Big Conversation with the President
Today Belarus is in the spotlight of the whole world against its will, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the Big Conversation with the President, a meeting with the public, experts and media community in the format of a big press conference in Minsk on 9 August.
“Today Belarus is the focus of international attention. You know better how and why it happened. I would like to note that this happened against its own will. We have lived through a difficult year,” the President said.
According to the head of state, much of what has recently been happening in Belarus has been largely and deliberately distorted, even turned upside down by the opponents of the state. “Surprisingly, sometimes even reputable international media outlets misrepresent absolutely obvious things. Therefore, we are holding this conversation today, and it is open, direct, candid and broadcast live,” the President said.
He stressed that in the modern world democracy was long been replaced by digital dictate.
“In today's world, the so-called democracy has long been replaced by digital dictate. Blatant lies, hype, hate, bullying, trolling and other communication novelties rule this world. Today they create a negative emotional background in society or, as you say, information noise. The saddest thing is that this artificial virtual world affects the adoption of real fundamental political decisions in the international arena,” the President said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed out that he had always urged people, forming the public opinion, to comply with professional ethics. “Today, despite all negative experience of the past, I say that the only antidote against the information poison in the form of fake news is the truth. As people say, little strokes fell great oaks. It is thanks to this approach that we have withstood and confidently take this information attack," the Belarusian leader stressed.
The head of state remarked that Belarus has stood a serious test for national unity.
"We have stood a serious test for national unity. We know that we have everything to pass this period in our newest history with dignity. We have people who are educated, thinking critically, committed to the interests of sovereign Belarus. There is a general understanding that in terms of national interests we are all looking in the same direction - the state one," the Belarusian leader said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the year of 2021 was declared the Year of People’s Unity because Belarusians were able to keep the country intact in the fight for their historical choice and for their future. The President stressed that this would not have been possible without the consolidation of society in the desire to ensure peace in their native land.
The Belarusian People's Congress was another example of the unity of Belarusians, according to the head of state. The congress adopted a program of social and economic development of the country for the next five years.
Aleksandr Lukashenko explained why there will be no day-off on 17 September when the new national holiday – People’s Unity Day – will be celebrated.
“In accordance with the Constitution, the president makes decisions on holidays and days-off. But let’s be honest: I have been to many countries, and none of them has as many holidays as we have. It is the same in Russia when you celebrate New Year, for example,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Speaking about People’s Unity Day, the president remarked that when he decided to institute this holiday he was thinking whether we should turn it into a day-off. A decision was made that 17 September will be a workday. “As a person from the production sector who is used to working hard without days-off, I, probably, was a little bit greedy,” the head of state noted.
At the same time, the president said that this remains an open question. “I am ready to hand over these powers to the legislative branch, and they will announce holidays,” he said. “This question has not been closed yet, it can be revised any time. But let’s begin with that.”
The president is convinced that it was a fair decision to institute People’s Unity Day on 17 September. This date can be considered the day of the reunion for the Belarusian nation. “Therefore, do not criticize us. This is a true holiday. Our country would have been non-existent without this holiday. This is a sacred holiday for us,” the head of state stressed.
The Constitutional Commission has completed the first stage of its work. It received a huge number of proposals to improve the Basic Law. “I would like to note that many people insisted on changes. Everyone perceived the amendments to the Constitution as the first, most important and main step towards these changes. The changes based on law. Everything else would have been chaos and lawlessness," the head of state noted.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the Belarusians are strong and wise people and deserve the right to truth and respect.
“Taking into account the fact that today, 9 August, marks a year since the presidential election in the country, and anticipating the corresponding interest from the media, I would like to remind everyone: back then the campaign and the election proper were held in the environment of total openness and transparency and democratization of political life. The only difference was that some were preparing for a fair and honest election, while others, calling for ‘putting pressure on the authorities’, were preparing for a coup d'etat,” said the president.
The state has been developing its response strategy in extreme conditions, the president remarked. In his words, it was a good experience. It advanced Belarusian journalism, first of all, non-mainstream journalism, to a brand-new level.
The acute period for our country produced the heroes of our time - political observers, experts, analysts, bloggers who, in spite of real threats and risks, openly defended our state. Indeed, today representatives of modern mass media turned out to be true warriors. A word (we have experienced that) can bring discord to the society, destroy peace in the country. But it can also unite people in the fight for national values, first of all, for the preservation of these values, independence and sovereignty,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko admitted he truly had not paid much attention to campaigning due to different priorities back then – it was necessary to focus on treating people suffering from the coronavirus and on saving people’s lives. In his words, the situation was properly reflected in a recently televised five-episode documentary titled as 2020.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed: “I didn’t remove myself. I didn’t have time for it. I had to protect people, save them.” Back then unlike other countries Belarus did not close its borders, did not introduce a curfew although not only foreign politicians but specialists of the World Health Organization demanded it. And they were invited to come to Belarus and personally evaluate the situation.
The president reminded that Belarus was the only country to do it and granted access to healthcare institutions to WHO specialists. As a result of the visit WHO specialists unofficially admitted that it is necessary to spread the word in the West about how medical aid in Belarus is organized in response to those who criticize Aleksandr Lukashenko because the level of treatment and safety in fighting COVID-19 in Belarus was unprecedented. “We rejected the idea of a lockdown. We were beaten, criticized in every possible way by everyone,” the Belarusian leader reminded. “Do you want to know what the difference is? Dear friends, attitude to the people is the difference. ‘The dictator’ set proper tasks before the authorities and decently treated people, I am sorry for immodesty, it is no PR.”
Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “The foundation of what happened in economy in the first half of the year was established back then. We didn’t halt the economy. We didn’t keep people indoors. We worked out a clear approach to people’s treatment – out-patient, in-patient, and sanatorium stages. Can you name any rich country, which followed this way? It cost a lot of money. But people are more precious.”
The head of state pointed out that the possibility of rescheduling the presidential election was widely debated in 2020 and the society would have applauded such a move. “It was necessary to put off the election. But even if there had been grounds for it [and there were], it would not have been totally decent and it would have been illegal,” the Belarusian leader stated. “You – representatives of Western mass media, who are present here – and particularly crazy politicians would have mopped the floor with me.”
Speaking about events after the presidential election, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted it was not the first time Belarus had faced protests after an election. Protests after election campaigns had happened before. “Back then these protests would flame up for a day or two and would die down then. We didn’t eliminate them (we certainly counteracted them because we needed order in Minsk), this time the protests were lengthier because preparations and the foundation were lengthier,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. “Crazy people all over the world are the only foundation for these protests. Mass media played into their hands, scaring people. We followed our own path. Naturally a lot of people in Belarus (I dare say, the majority) initially thought little of what the president was doing. The world does that and we do this. But I was adamant and demanded the same from the others.”
“According to calculations, 46,700 people took to the streets at the height of protests in Minsk. People flocked to the capital city from all over the country. It was not a problem to present it the way one wanted. The picture looked impressive,” the head of state said.
As Aleksandr Lukashenko noted, there could have been more people on the streets. “I am aware that there could have been more of them. In fact, about 10% of Belarusian voters never voted for me. These people rejected me from the very first elections, because they lost the elections to me - these are nationalistically minded people, with a fascist core. But this nationalistic core is somewhere on the flanks. These people want sovereignty and independence from everyone, and above all - from Russia, at best. And those who are closer to the core are fascists,” he noted.
“For an experienced person like me, these 46,000 were not a disaster. Pictures showed that the crowd was spearheaded by militants and the like, while the youth looking for hype was marching at the tail end. There were also onlookers on the sidelines. Here was a picture for you,” the head of state noted.
Aleksandr Lukashenko frankly answered a question about his attitude towards protesters: “How do I perceive them? They are part of Belarusian people. The answer to this question is absolutely unambiguous. People from all walks of life are my people.” According to the president, many were wrong thinking that people in high places upheld the protests. “I didn’t even fire anyone. I’ll not name the names, but I want to say that I talked to some members of the Belarus President Administration for two hours. I told them how the violence was organized. They all came to understand this and now they sometimes avert their eyes at meetings hosted by me. However, there are people who committed and planned terrorist attacks against people, including against children. And I will speak with them using their language, protecting not so much myself and my children as your children,” he said.
“Time has passed. We have exposed who is who,” Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized.