Wednesday

22nd Nov 2017

Investigation

'Lukashenko put cucumbers in my trunk'

One of three statesmen whose signature dissolved the Soviet Union, the former head of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich still views ridding the country of its nuclear arsenal as his greatest achievement.

Shushkevich led Belarus from 1991 until Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in as President in July 1994.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Shushkevich was stopped at the border on 19 March (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

His attempts to single-handedly liberalise a Soviet-era economy and to introduce democratic reforms met with reprimand from the more conservative apparatchiks in government

His rivals called him an idealist and ousted him from power in a parliamentary vote which brought in a pro-Russian cadre in his place. The same parliament in 1996 tried to impeach Lukashenko for violating the constitution, but failed.

"We could have prevented this dictatorship, but Lukashenko was supported by high-ranking Russian officials. The Russian speaker of the high chamber of parliament, the speaker of the lower chamber of the Duma and the prime minister handed victory over to Lukashenko. This is how Lukashenko became a dictator," Shushkevich recalled.

In his small apartment in north Minsk which he shares with his wife, Shushkevich spends his days writing and advising Belarus' fragmented opposition on how to unite against the autocrat.

The former head of state gets a measly pension of 3,200 rubles a month (about €0.40). He also gets a food allowance of about €50 a year, enough - authorities say - not to die from hunger.

He described Lukashenko as an "arse-kisser" who liked to please superiors. In the early 1990s, Lukashenko was an MP who attracted Shushkevich's pity.

"I remember one day I badly parked my car and Lukashenko approached me and said he could park it for me much better. So I gave him the keys. When I later returned to the car, I found my trunk full of cucumbers," Shushkevich told EUobserver.

He was not sure if the cucumbers were a joke or a gift. But they were not in season at the time, so he invited Lukashenko to his home for tea out of politeness. Lukashenko brought along Viktor Gunchar, a prominent politician and future deputy prime minister, who went on to oppose the dictator before disappearing in suspicious circumstances.

"Lukashenko was not very bright ... but the cucumbers were delicious," Shushkevich said of the tea party.

When he was not in Belarus, the historic statesman used to lecture at universities around the world.

But the lecture tours are now a thing of the past: his name is one of 148 on a KGB list of people who can no longer leave the country. It was drawn up in revenge against EU sanctions.

"I plan on travelling to Vilnius on 19 March to visit the Belarus center of culture. We'll see what happens," he told EUobserver earlier this month. On 19 March he was stopped at the border and sent home.

Henchmen and killers

Shushkevich can list off the top of his head all the cogs - big and small - that keep the Lukashenko machine running.

Aside from oligarchs such as Vladmir Peftiev and Yuri Chizh, there are other, more dangerous, creatures which shelter near the dictator. One of them is Viktor Sheiman.

"He is different from Peftiev and Chizh because he started in the state [security] service," Shushkevich said. Sheiman was a low-ranking major in the military. But his subservience and hunger for power caught the attention of superiors.

Shushkevich says Sheiman used murder and kidnappings as vehicles for his promotion. He received the rank of colonel general, a senior military status also used in North Korea and Russia.

During the 1990s, he organized fake assassination attempts on Lukashenko to falsely incriminate political rivals. As head of the council of security of the state prosecutor, Sheiman is personally linked to the murder and disappearance of journalists, businessmen and others who represented a threat to the regime - including Lukashenko's former friend and tea-party-guest, Gunchar.

Lukashenko has awarded Sheiman no fewer than 86 medals. He is now the face of Belarusian business in Latin America and deals in crude oil and petroleum with Venezuela.

'Economic sanctions can hurt him'

In Lukashenko's world, the value of loyalty is only as great as the money that greases the wheels of the regime and business connections with EU states are vital to his grip on power.

"Only economic sanctions will hurt Lukashenko. It would force him to release political prisoners," Shushkevich said.

Shushkevich went to Berlin three weeks after the 19 December crackdown to plead the case for economic sanctions. At the time everyone spoke to him of profit losses for German companies, of "not hurting ordinary Belarusians" and of not pushing Belarus deeper into Russia's sphere of influence.

For Shushkevich, the Russia argument was always bogus.

"You cannot integrate Belarus even more into the Russian sphere of influence," he said, noting that the two share a 959-km-long open border and that their military forces are joined at the hip. In February, Lukashenko even asked Russia to pay the salaries of his military officers. Many of the key positions in the Belarus government are staffed by Russian citizens and the Russian language dominates in the country.

The EU on 23 March blacklisted 29 Belarus companies and two oligarchs. But three key firms got off in order not to hurt business interests in Latvia and Slovenia.

Shushkevich believes the next step should be a special EU fund to compensate EU firms for lost income so that economic sanctions are no longer held hostage by the likes of Riga and Ljubljana.

"If you want to help Belarus then the EU needs a budget dedicated to Belarus and not just rhetoric and symbolic embargoes," he said.

Opinion

Belarus: Or, how to divide and rule

Personal encounters with Belarus' leading dissidents show the effectiveness of regime tactics to divide and demoralise its opponents.

EU ambassadors trickle back to Minsk

All EU ambassadors are returning to Minsk in a bid to improve deteriorating relations with Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, in power for the past 18 years.

Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop told the EU in Brussels that the lack of vision and planning following the Nato-led bombing campaign in Libya helped trigger the current migration and security crisis.

News in Brief

  1. December euro summit still on, Tusk confirms
  2. EU calls for end to Kenya election crisis
  3. Report: Israeli PM invited to meet EU ministers
  4. French banks close Le Pen accounts
  5. Commission relaxes rules on labelling free range eggs
  6. Commission issues €34m fine over car equipment cartel
  7. Estonian presidency 'delighted' with emissions trading vote
  8. Mladic found guilty of genocide and war crimes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  2. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  3. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  4. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  6. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  7. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  8. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  9. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  10. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  11. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  12. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure

Latest News

  1. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  2. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'
  3. Commission warns Italy over high debt level
  4. Mladic found guilty for Bosnia genocide and war crimes
  5. Uber may face fines in EU for keeping data breach secret
  6. EU counter-propaganda 'harms' relations, Russia says
  7. The EU's half-hearted Ostpolitik
  8. Glyphosate: 1.3 million EU citizens call for ban

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  2. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  3. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  4. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  6. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  7. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  9. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  11. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  12. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened