Updated at 18:53,10-09-2021

Vilnius memorandum seen as symbolic act, not path to unity

Artsyom Shraybman, BelaPAN

A memorandum intended to lay the groundwork for opposition coalescence has come under fire from Belarus’ key opposition groups. Former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikaw described it as illiterate, harmful and dangerous.

Objective to emphasize BNR’s moral role

The memorandum was signed in Vilnius on November 3 during a meeting between the leaders of Belarusian opposition organizations and Ivonka Survilla, the Canadian-based president of the BNR Rada (government in exile of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic).

It met with a mixed reaction. It begins with general statements on the need to overthrow Belarus’ authoritarian government and calls for cultural revival.

One of its controversial proposals says that a new government formed after Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s ouster would not be responsible for the current government’s debts.

The idea may discourage foreign creditors from underwriting opponents and encourage it to back the Lukashenka government that is liable for its debts.

The memo calls on all political players to recognize the BNR Rada a "non-partisan suprapolitical Belarusian statehood body."

Pawlyuk Bykowski, a journalist with the weekly Belorusy i Rynok, says the paper was intended to emphasize the BNR Rada’s moral authority and its status as a guarantor of Belarus’ independence.

Competition among exiled opposition groups

Bykowski says that Belarusian opposition groups in exile compete for human and financial resources and the right to represent the Belarusian diaspora.

He says the BNR Rada released the memo amid infighting to find out groups that recognize its moral authority and groups that do not, Bykowski says.

It might be the BNR Rada’s response to efforts to establish a Belarusian shadow government in exile. Uladzimir Baradach, architect of the government-in-exile project, signed the memo.

Sannikaw, leader of the European Belarus group recently given asylum in the UK, rejected it.

European Belarus seeks a dominant role

Sannikaw spent 15 months in prison following the December 19, 2010 post-election protest in Minsk before being pardoned by Lukashenka this spring. He said European Belarus members had not been allowed to attend a meeting in Vilnius that resulted in the signing of the memorandum.

"I examined this memorandum professionally and must say that documents are not made like this," said Sannikaw, a former deputy foreign minister. "Those who read it could notice that this document was simply illiterate. And I believe that it is also dangerous because there're things in it that are aimed not at defending the independence of Belarus but against it."

Political analyst Yury Drakakhrust says that European Belarus seeks a dominant role, noting that Sannikaw would like to lead the government in exile.

Bykowski says European Group would like to play an independent game. "The fact that the key player, the former presidential candidate, moved abroad has been perceived as a certain challenge by some emigrants."

Unity hackneyed imperative

The memorandum’s power to rally the opposition should not be overestimated. Drakakhrust says that opposition groups would have to make concessions to each other to reach a deal to work together.

He says that coalescence is a matter of survival for the opposition.

Analysts say that Lukashenka may be ousted as a result of a combination of factors, including external pressure, economic issues, government warring camps and public protests.

Since the Belarusian opposition is not in a position to influence these factors, it should coalesce and come up with an alternative platform that may come in handy in a possible future power vacuum.

No attainable goals

Drakakhrust says that the opposition is fragmented and has been unable to unite because of it has had a bad luck and has not had a chance in power struggle with the government.

"Politicians are willing to work together only when they see a clear and at least a subjectively attainable objective," Drakakhrust told The Viewer.

When the objective has been achieved, coalitions usually collapse, he says citing Georgia and Ukraine as examples.

In general, there are no political and social preconditions for opposition unity. Memoranda cannot solve the problem.

The time has not yet come for unity, but opponents should make sure they will not miss the opportunity.