Meet our Liberal Friend from Belarus: Jaroslav Romanchuk!

This year, a wave of demonstrations took over the streets of Minsk. The demonstrations began in the lead-up to and during the 2020 presidential elections of Belarus. Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been nicknamed "Europe's last dictator", has been in power for 26 year. He has keeping much of the economy in state hands and is using censorship and police crackdowns against opponents. Lukashenko won the elections by an enormous victory and claimed a sixth term as president. His main rival, Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, a political newcomer and former teacher, rejected the outcome, insisting that she would have won if votes had been properly counted. Right now, Belarus is still gripped by mass protests and the scale of the protests is unprecedented for Belarus. Recently, foreign ministers European Union agreed to impose sanctions on Lukashenko, as the bloc seeks to step up pressure over his regime’s crackdown on protesters. Furthermore, the EU had already imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 40 Lukashenko allies for rigging the election in August. VVD International is following the current situation in Belarus closely and is in contact liberal friends, as for example Jaroslav Romanchuk. Jaroslav is a fierce protagonist of liberal reforms in Belarus. He ran for president in 2010 and is known for his extensive research on liberal economic policy in Belarus.

You currently work as the president of the Minsk Mises Centre. Could you explain shortly what this institution does and what it stands for?

“Mises Centre is a think tank that promotes freedom in all aspects, but primarily in economic policy and social policy. We study how freedom influences social and economic standards. We advocate an expansion of democratic and liberal reforms. Unlike the Netherlands, Belarus has never experienced being a free country. Most of our citizens do not know what liberalism is really about. Our opponents describe liberalism as an ideology which supports the welfare of the rich and the powerful. We aim to spread the knowledge of Belarusian citizens to fight against this image. We say that liberalism is about transnational cooperation and fighting injustice. Furthermore, we introduce and explain liberal solutions to today’s challenges: how to create jobs, how ensure pensions, how stimulate business development, how ensure long-term economic growth.”

What is for you the most important aspect of liberalism?

“For me, liberalism is the ideology for honest people that prefer hard work. It is about innovation instead of stagnation. Furthermore, liberalism provides peace, transnational cooperation and a fair global economic system.”

To what extent is liberalism a wide supported political ideology in Belarus?

“According to many Belarusians, all bad that happened in Ukraine and Russia as for example nepotism, corruption and the absence of rule of law is caused by their liberal and democratic shift after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, we see a trend that more and more Belarusians are accepting the increase of individualism and self-responsibility in the Belarusian society. In addition, the Belarussian economic policy is not enhancing economic growth, there is stagnation for 25 years. The business community have lost their trust in the economy. The answer to all of this are liberal reforms and that is also what I wanted to introduce in 2010, when I ran for president.”

To what extent did you stand a chance at the presidential elections of 2010?

“I realised that no free and fair elections were held in Belarus since 1996. The main reason I took part in this election was that I wanted to spread liberal ideas on social and economic policy. My campaign team and I tried to target different social groups. We visited more than 50 cities in which I spoke to many people about liberalism. This was the goal of our campaign. To explain to the Belarusian people that liberalism is not about drugs and prostitution, but mainly about their property and welfare. Anyway, Lukashenko felt threatened, because in 2010 I went through psychological torture and I had to make statements I did not wanted to make. To save lives. I for example had to state that the riots were orchestrated by the opposition.”

Let us move to today’s situation. Do you believe the momentum will come and that the Lukashenko regime will fall this year? If so, do you think that there is a place for liberal values, as for example freedom of speech, in a renewed Belarus?

“This is a unique moment in our nation’s history. We never had so many people on the streets as in this year. There is just a huge amount of anger and indignation which are a result of grave mistakes of Lukashenko and his regime. Firstly, he arrested very popular opponents of him in May. Secondly, he declared a win with 80% of the votes in the last elections, which was a ridiculous high number nobody believed. Thirdly, many atrocities and tortures occurred from the 9th tot the 11th of August. Furthermore, The Belarusian people was even cut out of internet time by time, to prevent them to post anything about the riots and protests in their country on social media. Moreover, the head of the catholic church in Belarus was not allowed to enter the country, this was outrageous. Even ordinary workers joint the protests, because the Lukashenko’s regime went simply too far with violating basic human rights. Hundreds of thousands of people are protesting against the regime and their goal is to enforce more freedoms.”

What will be your own role if Belarus is renewed?

“I want to advice and support the future government creating an institutional foundation for a liberal Belarus. Furthermore, I want to keep explaining to the Belarusian citizens, why applying a liberal institutional framework is the best choice for the well-being of their country. Additionally, we need the help of foreign liberal to support Belarus in the next steps. Especially, cooperation with the VVD is important, because your party knows what it is to take governmental responsibility.”