In Białystok, Poland, tens of thousands of refugees from Belarus are hoping for a regime change in Minsk. And on criminal trials against thugs.
“Belarus will never be the same as it was before the protests,” says Pavel Latuschka with conviction. The former culture minister of Belarus and ambassador to Poland and France has been a member of the seven-member board of the opposition coordination council in Belarus for a few weeks. The 47-year-old with the already completely white hair speaks calmly and very insistently.
“A revolution of the heart cannot be reversed. There is only one way for us: forward!”
In the large auditorium of the University of Białystok in north-eastern Poland you could hear a needle dropping to the ground, it is so quiet. Around 200 members of the Belarusian minority came, recently Belarusians and a number of Poles who expressed their solidarity with the freedom fighters in the neighboring country. They want to know what the situation is like and how they can help themselves.
Białystok, with its 300,000 inhabitants, is known as the “capital of the Belarusians” in Poland. The majority of the almost 70,000 Belarusians in Poland live on the border with Belarus in the Podlaskie Voivodeship and the city of Białystok.
From here, the independent Radio Racja and the conservative television broadcaster Belsat broadcast news and entertainment in Belarusian, Russian and Polish as far as Belarus. A number of Belarusian organizations and publishers are based here.
The second stronghold of Belarusian life is located in Warsaw, around 200 kilometers away. Several aid organizations for victims of torture and political refugees have emerged here in the last few weeks.
“What each of us can do is collect evidence of murders, rape, torture and the ‘disappearance of demonstrators’ without a trace,'” said Latuschka. The EU should commission a good law firm with the “Belarus case”. There, all the evidence collected should be evaluated so that the worst criminals could be tried by an international criminal tribunal.
“If we don’t do that and if we don’t get international help, the thugs of the infamous Omon troops can continue to torture us without fear of punishment.”
In the late afternoon in a new housing estate in Białystok, Marina Leszczenska opens the door to her house, which is still spartan. “For me, Latuschka would be the ideal new president,” explains the psychologist and freedom activist.
The politicization of the apolitical
Five years ago she fled to Poland with her husband and two children. “We will not go back to Belarus, even if there should be parliamentary democracy there at some point,” the 36-year-old confesses. “But of course the fate of our old homeland and that of our relatives and friends in Minsk, Grodno and Brest is very important to us.”
Since the first protests against the obvious election fraud in Belarus, the slim woman with long dark brown hair has organized the daily 6 p.m. demonstrations in front of the Belarusian consulate general in Białystok.
A good three weeks ago she led the great solidarity march: 20,000 people marched through the whole of Białystok, waving the historical flag of Belarus in the colors white-red-white, shouting “Lukashenko, get away!” and “Long live Belarus!”.
Now it has invited Latuschka to Białystok together with the MP Robert Tyszkiewicz. “Like the opposition women’s leadership in Belarus, I was previously not interested in politics.”
The election fraud and the merciless harshness against the peaceful demonstrators would have changed that. The growing network now also includes influential Polish politicians such as Tyszkiewicz, who as chairman of the Polish-Belarusian parliamentary committee could pull many strings.
In the auditorium, Igor asks in Russian what specific goals the Coordination Council has set itself and whether Latuschka sees a position for himself in Belarusian politics after the change of power.
He replies in the same calm tone, but in Belarusian: “With Svetlana Tychanovskaya at our head, we are striving for a change of power in Minsk, the immediate cessation of all attacks on Belarusian citizens, a new and apolitical legal system and free and democratic elections.” He is currently not thinking about political or professional future. “First our most important goals have to be achieved!”
The listeners pass the microphone from hand to hand down to the last row of the auditorium. Alexei waits patiently there: “What about the soldiers Lukashenko used against us,” he wants to know. “Do the order recipients also come before the criminal tribunal?”
Latuschka nods. “Yes, because every Belarusian citizen can now decide for himself whether he wants to be a thug, rapist, political judge or not.” You are ultimately behind all the repression. Belarus should be a free and sovereign country. We are not aiming for membership in the EU, but we also do not want to become part of Russia.”
Dmitrij Siewko, who is also one of the Belarusian activists in Białystok, fears that the situation could escalate: “They even torture children there – a 16-year-old boy is now being treated with us. They arrest and beat students and rape women. The moment the women and children of the Omon troops are among the victims, they will overflow to us – with all the weapons they have.”
The 34-year-old’s voice breaks when he says: “This is my biggest nightmare – our struggle for freedom turns into a bloodbath! Hopefully Lukashenko and Putin will have some understanding beforehand.”