He confessed to participating in Babaryka’s headquarters and the Coordination Council, yet didn’t believe he would be detained
29 August 2020 | Maria Melekhina, KYKY
On 28 August in Minsk, businessman and co-founder of Terra Group agency Vitaly Kryvko, who is a member of the Coordination Council (CC) and Babaryka’s headquarters, was kidnapped by an unidentified group of people. On 26 August, just before his detention, KYKY managed to get Vitaly’s first and, unfortunately, last (for now) interview about his role in Babaryka’s headquarters and the future of the country. At the time of publication of this text, Vitaly’s colleagues told us that after the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), he was taken to Akrescina.
Part 1. Coordination of Babaryka’s headquarters. “It’s easier to be afraid together”
What did you do before your political career? Please tell your story.
I think “political career” is a bit of an exaggeration. I’m an entrepreneur – I manage large internal corporate events. There is not a single major brand I haven’t worked with. I also run a restaurant business – ran, to be more precise, before COVID-19 came to Belarus. The market has collapsed and in the next two years, it still won’t recover to the 2019 level. I simply had more free time, so when the election campaign started, I joined Viktar Babaryka’s headquarters from the very first day.
At that time, our main task was to gather the maximum number of signatures possible. Most of the political strategists claimed that gathering 100,000 signatures is something close to impossible in the apolitical climate of Belarus. But it turned out differently – we gathered 435,000 signatures throughout Belarus. Another person was engaged in verification, and it was a shame to hear that some of the signatures were allegedly invalid.
Did you feel pressure at that time? Have you received any threats?
Personally, I haven’t received any threats yet, but during the gathering of signatures there was definitely some tension in the air. There were small troubles like “you can’t stand here”, or having OMON riot police called on us. People kept asking me: “Why have you joined? This is politics. Don’t you know what country you are living in?”
Have you ever been attacked by OMON riot police?
At that time, everything was more or less calm. We had meetings with the electorate, which Viktar Dmitrievich (Babaryka) happily visited. But it also caused slight tension, when you plan an event and the day before, they call you and say: “We’ve got a sanitary inspection, we can’t provide a hall.” Hotels refused us – they suddenly had some urgent conferences. Everything was obvious, but it only brought a smile. And the team that worked on it – the Road Show project – gave it 100% even though every day brought a new challenge. Then, Viktar Dmitrievich was arrested, and this was a blow to the team since it’s difficult to work without a candidate and team leader. We had hoped till the end that we would be registered, but… And then we decided to join forces around Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Besides Sviatlana, was uniting around other alternative candidates considered?
All candidates were considered, since we were in no position to refuse any help or reinforcement. I was in favour of communicating with everyone and looking for compromises, but it turned out to be not so simple in politics – everybody has their own issues. Besides, Tsikhanouskaya had the greatest support compared to other alternative candidates at that time.
I repeat once again, we were sure up till the last moment that Viktar Dmitrievich would be registered. We met the vote volume requirements and did everything strictly within the law, for which they especially dislike us. And when it was announced that Babaryka had not been registered as a candidate, on the very same day, the whole team gathered and asked one another who was ready to go all the way. As it turned out – everybody. And we unanimously decided to unite – not around an alternative candidate, but around a common goal.
What did you do in the triune team led by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya?
My task was to organise processes, select teams. I organised rallies in support of Tsikhanouskaya during the pre-election campaign. There were logistics, technical personnel, hosts. I needed to arrive earlier, show permits to local authorities, and so on.
And were there troubles and obstacles again?
Of course, there were some, but by that time we had already developed some immunity to that. For example, our team arrived, everything was agreed upon, with documents. We started setting up equipment and an hour before the start, we were told that you couldn’t hold an event here – go to another space. This is an example of small dirty tricks that brought on more smiles – we knew something like this would happen. Though there were some people who said with a smile: “You can host it here, it will be fine.” And it actually was fine.
Have you heard about any people who were paid by the West to take part in opposition rallies?
Of course not! I can’t even imagine how this is technically possible. How can you actually transfer money here from the West? These facts would have been revealed immediately and become public knowledge. Everybody understands the consequences that might follow. The hosts we have worked with never even asked about payment. People worked for the sake of the idea – nobody paid them.
Why did you decide to go public now, to show your face?
Because now, a new round is taking place. I made myself a promise that I would work till 9 August, helping to gather signatures. This is my contribution to the common cause and fulfillment of my civic duty. And I have done a fairly large part of the work. Then, I went on vacation with my family and when I came back, I saw an incredible upsurge in civil society, an atmosphere of solidarity. Belarusians are very cool, and I will always be proud that I am a Belarusian. That is why I decided to rejoin the team to establish a dialogue in society and with government entities.
Have you ever considered emigration?
Never thought of it.
Does your family live in Belarus?
Aren’t you afraid of losing everything because of your civic position? And generally, that there will be pressure on your family, as in the cases of Tsikhanouskaya and Tsapkala?
Of course, everybody has some fears, but it’s easier to be afraid together.
Part 2. Coordination Council. “Why is there a failure in the legal system in the country?”
Today, on the day we are having this conversation, it has become known that businessman Andrey Voronin, who is also a member of the Coordination Council, was forced to leave the country because of the threat of arrest.
I’m not doing anything illegal and I’m not involved in organising unauthorised rallies. All my work was during the election campaign, when it was allowed to organise rallies in Minsk and other regions. Some events were organised strictly by the members of Tsikhanouskaya’s team, for example, in Mogilev. Our task was to make it possible for people to feel comfortable and safe.
But you know that in our country, a criminal case can be opened against anyone. Voronin was accused of tax evasion and concealment of large amounts of income, though he himself is sure that these accusations are connected with his civic position and his participation in the Coordination Council.
All my financial activities have been frozen since February 2020 because of the pandemic. Our clients have either postponed all events until 2021 or cancelled them altogether. So, in matters of business, 2020 was not so great. Maybe the situation will improve in 2021, but business clearly will not be the same as it used to be.
But you are also a member of the Coordination Council who could be liable for prosecution in the long term.
I have been a member of the Coordination Council only since 25 August. And I am not so focused on the political appearance of this organisation. I would like to establish a dialogue in society to prevent the creation of divisions. I do not like that people are arguing about flags. This is not the most important issue right now. It is important to have the right to speak freely, seek dialogue and be heard. But someone is trying to interfere with this dialogue by turning people against one another because of flags.
Would you like to establish a dialogue with people or with the regime?
Of course, I would be happy to talk with local ideologues in the regions who work directly with people.
Do you think they will listen to you?
I don’t know, but if we don’t try – they will not listen for sure. It is difficult, even impossible, to hold a dialogue on the streets. But having it in a private atmosphere, such as in the kitchen, is much easier. Perhaps they will listen to me and I will hear what they have to say. Anything can happen. So far, I cannot understand what motivates an ideologue from a small provincial town, such as in the Krupskiy region, to force people to attend rallies supporting Lukashenko. Many of these ideologues are really convinced that they are doing the right thing.
Dialogue with ideologues is important, but not a single revolution so far has taken place without a division of elites. Today, someone has already taken the side of the light, but there are others who do not want changes. For example, there are Makei, Karayeu, who are still loyal to Lukashenko. Do you think these people can be persuaded?
I think they really believe in what is being shown on the state television. But sooner or later, a split will occur among these officials, because changes are already evident. Belarus can no longer go back to square one. Firstly, people really liked to be united – they have a feeling that they’re finally being heard. Yes, no concrete actions have been taken yet, but there is a feeling that we are knocking on the door. I think that at some point, high-level officials will come to a dialogue and come out to talk to people.
And would you like to start a dialogue with these high-level officials?
If there was such an opportunity, I would use it. These people have been in the system for a long time, they have well-established views, they know a lot, and there are probably some cool guys among them.
What about with the security forces?
Yes, them as well. The main thing is to have a dialogue. I want to understand their stance.
You have the opportunity to address these people now.
I’d like to know why this happened, such that so many people are dissatisfied with the situation in our country. Is there an explanation for this up there? Why is the law not working today and why is there a failure in the legal system in the country? I hope these high-level officials will find some convincing words to explain this phenomenon.
What do you think drives the people of the regime? After all, sooner or later, they will be held accountable for their words and actions. Lukashenko will not last forever.
I believe some of them do not think about it at all. When you spend years living in so-called stability, you just get used to how things are. And you do not assume that the status quo could ever change. I don’t think that even those who are personally responsible for falsifying the results of the elections have ever thought about the consequences of their actions and the responsibility they will have to face. Many of them just want to keep their jobs for as long as they can, regardless of whether we’re talking about a teacher or an official administrator.
But when the situation in the country changes, the people will still have to forgive them, even though it will be difficult.
Otherwise, we will fragment into two camps. That is why I would like to unite people, even those who believe in the current regime. I do not know the exact number of those people, but they do exist. And I don’t want them to feel like outcasts afterwards. I would like them to enjoy living in the new Belarus.
It’s a shame to endure being spat upon in the back by supporters of Lukashenko. But it hurts even more to go out into the squares and be beaten with a truncheon by riot police in order to make the lives of those people better in the new Belarus as well. Don’t you think so?
I see your point, but if we want to change the situation quickly and do so without divisions, we will need to unite. We should not split people into those who were actively changing the current in Belarus and those who were spitting at them.
Are there any active supporters of Lukashenko in your circles?
Yes, there is one couple.
Did you manage to change their minds?
They told me: “We voted for Lukashenko, because we are fine. We want stability.” I can understand them and accept their position, as they can mine. There is no need for a dialogue – we can agree to disagree. In a civilised society, everyone’s choice should be respected, but the final decision is with the majority.
Part 3. The Future. “You can’t run around in the office. Everything else is allowed.”
Let’s talk about events – you do them professionally. Can you assess the level of organisation of rallies supporting Lukashenko? And the propaganda that started after the elections? For example, cars with flags but without registration numbers, songs about Sanya, helicopters…
Any event must be effective: either it brings a financial profit, when it comes to sales, or it brings an increase in employees’ loyalty, if it is an internal corporate event. I can’t professionally assess the political events in support of Lukashenko, but I think their effectiveness is questionable – “it doesn’t have heart in it”. And the investments in flights, I think, are several times higher than the desired KPI.
Is everything you do now on the Coordination Council free of charge?
Yes, I work absolutely for free. And I have a principle as well: no one from my agency should be involved in this process anymore. There are risks associated with this activity and I do not want to set anyone up. We rented our former office out as Viktar Babaryka’s headquarters back in May because we could not afford it anymore (previously, the triune joint headquarters was located there, and now the Coordination Council – KYKY).
How did your family, friends and colleagues react to your decision to join Babaryka’s headquarters and then the Coordination Council?
My parents did not know anything about it at all – I only told them everything the day before yesterday. They are quite old people and started to worry – it is a typical story. They hope that all this will be over soon. But in general, I thought it would be worse and this whole thing would start: “Why did you get in there? Why do you need this? You could have lived in peace.” My wife is also worried, but it is difficult with me – she knows that it is useless trying to talk to me out of it. Well, and we’re not breaking any laws and act exclusively within the framework of the law.
But there is a failure in the legal system in Belarus. The law doesn’t work.
But this does not mean that we should violate it. These are values. And if we are fighting to make everything legal, then we have no moral right to violate it in any way. How else?
What exactly will you do in the Coordination Council?
I will be responsible for communication. And now, we need to come up with a tool for dialogue with society and officials to take place. How to do this in a situation where the tension is high enough – we need to think it over.
Do you see yourself going further in politics?
Definitely not. There is little honesty in politics.
On both sides?
In different ways. I was involved more at Babaryka’s headquarters, so I can say that everything here is as open and honest as possible. If the KGB had immediately provided the headquarters with an office, they would not have spent budget money – we are as open as possible. There are no plans to say something in one way so that it is understood in another.
No long games? You’re lying.
Firstly, we don’t have time for this, and secondly, we don’t have a single professional politician or political strategist. All decisions were made like this: they make decisions today, and they implement them tomorrow. Because if the decisions aren’t implemented tomorrow, they become irrelevant the day after tomorrow. There is no time for long games. As for the triune headquarters, we united around a common goal and principles, not around people. And only on the third day after the merger, we thought that maybe it would be worthwhile to get security guard – it just never occurred to anyone before.
Lukashenko said that you yourself asked the state to guard the headquarters. Is this true?
I am not aware of these events, because immediately after the elections I left for a vacation with my family. But it is quite possible that some drunk guys could knock on the door, and someone could call the police. Is this an appeal to the state?
So, you’ve answered your question. But again, I’m speaking theoretically.
How does the current situation in the headquarters look mostly? Nervous?
It differs. We are all people. When there are detentions, the atmosphere is jittery. If someone has a birthday, it is a completely different atmosphere. But in most cases, everything is positive. We can scare each other and tell each other how you’re going to be arrested tomorrow, but what difference will this make? That’s why we joke all the time. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish so much. We would have crushed ourselves. What for? That’s what a lot of other people already want.
Of course, there are still people who want to create some kind of hierarchy, but we are not in favour of this approach. And those who have been here for a long time – they have more respect and reverence. And for those who just joined, we tell them what they can do and what they can’t.
And what is not allowed?
There is one principle – not to run around the office, as it greatly whips up the atmosphere. For example, when the guards appeared at the headquarters, they started making some kind of fuss. And in such an atmosphere, when there is a feeling that someone is running away and you need to hide, you cannot act and create something. At some point, I couldn’t stand it anymore and said that outside the office doors, you can do what you want, but in the office – do not run, so that everything is calm. Well, and some other general rules: after you eat, wash the dishes. Everything else is allowed.
The coolest political joke you’ve heard here is…
I can’t recall. But the last time we laughed was when Masha (Maryia) Kalesnikava talked about how she was arrested and confused (laughs). Well, it’s really funny. She still knows how to tell it in such a way that everyone “laid down with laughter”. We laugh at simple things. For example, our friend Ilya Shapotkovski is now in jail. And he sent us a letter: “At last I can rest.” Ilya worked in the department of signature verification, 24/7. It was funny and touching at the same time. His lawyer later said that he had never seen such a cheerful prisoner.
But this is smiling through tears.
No. It is simply the ability to set the mood, including the mood within yourself. Of course, you could plunge into fear and think constantly that you will be arrested tomorrow, but it is difficult to live and work with this. Therefore, everyone chooses for himself. Here are gathered quite positive and not the worst people who are trying to change something in this country.
Do you understand that what is happening today is a historical event, but for you personally it could be a one-way trip? Most likely, if nothing changes, you will no longer be able to live and work in this country.
I like living in Belarus, I love Minsk, even though I’m from Krupki. And I don’t want to go anywhere, even though I have the opportunity to go to Europe or even to the United States. I don’t break the law, and I’m a good specialist in the field of events. If the market is alive after the crisis, I’d like to be as useful as possible here. Fear greatly dulls the consciousness and deprives you of the ability to make decisions – after all, you are not looking for the right ones, but for the safe ones. Well, it’s impossible to live in fear all the time, even though I’m terribly cowardly. But I don’t like this situation because it is an idiotic one.
So, if I’m allowed to, I’ll stay here. But some everyday things can affect it – for example, if I can’t earn enough money here to meet the needs of my family. And if the market does not wake up, you will need to think about where to earn money. Yevgeny Chernyak once said that you need to look for your own oil in business. And Belarus found it. Our potential is people who have finally woken up and come out of internal emigration. With such force, we will overcome any crises, even if it will not be easy financially. I have never believed in people as I have or been more proud of my homeland than I am today.
Have you bought champagne yet?
I don’t drink champagne. I don’t drink at all now. I just imagined that if they arrested me and I had a headache, it would be very unpleasant. But when all this is over, I will definitely drink a good cognac with my friends.