Anatol Kotau sees his motherland, Belarus, as a country on the verge of collapse from his vantage point next door in Poland.
The Belarusian government’s decision to fabricate a bomb threat in order to force a Ryanair flight to divert and land in order to apprehend a regime foe has sparked international criticism. It has also increased President Alexander Lukashenko’s isolation.
Even Nevertheless, according to Kotau, the events of this chaotic week make it difficult to estimate when Lukashenko’s 27-year rule will end. “It’s fascism, Stalinism, and Orwell 1984 all rolled into one,“ Kotau said of Belarus’ regime, which he loyally served for 15 years.
The presidential election of 2020 was the final straw for him. Following the elections, which were marred by intimidation tactics, detention of opposition candidates, and a lack of transparency, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Minsk and other cities, weekend after weekend, well into the winter, according to independent observers and Western states.
From his Warsaw shelter, Kotau told “The main reason was cruelty and violence in the streets. After fully rigged elections in August 2020, our leaders attempted to persuade people that the election campaign was democratic and transparent.” Kotau is a member of an exceedingly small group of senior Lukashenko officials who have defected to the opposition.
He worked his way up through prominent positions in the country’s foreign ministry, Olympic committee, and finally the president’s administration office, which reports directly to Lukashenko, over his whole career in the public service of Belarus.
Despite this, Kotau claims he has only had sporadic direct communication with the leader. The country’s nearly year-long political turmoil erupted anew this week with a Belarusian operation that despatched a MIG fighter jet to ensure a Ryanair flight from Athens was rerouted to Minsk rather than landing in Lithuania.
Once the plane landed, the secret police, or KGB — in Belarus, it has never altered its name since Soviet times — detained and arrested Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old journalist.
Protasevich, like many other Lukashenko critics, had fled the country and was living in exile, where he ran a social media site that promoted anti-Lukashenko activities.