EVENT: KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN BELARUS AND THE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
DATE: 1.00 PM-2.00 PM, 3rd April 2019
VENUE: MILLBANK TOWER, 21-24 MILLBANK, WESTMINSTER, SW1P 4RS
SPEAKER: ANDREI SANNIKOV
CHAIR: DR ANDREW FOXALL
(the beginning missing)
ANDREI SANNIKOV: (inaudible) even on those people who occasionally express their disagreement with the regime and try to protect their own rights. At the same time, since the situation is not improving and the people are really feeling they cannot expect any improvements in the future because Lukashenko is scared not only of political reforms but also of economic reforms. He never ever thought of reforming the economy and economic situation is very difficult in the country, drastic for the regime but also for the people because the burden is being put on the people. Since they don’t see any hope and since they don’t see much solidarity and support coming from the West I think the only way that is left for Belarus is to protest. I am sure that the protest will happen closer to the election day and again – many experts who follow Belarus did not expect mass protests two years ago, in 2017 when the so-called social parasites law produced the reaction. Those were the most massive protests since the time of Perestroika because they were all over Belarus in 20 cities and towns and people were protesting without apparent leaders. They didn’t need to have political leaders to lead them. They produced their own local leaders. And those people who are now known for the new media technics like bloggers and streamers were in the forefront of these protests and it will happen again. I am really worried that the situation of 2010 will repeat itself. What do I mean? In 2010 it was very difficult to explain to our friends in the West, in Europe first of all that Lukashenko is not supported by the society. That people are looking for changes. And that the people will be ready to support alternative candidates and not Lukashenko. Lukashenko will never get 50%, not even 25% and the required percentage is of course more than 50%. But there was some strange mythology that was developed long time ago and is still surviving, that Lukashenko would win an honest election. I was one of the candidates during 2010, and immediately after that – one of the political prisoners of course. That is the usual story for opposition politicians in Belarus. And I can tell you that we saw that there was no support at all in the country for Lukashenko. We saw that people wanted changes. But at the same time our friends in the West said: “No, no, no. You have to understand that Lukashenko is a strong leader and he is being supported.” I can tell you, before I took part personally myself in the elections I said that give us half a year of relative freedom of speech in Belarus and the regime will be gone. Now I say give us two months. Give us half an hour to the opposition or one hour a week on television. And then and the regime will be gone. That is the essence, we need election. Real election. And we are asking our friends in the West – in Europe, in the United States, in Canada – put condition of election first. Lukashenko can stay. We are not bloodthirsty – we are offering to talk. We were offering to talk even when we were in prison. When I was in a KGB prison I was offering – of course not to those who were torturing me but to those who tried to talk to me and interrogated me – we said let’s talk because the situation in the country is horrible. People will suffer because there will be no opportunities. So we were offering to talk, to organize elections. You can stay in power but let’s open some channels. I don’t know why it is not supported. I don’t know why the Belarussian situation, first, is ignored. Secondly, opposition, civil society, independent press, human rights defenders are not supported. Moreover, they are being regarded as nuisance. I can tell you frankly that we have probably the weakest diplomatic corps today in Belarus. And I mean Western diplomats first of all. Sorry to say this. Rosemary is present here but I have to say this because it is a very dangerous situation. When there is no reaction from the Embassies to human rights abuses and when there is a reluctance to talk to the opposition leaders, the independent media, like Charter 97 which was blocked last year on the territory of Belarus, (there was no reaction and there was no support) then it is simply frustrating and it will produce more clashes and more violence in Belarus, believe me. So the ideal way out is of course the election. The ideal way out is, if you want to support Belarus as a country and as a state, you must understand that talking to government is not (inaudible). You need to understand that Lukashenko needs to be supported by democratic opposition. I hate to say this but he doesn’t understand that he needs real patriots to fight for independence of Belarus. And for this they have to have their role in the society and though elections they can get this role. Without this he is vulnerable. Very vulnerable as regards Putin and Putin, we all know that, he can now use many scenarios already as regards Belarus. Because we had Georgia in 2008 with no serious reaction, we had Ukraine, first Crimea and then Donbass in 2014. Slowly, the West got involved in Donbass and hates to speak about Crimea because it is a nuisance. So I will finish here because I really want to hear the questions and start the discussion. But believe me, the next two years will be very interesting in Belarus. The resistance will be growing. No matter that a lot of opposition leaders being in control, the opposition is being infiltrated, the resistance against the regime will be growing, and I am sure we will create an opportunity. But we will need partners to help us when this opportunity is created. Thank you.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Thank-you. We now have 35-40 minutes or so for questions. I would ask if you do have a question just to raise your hand and as the hands go up I will find spot you and then if you could just give your name and if you have a particular affiliation if you could give that as well? I can see a few hands have gone up already. If I may, though, Andrei, I will use my position to ask the first question.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Sure.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: You ended by this call for Western support as in when Belorussian public, sort of, again rises up against Lukashenko. I wonder who do you think poses the greatest threat to Lukashenko in a short term. Is it Belorussian public and protests or is it Putin and whatever ambitions he might have for the country?
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Economy. I don’t know how they survive in the regions, especially with $150-$180 average salary. They have $50-$60 pension. Lukashenko, 10 years, no – more than 10 years now, claimed that the average salary would be $500 and it is a famous meme now “po pyatsot”. He never reached it. Although the statistical committee tries to prove to the contrary. Economy is not reformed and the only way he sees to generate the income is to put a pressure on people. That’s why this law on social parasites, which is actually the law that creates Troykas, which creates commissions that could do with people whatever they want, send them to jail and they collect the information from the people in Belarus about their relatives living abroad and about the Belarussian living abroad. And who knows where this information goes? It might go to FSB, and not only to the Belarussian KGB to use and to compromise people outside of the country, to use them as their agents here in Europe. So yes, economy is an enemy number one and the people is an enemy number two. And that is why the pressure is put on the people. That’s why I predict that if no (inaudible) are opened there will be protests and there will be violence. These are his enemies but they are also a leverage for the West because he can get money from two sources, from Putin and from the West. Chinese money, as we know, is a very difficult money. So this leverage should be used because at least now they are ready to talk, to discuss options how to get Western money in Belarus.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Thank you. The first hand up was Vladislav at the back.
VLADISLAV DAVIDSON: Ok. Thank you. Two very brief questions. I am Vladislav Davidson, Russian-American editor of Odessa Review.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: I remember you.
VLADISLAV DAVIDSON: Thank you, sir. Two very brief questions. We are hearing so much about the annexation of Belarus to create a new constitution for Russian Federation so Putin can avoid elections in 2024. It is all over channels that we watch so maybe you can say something about that? Second question. Lots of my friends in Russian opposition who have made their home in Kyiv wherever they need to go back to Russia to see their grandmother or wherever they slip through Minsk, we are hearing that the border situation is becoming more closed and that it is becoming more difficult for Russians to go from Ukraine back to Russia through the Belorussian border without being noticed. Is that true?
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Yes, both are true. First, as I told you, the Kremlin has several options as regards Belarus. Crimea is one of them. I don’t think he will go for it. Why? Because he is controlling Belarus and its territory quite effectively. I would like to stress once again that the military control is almost complete because the Belarussian military cannot do anything without the approval by Moscow, from the general staff. At the same time, the Russian forces and the Russian general staff are using the territory of Belarus in any way they think is necessary for their plans. And I think the concerns expressed by our neighbors, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in connection to Zapad-2017 exercise were very legitimate concerns as are the concerns about the possibility of aggression from the territory of Belarus. So I think that while he won’t do it because he will have more problems than solutions, Putin’s strategy towards Belarus for a number of years has been ‘put pressure and then get a property’, or ‘give money and then get a property’. I think the same is going on today. When Lukashenko was saved in 2011, given the money from Russia to save his regime (although they waited for 8 months), he agreed to sell the pipeline on the territory of Belarus which is now Russia-controlled. Today I think there are several things that Russia would want to have. Like the Minsk plant of heavy trucks for missiles (MZKT), which is something that Russia has wanted for a long time, the mineral fertilizers production, and the chemical industry. The first announcement after a long period of tensions that Russia will give Belarus $600 mln means that they are reaching the agreement, that Lukashenko is selling something again. And after than Putin will take a decision when he has everything he wants on the territory of Belarus. Then he will have even more choices.
2024 problem for Putin. Yes, it is present. I don’t think that it will be solved through the Union State. It will create more tension not between Russia and the West but even with Russian satellites in the former Soviet Union. So I think he won’t be ready for this kind of scenario. For others – yes. One of them is completely controlling Lukashenko. It might be even getting rid of Lukashenko. That is more possible than using Lukashenko to extend the time for Putin’s presidency.
VLADISLAV DAVIDSON: And about compulsory (inaudible).
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Yes, it has changed now because before it was an interesting situation. We (I mean the opposition) could travel through Russia also because there was always a coordination between Russia and Belarus on unwanted persons’ list. But we could travel through Russia because it was humiliating for FSB to take orders from Lukashenko. So they had this list but they never obeyed the orders. So through Moscow and St Petersburg we could travel to the West and we used those channels. There were some cases when some Russians were stopped in Belarus but they turned out to be close to the Kremlin and that’s why they were stopped on some orders. The Belarussian KGB was very cautious to prosecute them. Sometimes they used those cases to show the Kremlin that they can still be independent in their decision making but today the situation has changed. I was shocked to find out that the common list of unwanted persons of Belarus and Russia is more than 3 mln. Can you imagine that? Of course it may be that between 500-700 are on the Belarussian side and the rest is Russian. But it is a joint list of persons that shouldn’t be allowed in the country and should be reported if they try to cross the border. So the situation today is really dangerous for, I wouldn’t use it as a channel for escape. There is a real danger there.
VLADISLAV DAVIDSON: That’s useful. Thank you so much.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Leyla, next question.
LEYLA ALIYEVA: Thank you so much, Andrei. I am Leyla Aliyeva, from St. Antony’s College, Oxford. As usually, a very interesting talk. I have a question first related to rents scheming and economic issues, maybe emerging from the different conditions now, from the cheap gas coming from Russia because you know, that was the major source of rents for the Belarussian government, and also the source of economic dependence on it. So this issue of rent coming from Russian cheap gas. The second question is about the cooperation between dictators of CIS and for instance, some of them are not as dependent on Russia like Azerbaijani authoritarian leaders and there is some cooperation going on. What do you think about it? Is it for better or for worse? Because some thought that maybe Azerbaijan would become an alternative source for energy and things like that. On the other hand, they cooperate very intensely on the military issues, and it is an issue. What do you think is the main weakness of the Belarussian opposition? Why did they fail to attract the support of the West so unanimously? It is not because Lukashenko is more charming or charismatic? Thank you.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Yes, you are right about the rent from the cheap oil and gas. And I think that it is changing. They are claiming this so-called tax maneuver, which is affecting the prices. They are quite good at inventing all kind of fancy words that people do not understand but they know that it is something bad. I think that’s the usual tactics. It’s a leverage to put pressure on Lukashenko again to get something on the territory of Belarus. Yes, it won’t go back. But it didn’t start today. It started in 2008 in terms of oil and gas prices and in terms of volumes of crude oil delivered to Belarus. If you remember, Belarus out of a sudden became the leading exporter of oil products in Europe and Great Britain was one of the leading importers. It started with them playing with the volumes, they say that we will give you this amount because we know that you are selling it and we have to have our share of the profit, etc. You are right – it will be to put more pressure, to get some property, to get some concessions from the Belarussian side.
Cooperation of dictators. I don’t see anything good in it because there is really a cooperative of dictators on the territory of the FSU. They support each other and they should understand that Aliyev or Lukashenko should not be treated differently from Putin. The same nature and the same problem. And there has to be the same attitude based on values, based first of all on principles, based on respect for human rights and democracy.
I wouldn’t say that we are weak as an opposition. I would say that we never had a support that we needed because, you know, the main weakness of the Belorussian opposition is the strength of dictatorial regimes and this strength was created not only with the help of Russia but also with the help of the West. There were many mass protests proportionally bigger in size and scale than in Russia and Ukraine but they were suppressed quite effectively, violently, people were killed. Look, we had the first case of uncontested leaders of the opposition being kidnapped and killed in 1999. Like former interior minister Zakharenko, former vice-speaker and head of central election committee Viktor Gonchar, and the mysterious death of the vice-speaker of the parliament Gennady Karpenko. All of them would have won the next elections running against Lukashenko like that. They were popular. They were supported by the people. And that was the heaviest blow to the opposition which was very difficult to overcome and to survive at the time. It was 1999, let me remind you. And only in 2004 the Council of Europe produced the report on the disappeared persons in Belarus. 5 years after. There was no reaction at the time. There were some doubts expressed about them and Lukashenko’s disinformation specialists were very good in saying that they were seen in Germany or in Great Britain or elsewhere. That they are alive, they have simply run away from their wives and their families. Maybe I do not know the situation in other countries but such a massive physical liquidation of the leaders of the opposition in Belarus was of course not without consequences. We managed to survive, we managed to produce a lot of activities at a protest level. I can tell you for sure that the street protest in Russia started because we cooperated with Boris Nemtsov and his colleagues. We were talking about how to revive this protest movement in both countries despite the difficult situation. I would say that I admire courage of the Belarussian opposition that is still fighting and going to jail every day. Every day. This is not an exaggeration. Today the place where our revolution started, Kurapaty, the place of Stalin’s repressions is being vandalized and on a regular basis and people are trying to protest. They go to jail, they are being beaten, they are being run over by a car, so I would admire and notice the courage of people of Belarus who are fighting in absolutely horrendous conditions. And believe me, the protest potential is there because I saw it in 2010 myself. I can tell you a lot about how people would survive at the time but if they see that they could produce an impact, if they could see that the situation might change because they got involved they will get involved.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Thank you. The gentleman here, second row.
VASIL YEVDOKIMOV: Vasil Yevdokimov, the Anglo-Belarussian Society. Andrei, you stressed out in your speech that Western approach towards Belarus is passive if not inapt. I would call it a pragmatic approach. But Belarus is a quiet place. It does not create any trouble in the region, any problem to the West. As an economic partner it is not very substantial either. Why do you believe that Western attitude towards Belarus should be any different?
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Yes, it is a nice place to live for Western diplomats but not for Belarussians. Unfortunately, the Western diplomats do not vote in our elections, do not elect presidents. Why do I believe? Because I would say that, and I repeat it all the time, the cornerstone of the European security in our part of the region is Ukraine. But the linchpin for the European security in our part of the world is Belarus. Without Belarus you won’t get a democratic and independent Ukraine. It will always be a (inaudible) for all kind of things, against not only Ukraine but also Poland and Baltic states, coming from the Kremlin. Even Lukashenko wouldn’t want to spoil relationships and provoke neighbors but the Kremlin will do it and is doing it all the time. So I think if there is really a concern about the European security, especially after Crimea and Donbass, especially after the Kremlin has gone mad, there have to be understanding that Europe is not complete without Belarus, that security will not be ensured in Europe without a democratic and independent Belarus. I think that you can do business but ok, I will give you a practical answer as well. I don’t want to see Western businessmen in jail in Belarus. And I saw them. Many of them. Their business is being raided and it is not publicized. They are trying to be quiet. They are trying to work through the embassies which are not always responsive. You cannot work normally in Belarus if you are becoming visibly successful moneywise. My view is that changes in Belarus, gradual changes, improvement of the situation will produce more impact and better impact on Russia than even on Ukraine. So I think that we as Belarussians all have to be interested and involved in making our country free and the West has to be interested in its own security because it is on the border, bordering a very strategic region of Europe.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Please.
ROSEMARY THOMAS: I am Rosemary Thomas from Foreign and Commonwealth office and formerly Ambassador to Belarus. I would like to ask a question. I understand that there are some plans to finally form a joint currency between Russia and Belarus So I would like to know if that is true? And secondly, if so, I would like to know what you think the implications are in terms of power politics and also a psychological effect of that on Belarussian citizens? How will that be accepted by Belarussian citizens?
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Well, you know, this game of having a single currency started in 1993 before the first presidential election in Belarus. It was started by then prime minister Vyacheslav Kebich who used it in his electoral campaign. It has continued for all these years with some ups and downs but only as a discussion. I think that they already have common currency in trading between themselves. So they are using the ruble or whatever it is. I don’t think that it will happen in reality. For Lukashenko it will mean that he is going. If there is such a scenario and such a decision to get rid of Lukashenko it might happen as a drastic attempt of Lukashenko to save himself. But so far they are fighting it. Besides the Russian currency is not very attractive today. There are all kinds of trade, legitimate and non-legitimate which are going through Belarus to Europe and it is better not to tie oneself too close to Russian ruble. So it is not a question for a near future. It is a political question. It has nothing to do with economy.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: The gentleman further back with the glasses. Yes.
QUESTION 5: My name is Nikolai (inaudible) and I work for a law firm. But here I am more in my own capacity as a chair of the Association of Belarussians. My question is this. When the sanctions were introduced especially after the events of 2010, they were introduced due to political repressions and human rights violations. When the sanctions were dropped a few years later the European Commission referred to Lukashenko’s supposedly constructive role in the region. So completely different reason. The criticism of that at the time such as from the Rada and the Belarussian Democratic Republic in exile was if you drop the sanctions you need to compliment that with some solid support for the opposition in Belarus not to disadvantage the course of a democratic Belarus. The criticism of that position has been and remains, as far as I can see, that if you do that then you (the West) stop appearing in Lukashenko’s eyes as an honest partner and that might endanger Lukashenko’s quasi-neutral position on Ukraine which seems to be what was behind his supposedly constructive position. In your view, how much do you think Lukashenko’s quasi-neutral position on Ukraine depends on the West efforts to appear an honest partner willing to build good relations with Lukashenko?
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Fist on sanctions. I think it is really, um, how to call it without using strong words? (laughs). What is international sanctions in a situation like in Belarus, a dictatorship? It’s a kind of signal that there is justice in the world, that the crimes people are perpetrating, these people are not immune. I wasn’t happy how the events turned out after 2010. I would like to see a more challenging policy from the European Union, like strongly questioning legitimacy of Lukashenko. But they have chosen to apply sanctions and demand the release of political prisoners. Ok. There were several conditions attached and those conditions were not met. Even the condition that all political prisoners have to be released before the European Union lifts the sanctions was not met. Yes, those who were imprisoned, almost all of us were released by February 2016. But there were new political prisoners that still remain in prison like Mikhail Zhemchuzhny. Other conditions which were not met are even not mentioned today because one of the conditions was rehabilitation of course of those who were arrested. It was not met and that’s why today several opposition leaders according to Lukashenko’s law cannot participate in the election which also should be questioned not only in Belarus but also by the European Union. Because by lifting sanctions the European Union recognized the impunity of the criminals. And today we see that they, those who were actually torturing us, literally, they travel to and enjoy Europe. Some of them, like the guy who was quite active on Belarussian TV is working for the Voice of America today. Admitted and no questions asked presumably. So it means that we are (those who were tried by Lukashenko’s law) still punished and still living without being able to enjoy all our rights inside and outside Belarus and those perpetrators are now completely justified and they have nothing to lose and they continue what they were doing, especially in the KGB offices. So I think that, I simply don’t accept this kind of logic because we all know that people like Lukashenko and Putin follow very closely the reaction of the West and if they see that the West is softening its position it is a signal to continue with repressions, a signal to show that they are even stronger after his short period of sanctions. I guess that was a rhetorical question because you know the situation quite well yourself.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: And the second question about Belarus as a neutral player?
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Yes. But it’s also a game that Lukashenko is playing together with the West because Belarus votes against any kind of condemnation of Russian policy in Ukraine in United Nations which is the best indication. Neutrality is explained very easily. The so-called neutrality. Again, Lukashenko has a lot of profit from this situation selling the fuel from Russia to Ukraine and doing all kind of business which is connected to the war with Russia in Ukraine. So he is making his profit and it is a common knowledge but politically it was decided to recognize him playing a constructive role. I think it was a big mistake to come Minsk to start the negotiations on Ukraine because it was the only place where Putin could see his interests realized, to bring the criminals from Donetsk and Lugansk into negotiations, to be present on the fringe of the negotiations. That was the worst place to start negotiations on Ukraine even if the purpose was very noble, to stop the war and the deaths of people. It is hypocrisy and I don’t think that anything constructive is coming out of Lukashenko’s meddling in the Ukrainian situation.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: We have 5 minutes left. So there are 3 hands. So what I will do, if that’s ok, is to take all three questions and you can try to answer them. Ok, so let’s start from here (inaudible)
QUESTION 6: My name is Mike Mill. So you painted a very pessimistic picture.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: I thought I was optimistic (everybody laughs).
QUESTION 6: So I wanted to ask you if there is anything to be optimistic about (laughs). Is there any light in the gloom, let me put it that way? (laughs)
QUESTION 7: George (inaudible), Oxford. I was going to ask about the legislature and (inaudible) contact between some Western representatives and the Parliamentarians and I was wondering if we are getting a trend or is it just some regime legitimization towards its representatives or is it just a one off?
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Chris, please.
QUESTION 8: I think one of the biggest challenges maybe you face is that outside of the gathering such as this Belarus has very little profile. People (inaudible) in Britain and West Europe know next to nothing about Belarus and so if Russia was to take over it broadly speaking there will be a shrug. And I think politicians would hide behind that shrug to do nothing. Or can people like you do change that by raising awareness of Belarus culturally or not just always talking about politics that most people turn away from?
DR ANDREW FOXALL: Three very different questions.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Optimism (laughing in the room). Look, we are living in absurdity to me. You know, global world. Let’s say, the West is being corrupt first of all by the Kremlin but also by less influential dictators like Aliyev and Lukashenko. But the recent events give some grounds for optimism look at Armenia. What I am trying to tell my friends in the West is that stop thinking for Russia. Because the usual question and I am grateful that it was not asked here but Putin will not like if Belarus would try to become independent. Of course he wouldn’t like. So what? There should be a logic for decision making in the West. Who could believe in Armenia? Of course this situation is not as simple but at least people spoke there. People spoke and people changed the situation. Look at Moldova. Also not a very simple situation. A lot of corruption. A lot of criminal elements involved but at least the obvious men of the Kremlin got defeated during the recent election. Georgia is continuing its pro-European politics, also with a lot of difficulties. I don’t want to be overoptimistic but I don’ want to be pessimistic, so slightly this abnormal situation is giving us some signals. And again the solution is election. Why did Ukraine succeed? Why is it important today to pay attention to the most important thing that we are preserving in Ukraine – the institute of election? The succeeded because they could use the legitimate institute of democratic institution to move forward. Of course we are watching it very closely today. But this kind of progress of elections is encouraging. Because ours biggest mistake maybe was, and this is going back to Leyla’s question, that we didn’t believe in the institute if elections in 1994. And that’s why we didn’t take too seriously Lukashenko thinking that ok, two years and he will be gone. In four years our leaders were killed. And we never had any election or referendum after that. Never. And that is why the solution is very simple for the Belarusian situation and for the West – to insist on free and fair elections. At least partly free and fair, we can achieve a lot of things. This context with the West, I don’t like it because again I don’t know why all of the sudden they started to come to Belarus sometimes even not noticing the situation with human rights, sometimes making no statements on violations of human rights. During their visits, for example, commissioner Khan came to Belarus in the beginning of last year when Charter 97 was blocked and the decision was taken. He didn’t comment on it publicly. And Embassies are also keeping silence. I am not against the contacts but you are right, they are serving more the legitimation of the regime than improving the situation and helping us. I have always said that we are defending today the values of Europe in Belarus. The opposition, civil society, human rights defenders, independent press. But we have to have support. Especially after the war in Ukraine the support was completely withdrawn from Belarus. It was explained that Ukraine needs it. Yes, of course it needs it but it shouldn’t be like we will compensate Ukraine by withdrawing from Belarus.
As for low profile, that’s a story of our life. Everything what is happening is the world is more important than Belarus. So I am grateful that I wasn’t asked questions about the Kremlin’s policy in Russia or the Ukrainian situation after the elections – that’s encouraging. Because usually (laughs) you start talking about Belarus and you have questions and answers for situation in other countries. We are trying to do whatever we can. I am grateful to the Henry Jackson Society and Andrew for organizing this, I am grateful to you that you came to listen to maybe not very logical sometimes (laughs) statements. We will continue to do so. Belarus is on the map of Europe and Belarus is part of Europe. I can tell you many names that are connected with Belarus and who you do not even suspect have some origins in Belarus. I will not mention Jared Kushner whose family come from Novogrudok, Balarus or Scarlett Johansson who has roots in Belarus and many others. We know that we do exist and the world I think pays attention only when there is a crisis in Belarus.
QUESTION 8: Can I give a little personal experience there? Two minutes. I was trying to find about the Belarusian culture and particularly classical music and writers and Belarussians asked me themselves “Why are you interested? This is weird.” Now if they cannot be interested in their own culture or make others being interested in their culture it’s pretty bleak.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Well, we have a Nobel prize winner.
QUESTION 8: I know but nobody knows that.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: I wouldn’t say so. Even Russian Pen Club tried to claim that Alexievich is Russian (laughs). I don’t know. We had great writers, we had here great translators of Belarussian poetry, very rich. (inaudible) He died no so long ago. And other people who had introduced Belarussian culture to United Kingdom. I wouldn’t say that it is completely ignored but we don’t have any spectacular, effective channels to communicate. I agree with you. I was also thinking that we need some Hollywood movies on Belarussian history – that may attract attention (laughs). We shall try to use our connections with Hollywood stars of Belarussian origin to produce some.
DR ANDREW FOXALL: It is now five past two, I realized that the meeting was due to end five minutes ago. I hope you will forgive me for the overrun. Andrei, it’s a pleasure as always to host you and anything and everything that we can do to help you to put Belarus on the cultural map but also bring about effective change, we’ll do our very best. Please join me in thanking Andei.
ANDREI SANNIKOV: Thank you.