Abductions of politicians, explosions in the metro and at a concert on July 3 are links of one chain.
Fifteen years passed since the disappearance of Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski. We still don't know the truth. Politician Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski went to a bathhouse on 16 September 1999 and disappeared forever. The analysis of the evidence in the case, including the testimony of witnesses, suggests that Hanchar and Krasouski were forcibly abducted for political reasons. The country's high-ranking officials are believed to be involved in the crime. The statute of limitation in the criminal cases over the disappearance of the opposition members expires this year.
Belsat TV channel discussed it with Zmitser Bandarenka, a coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign and former political prisoner. Bandarenka came to the studio just after a picket of solidarity.
– Hi, Zmitser! You've just returned from the solidarity picket. Don't you think that the number of people who remember about the killed persons is decreasing? Fifteen years have passed. It's a long time.
– The main thing is that the families of the kidnapped and killed opposition leaders remember it. I know Iryna Krasouskaya and her daughters. I know Sviatlana Zavadskaya. I know that their pain cannot end. I know how it is important for them that other people remember their husbands, sons and fathers. It is very important for them that such pickets are organised in Belarus and abroad. Today, pickets were held in Warsaw and Eindhoven. Lera Krasouskaya, a daughter of Anatol Krasouski, organised it in Eindhoven. There are four trees in Eindhoven that symbolise the kidnapped Belarusians. Their families can go there as if it were their grave, because they don't have a real grave.
– This is very hard not to have a place where you can cry. What can their families do now? Do they make any attempts to find the truth?
Of course they are trying. I know that Iryna Krasouskaya pays much attention to it. It is the mater of her life, her daughters, the family of Zakharanka and the family of Henadz Karpenka, who was not kidnapped, but suddenly died of a very serious unknown disease in 1999. I know that the families are struggling. Sviatlana Zavadskaya does a lot. I think the family of Viktar Hanchar also applies efforts. What can we do? We have a dictatorship. The authorities do not want to investigate these cases.
– Our human rights defenders say the families wanted prosecution agencies to consolidate the cases, but the authorities declined it. Does it show that the abductions and murders were deliberate?
– The authorities are in a difficult situation. They once suspended the investigation, and the families were able to get access to the criminal cases. Information leaked. We learnt about Lapatsik (Lopatik), whose blood was found on the site of the abduction. On the other case, they cannot close the cases. The question is left in limbo. I'd like to remind you that besides the 15-year anniversary of the disappearance of Hanchar and Krasouski, we should remember that Christos Pourgourides, the Special Rappoteur of the Council of Europe, made his report 10 years ago, in which he in fact concluded that Belarus's top officials were involved in the abductions, that the persons were most likely to be killed. He also wrote that the Belarusian authorities impeded the objective investigation. Lukashenka regarded Cypriot Christos Pourgourides almost as his friend, an Orthodox Christian. But Lukashenka didn't know that Pourgourides's brother had been abducted and killed by the Greek junta. The report was an affair of honour for him. He did it, he prepared a legal document that was approved by the Council of Europe. But the case was again put on the shelf during another round of liberalisaton in 2008-2009.
– May it become the ground for an honest investigation of the case?
– You know, we have heroes in Belarus. They are from the police. I mean colonel Alkayeu, investigators Sluchak and Petrusheuski. These people made serious steps, risking their life. They give information who, when and where killed them. It's enough. It just waits for the right time. The trial will be held one day. The guilty people won't escape punishment.
– So, the statute of limitation is something nominal. This is the statute of limitation in accordance with the current legislation and for the current authorities. Society and families will ignore it when the investigation is carried out. Can it be compared to Nazi crimes? The families want these cases to be qualified as crimes against humanity.
– Belarusian authorities refused to sign the convention on protection from enforced disappearances. Iryna Krasouskaya worked a lot for the convention to be adopted. Belarusian authorities refused to sign it, so they partially admitted their guilt.
– We asked people in Minsk today if they remember the abducted persons. It's illustrative that young people know about them less than adults.
– Yes, it's very close to me. I knew Viktar Hanchar personally. We were in close contact with him in August and September. He even invited me to that bathhouse. By the way, it [the abduction] happened in Fabrychnaya Street. I was born there and lived there for 18 years. I visited that bathhouse. It was 150 metre from my home. I also learnt from Pavel Sheremet's film The Wild Hunt that the last person who saw Krasouski and Hanchar was the wife of my cousin. We didn't see each other much. I only learnt it from his documentary The Wild Hunt.
– You mean there are alive witnesses?
– I am saying that we all have relation to the case of the abducted persons. It is an affair of honour when we organise pickets of solidarity.
I call on all people to do some simple things. Pray for the deceased. Pray to God to help the families of these people. If you have opportunities, you can support the families and the people who organise pickets of solidarity. It will be your activism.
– Do you think the case of Aleh Biabenin can be ranked together with the cases of the people we recall today?
– Surely! By the way, Andrei Sannikov was holding the portrait of Aleh Biabenin today. I can say that the solidarity of the Belarusians and the courage of the Belarusian policemen, who began to investigate this case, suspended killings for some time. But the authorities are like a criminal, like a serial killer. They cannot give up this method. Lukashenka feared to a certain extent in 1999 that the situation might have changed. It wasn't favourable for him after the crisis of 1998. The year 2010 was a decisive year for him, too. He didn't want Sannikov to run in the election. Andrei and his family received threats. I am sure that the murder of Aleh was a warning to Sannikov – don't run in the election.
– You mean the squadron of death still exists today?
– It exists. I even was held in the prison for more than a month where one of the riot policemen having relation to the squadron of death was held. He was sentenced to 17.5 years. He had served 7.5 years by that time. I don't say his name. He told me (in a threatening tone) that they had tested that practice on criminals. About 30 persons were killed in Belarus and abroad. By different means. Someone was killed, someone fell onto the tracks in the metro in Kyiv, someone had a car accident. They are still active. This practice has not been stopped in relation to the criminal world.
– Aleh Sluchak confirms this information. He says that they first practiced it on criminal bosses, whose disappearances went unnoticed for pubic, and then moved to more important persons. Why weren't the bodies found? Why were there no problems? To avoid proofs? Doesn't it allow providing direct proofs?
– You know, they created a system. Why were Lukashenka and Chavez so close friends? Lukashenka followed the example of Latin American dictatorships. He liked Hitler, but the country doesn't have all the possibilities. It's a different time. He was creating a Latin American dictatorship. Such regimes cannot exist without repression, killings and abductions. They have to incite fear and eliminate opponents. He just took the model of Latin America. He didn't invent it. We know that tens of thousands suffered there [in Latin America]. We are lucky to be in Europe, not in Latin America. We, Belarusian opposition activists, made our best to make these cases public. It stopped the scale of killings. The explosion in the metro and the explosion at a concert on the so called the Day of the Republic are parts of the system. Such regimes cannot exist without fear and intimidation.
– Nevertheless, the authorities began to use a softer approach and gave up such radical means, didn't they?
– You know, it reminds me 2010, when people were saying it was liberalisation. It was probably a bit easier during the presidential campaign. But our friend was killed some days before the election. It was easier for some people, but it's harder for others. I talked yesterday to Maksim Viniarski, who was in jail. I regret to say that abductions go on. He was abducted from the jail, taken in an unknown place, threatened to be killed and held illegally for 7 hours. They used to take people in a forest. They made them dig the ground and said they would kill them. Actually, it was a mock execution. It's not for everyone to withstand it. We have a barbaric regime practicing killings, repression, torture and mockery. It does exist.
– It's important today to say that we remember. Thank you for the conversation. Our guest today was former political prisoner Zmitser Bandarenka. We can see today that solidarity knows no borders.