Current Concerns: Ambassador Ganevich, our readers do not learn from most Western media what your country’s position really is. That is why we would like to let you have your say today as Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to Switzerland. According to the principle: audiatur et altera pars. How has the internal situation in Belarus developed since the presidential elections of August 2020?
Aliaksandr Ganevich: Since August 2020 the situation in Belarus has changed fundamentally. The attempt at a typical “colour revolution”, massively financed and skilfully steered by the West, has completely failed. The state has learned lessons from the events and taken necessary steps to consolidate power and society. It has strengthened the legal mechanisms to protect sovereignty and the constitutional order, prevented the growth of extremism, brought order to the streets. The rules for receiving free aid from abroad were adjusted, the state information policy was improved, responsibility for behaviour in the virtual space and the security of personal data were increased.
The constitutional reform in Belarus brought together the constructive forces of society, including the opposition, in an inclusive process. Its aim is to modernise the country’s political system and increase resilience to current challenges.
The economy is developing dynamically despite Western economic sanctions. The gross domestic product increased by 2.3 % in 2021, the exchange rate of the national currency remained stable, and the foreign trade surplus reached 4 billion US dollars (the highest level since 2012). Employees’ real wages grew by 5 %.
The year 2021 passed in Belarus under the slogan People’s Unity. My impression is that quite a few Belarusians seriously revised their views this year. They have recognised the value of an independent and strong Belarus in a world that is currently very turbulent and unpredictable. Sociological surveys show a high level of national self-confidence, unity and cohesion.
How do you assess the external situation of your country in the current conflict with the NATO countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, but also with Ukraine?
At the end of January, in his message to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly, the President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko described the current situation around our country very clearly: “Belarus is at the epicentre of a global confrontation. In the West, the military infrastructure is being strengthened – of an offensive nature, by the way. NATO troops are concentrated near the borders of the Union State of Belarus and Russia, flights of American strategic bombers have been activated (more than 30 sorties per day). Neighbouring countries are talking about deploying nuclear weapon carriers. Our western neighbours – Poland, Lithuania – are actively acting in line with Washington’s policy. Increasing tensions in the south are a growing concern. Ukrainians are being pushed into the flames of conflict, specifically prepared for aggression ...”
Belarus sees the strengthening of military presence on our borders as the main cause of destabilisation in the region. From our point of view, such an escalation, which can be seen above all in Poland, is not acceptable at all. With the joint military exercise “Allied Determination 2022”, which will take place in our country from 10 to 20 February 2022, Belarus and Russia want to show their readiness to respond to any possible scenario. They also want to improve the protection of the border with Ukraine, identify and eliminate problem areas and deficiencies.
Belarus supports the justified demand of our ally and partner – the Russian Federation – to respect the principle of “indivisible security” as formulated in the basic OSCE documents, including the Istanbul Charter for European Security (1999): “Each participating State will [...] respect the rights of all others. They will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other States.”
For Belarusians, who were subjected to outright genocide during the Second World War and lost almost one in three of their inhabitants, peace is truly sacred. In order to preserve it, enormous efforts are currently needed not only from the major states, but from the entire world community.
On 27 February 2022, the Belarusian people will vote on a new constitution. What are the basic lines of this new constitution?
Proposals to amend the current Constitution of 15 March 1994 (with amendments of 1996, 2004 and 2021) had already been discussed throughout the country during preparations for the VI All-Belarusian People’s Assembly from October 2020 to February 2021.
As a result of the subsequent work of a constitutional commission, a draft of the amendments and additions to the Constitution was submitted for public discussion on 27 December 2021. Since then, 3000 dialogue platforms have been held in the country with over 140,000 participants. Citizens showed a high level of interest in the discussion – almost 9000 opinions and suggestions were received in just a few weeks. Many of them were taken into account or later flowed into the legislative process.
If one summarises all the additions and amendments to the constitution, one can distinguish five thematic blocks around which they are grouped:
Belarus is currently being sharply criticised by the NATO countries, but also in the Swiss media. How do you deal with this?
Of course, we are deeply concerned about the unrelenting unprecedented pressure on our country from Western countries. In addition to the criticism in the media, which is mostly completely groundless and exaggerated, rigorous sanctions are also being applied against a number of Belarusian citizens and important companies (unfortunately also with the participation of Switzerland), flight connections between Belarus and all other countries in Europe have been interrupted for over nine months. Recently, our neighbour Lithuania stopped the transit of Belarusian potash fertilisers through its territory, which grossly violates its obligations under international law and will have an extremely negative impact on global food security.
It should be said that the President of the Republic of Belarus clearly distinguishes between a hostile attitude of those in power in some countries and the opinion of the population of these countries. Often these positions are far apart. We strive to maintain friendly relations with all countries even in today’s conditions and hope for the early return of our Western partners to normal dialogue based on mutual respect.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus and other state bodies, Belarusian missions abroad actively respond to accusations and insinuations by foreign politicians and mass media, the main international bodies and forums are also used for this purpose. For example, the Foreign Minister of Belarus, Mr Vladimir Makei, very clearly stated the official position in his speeches at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2021 and at the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in December 2021. The Belarusian representations in Bern and Geneva are also trying to use existing means to disseminate reliable information, to combat slander and “fake news”, to create clarity.
What do you see as your main tasks here in Switzerland and what would you like to see from Swiss politics?
My tasks are complex and not easy these days. Belarus continues to put a high value on the development of friendly relations with Switzerland. This was reaffirmed several times last year alone by the Head of State and the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus.
Of course, the main obstacle to this goal is the extensive sanctions that Switzerland, in line with the EU, has imposed on Belarus. That is why I would primarily like to see Swiss politicians lift the corresponding decisions as soon as possible. We always have an open ear for the concerns and worries of our Swiss colleagues and are available for a factual dialogue at any time.
In the past two years, Belarus and Switzerland have been confronted with two major challenges at the same time – the COVID-19 pandemic and political discord over events in my country. This had a negative impact on the intensity of bilateral cooperation. Many high-level agreements that were made at the beginning of 2020 could no longer be implemented.
I hope that this year, which also marks 30 years of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Switzerland, we will be able to revive bilateral contacts in various areas. The upcoming inauguration of my colleague in Minsk, Ambassador Honegger Zolotukhin, should also contribute significantly to this.
In the coming months, we expect, among other things, the resumption of inter-parliamentary contacts and regular work of the Joint Economic Commission, progress in the preparation of bilateral visa and readmission agreements.
We remain interested in the expansion of mutual trade and the successful operation of Swiss companies in Belarus. We also see great potential in expanding cooperation with Switzerland in the areas of environmental protection and disaster relief, education and research, youth exchange, culture, sports and town twinning.
So, there is still a lot to do, but I am optimistic and look forward to further positive developments in the relations between our countries.
Ambassador Ganevich, thank you very much for the interview. •
(Translation Current Concerns)
* Aliaksandr Ganevich has been the Extraordinary Ambassador and Plenipotentiary (First Class) of the Republic of Belarus in the Swiss Confederation since 2020. He was born in Lida, Grodno Region. He completed his education at the Military Command School in Ussuriysk, at the Moscow Diplomatic Academy and at the Diplomatic School of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. Since 1993 he has worked in the diplomatic service in Minsk, Berlin, Bern and Munich. Aliaksandr Ganevich is married and has two children. He speaks Belarusian, Russian and German.