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MP Igor Marzalyuk on protests, freedom and Belarus-EU relations

A strange coincidence: the majority of these visits took place on March 15th. What was so special about that day? What events could encourage the high-ranking guests from respected countries to arrive in Minsk on March 15? Constitution Day? Hardly. This is of course an important date for Belarus but still it's not a public holiday. Maybe, the reason is protest events announced by the opposition on that day? I doubt it! However, the massive arrival of the high-ranking guests created a number of positive news that the anti-government slogans and marches simply got lost in this information flow. So maybe this is how Western countries and authoritative international organizations support Belarusian authorities?

We can think about these cause-and-effect relationships infinitely long. One thing is clear: the shaky situation in the European Union (take Brexit and migrants alone), nervous relations between the West and Russia force to look for new cooperation points. The powers that be have to take into account such country as Belarus, which proved a successful peacemaker, a country open to investors, welcoming to tourists and the state that is willing and able to build a sustainable future.

Therefore, the West does not criticize Belarus over the protests of so-called 'non-parasites', but just gives some recommendations to Belarusian authorities on how to engage in dialogue with civil society. In particular, when it comes to Decree No3.

One of newsmakers in such a dialogue on March 15 was an MP of the House of Representatives of the Belarusian parliament Igor Marzalyuk, I would even say he became an anti-crisis newsmaker, because has entered into a conversation with the protesters in Mogilev.

Mr Marzalyuk, welcome to the program.

Igor Marzalyuk, chairman of the standing committee on education, culture and science of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus:
Good afternoon.

Here during the program you will look more respectable than in the video fragments from the Mogilev protest. Were you hiding as a true Belarusian guerilla?

Igor Marzalyuk:
No, it's okay. It was evening, it was not a scientific conference of some other official event. The suit is designed for one thing, but here I...

Like all other people.

Igor Marzalyuk:
Like all other people I put on sports dress and went to talk with people.

But first, the conversation was not very positive. First they hooted you. But then the conversation started. That is, it is quite possible to talk with protesters...

Igor Marzalyuk:
You can talk. But as for the hooting I want to tell you that those who did this were not the residents of my hometown, Mogilev. Because the audience was quite various. Including "guest performers" as we call them. Among those hooting was a Ukrainian man. The second had a strong Ukrainian accent. At first I stood and listened. There were different people there.
But I'm not talking about that. You must go to people, even if you think they are not totally right. The Belarusian language is such a beautiful word - sumouje - which means harmonious talk. This is what we lacked. That is, I came openly, I was not hiding behind the walls. Here I am, a member of the House of Representatives, I was elected by people and I am ready to talk to you. First, I asked those who have problems to show their hands. I counted seven people. About 40 people stayed. And we talked with these people, who did not continue to march through the streets, for about 2 hours and 40 minutes. Therefore, we can and must have a dialogue with people. And you have to hear one another. Naturally, there were provocations, there were attempts to abuse. I could not bear one person and asked him to shut up, because he behaved very provocatively. However, after I said some 'non-parliamentary' word and gave him a respective look, his aggression ceased.

Such hooting is a normal scenario. We saw it during the Maidan. By the way, I saw in Minsk the same flags that flew over Maidan in Kyiv. And now, we see them at these meetings.

Igor Marzalyuk:
I want to tell you that one person called me in the evening saying that it was a good move from me to go and talk with people. 'But why detaining people?' he asked. You saw the story with the detention. But the fact is that only those who organized the unauthorized rally were detained. And most importantly: who was detained?

Mainly those who violated the law.

Igor Marzalyuk:
Yes. And most importantly who were these people?

People with faces covered, anarchists.

Igor Marzalyuk:
With covered faces, those who behaved improperly. In Mogilev, I did not see people with faces covered.

We are talking about Minsk.

Igor Marzalyuk:
Yes, there were protesters with covered faces in Minsk. But I want to say that among those arrested were political consultants who worked at Kyiv's Maidan for a year. From these protests I got the strong impression of Bolshevism, in the most disgusting form of the word. Either totalitarianism or intolerance. This is not unusual for our national traditions. If we want to solve any problem we need to hear the arguments of one another. Then find a compromise. Even despite these people said something unpleasant, I am still grateful to them. To everyone. Because they in any case stayed to communicate, to speak. The worst thing that can be in such a situation is when hatred in words creates hatred in actions.
This year we mark three anniversaries, two very positive and one... not very. I'd like us to spend 2017 not under the sign of the revolution, which eventually led to a terrible orgy of blood and civil war, but under the banner of the 500th anniversary of Skaryna's Bible and under the sign of Belarusian consolidation that took place in December 1917. I mean the All-Belarusian Congress. Later, in 1918, they quarreled and went to different apartments of different foreign sponsors. Some will kiss Kaiser boots, others run somewhere else.
And most importantly, I wanted people to understand that we have one people and one country. We can look at this problem in different ways, we may have different political views, but there are things that are taboo. Violence is taboo, a call to violence is taboo. There are things that should not come beyond the constitution.

Why do those people cover their faces?

Igor Marzalyuk:
Who covered faces? In the Middle Ages and in the United States in the XIX century these were people who robbed stagecoaches. That is a person covers the face when he or she is afraid of something. Therefore, as we all know, punishments for the same violations are very harsh in other countries.

Belarus treats those who violate these laws in a more loyal way than in Germany, the United States or in France. I have a question for you as a deputy. Do we need to leave laws as they are to show how loyal our laws are or should we tighten the legislation of Belarus?

Igor Marzalyuk:
You know, I will give my personal outlook. I believe that we will toughen the legislation in this respect. We will now toughen penalties for wearing and use of different types of Nazi things. I believe we need stricter laws in this respect.

It somehow does not fit into the trend of recent months, the last year. We now have a 'parade of liberalization' in Belarus. This applies to businesses and all kinds of licensing procedures.

Igor Marzalyuk:
You see, freedom, liberalism is primarily a freer society; freedom does not mean permissiveness. Freedom must help maximum self-realization. In business, in science, in economy. That is, I am free to do anything if it does not affect others. But the most fundamental right that no one can violate is the right to life. And freedom does not mean anarchy, does not mean destruction.

Security is also one of the conditions of freedom.

Igor Marzalyuk:
Certainly.

The foundation, on which freedom is based.

Igor Marzalyuk:
If our security is not guaranteed, if we are afraid to walk the streets, we cannot talk about any kind of freedom.

Let's face it: the West and international organizations today appreciate the level of security in Belarus, Belarus' contribution to international security.

Igor Marzalyuk:
Certainly.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held in the summer of 2017 in Belarus. The "Minsk agreements" are already known almost all over the world. Against this background, Belarus' relations with the West have dramatically improved.

Igor Marzalyuk:
Of course.

What's the reason? Is it about security only?

Igor Marzalyuk:
Not only security. Belarus' people has demonstrated that it is strong, on the one hand. On the other hand, we have demonstrated openness, honesty, integrity and correct behavior. We have demonstrated that we have our own position. We are not cozying up to anyone, we have our own real foreign policy. And we want to be a place where people make peace rather than war.

Certainly there are also economic reasons for the West to establish relations with Belarus. You've just said Belarus upholds its sovereignty and independence. And in this regard, this improvement in relations with the EU may raise some concerns on the part of our eastern neighbor...

Igor Marzalyuk:
You know... We see in certain Russian political circles absolutely unfounded resentment against our foreign policy. I am talking about some experts. And on Russian television screens, we can hear that Belarus has turned to the West. We will not turn around. We need to normalize relations with the European Union, but I have repeatedly said and I emphasize it once again: Belarus does not abandon the strategic alliance with Russia. We simply want equal relations. Economic, social, and political. We want to be allies with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, with other partners. But we want the same thing: honesty, integrity and equality in the relationship. External pressure on our country, from whatever side, is an absolutely hopeless thing. But we want to have good relations with Western Europe and the Russian Federation. We can talk about some ephemeral things like the cultural community of Christian nations, that there is Eastern and Western Christianity... But still there are economic interests. As an open economy Belarus objectively tends to sell products both to the East and the West. We are open for cooperation and alliance. The Minsk platform is only the first point of reference in the Ukraine crisis settlement. I do not know how many years will pass. But I believe that it is Belarus that will once become the gathering point for the Great Europe. The Europe De Gaulle dreamed about.

Thank you, Mr Marzaliuk.

MP Igor Marzalyuk on protests, freedom and Belarus-EU relations