been to Belarus praise the situation there because companies are working and everything is good. They never talk about production not being competitive. The only nation buying Belarusian tractors is Russia.

It seems an idyll, but the next phase is dictatorship-like. Lukashenko will remain in power because of power structures who will remind him on every step of who he has to be thankful toward.

Estonia has this idealized vision of Belarus. Some people believe it is a paradise on Earth, where there is no mafia, officials are imprisoned for fraud, food and medication is cheap, unemployment is close to zero. Many however think there is a revolution taking place which will eventually lead to Belarus joining the Western world. The truth is somewhere in the middle?

I would not agree with either approach. The supporters of the first approach, let us not mix up tourism and actual life! The fact that an Estonian could live like a "king's cat" in Belarus is true. But locals can not afford that. Secondly, we have lived in a free and independent country for so long, we no longer appreciate freedom. Everything is cheap and nice but they have no freedom. It is something to think about.

At the same time, there will certainly be no Euromaidan (large-scale protests in Ukraine in 2013 after the state chose to suspend signing an agreement with the EU - ed.) in Belarus. Nationalism in Belarus is much different than that of Estonia, Ukraine or Russia. Belarusian nationalism has developed over time in a way that they have no one to compare themselves with. Not Russia, not Poland or Ukraine. It is a peaceful and intelligent nationalism. We have not seen protesters carrying European Union flags anywhere.

In addition, there are no oligarchs in Belarus. They are nonexistent because they were all suppressed. Lukashenko stayed in power for all these years because of his great manoeuvring abilities. If Russia said they are raising gas prices, he smiled to the West. If the West was talking of democracy, he smiled to Putin. In addition, the country is in a critical location strategically.

Yana Toom Autor/allikas: Siim Lõvi /ERR

What comes next? Is a peaceful solution even on the table?

Coming back to the question of Estonia rushing their announcement of not recognizing Lukashenko. I have thought about our foreign policy. For example, we proposed the issue of Belarus to the UN Security Council knowing it will fail because Russia is a permanent member of the council.

Firstly, we should have discussed it with the Russians. It was just a political demonstration and now we are in a situation where some nations recognize Lukashenko and others do not.

I fear Lukashenko can not hold back his desire for payback to Belarusians. The people who keep him in power like violence. The violence will worsen with each passing day. I think it will not go well for the protesters and their families. Sanctions from the West will most likely not be too strict because the country will remain geographically where it is and it would be pushed much too far into Putin's reach if they were too strict.

And that is exactly how Putin thinks as well, if he was to intervene too aggressively, Lukashenko would again have another place to go to.

Russia has publicly held back but there is certainly active work being done behind clsoed doors to prepare for a regime change and to bring people to power who are loyal to Russia, likely even more loyal than Lukashenko who wanted to be master in his own house.

That kind of action from Russia would seem logical. Unfortunately, I have not been able to go to Belarus myself. I really wanted to go and meet with officials who are currently avoiding meetings. But if I look at what is shown on TV, it is not possible to sell that stance to the masses.

The protesters will not surrender, even if they will pay for it. A new identity is forming and a narrative that is reminiscent of one of the partisans of Belarus. Protesters are like water, it always exists and will disturb the ones in power. And they would not swallow handing the state over to Russia.

If complete chaos was to develop, should Estonia be ready to accept Belarusian refugees?

There would not be many refugees. Belarus has handed out the most Schengen visas of any formerly Soviet country. People running away from the country is just a fact. But they are not refugees in the classical sense. They come and they work. Some might ask for shelter. Poland is already filled with Belarusians. People leaving is not dangerous for Europe or Estonia, it is dangerous for Belarus.

Hundreds of people gathered to form a human chain in Tallinn to support Belarusians. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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