“I am in this position thanks to communism, not feminism”
For 20 years Lidia Yermoshina has been the head of the Central Election Commission in Belarus. She is responsible for the massive election manipulation reported by the OSCE, the international community and Belarusian citizens. She is a celebrity in the national media for her dubious statements on the role of women in society. We met her for an interview.
Photo: Nancy Waldmann
Lidia Mikhailovna Yermoshina was born 1953 in Slutsk, 105 kilometres south of Minsk. She graduated from the Faculty of Law in Kaliningrad, now Russia. In Wikipedia she is described as a "politician", but she calls herself a "civil servant". Until February 2016 she was banned from entering the European Union due to widespread fraud in all the elections she had overseen.
Belarus Votes: Today is the fourth day of early voting and we have already heard about many violations from election observers.
Lidia Yermoshina: There are not many violations. The observers make artificial conclusions from artificial situations, they understand the law in their own way. For example, observers claim that a portrait of a candidate can not be hung on the door of the polling station, while the law does not prohibit it. Or observers believe that they should be allowed to stay in the the same room as the ballot box stays during the break.
In particular, there were complaints about so-called "carousels", multiple voting by the same person. There are photos of the same people at different polling stations.
Maybe, they went there on purpose, in order to be provocative. On the internet people can write whatever they want. We don't have "carousels". People have to show their passports in order to vote, that's why it is impossible. We might have imprecise lists of voters, it might happen that a voter is not included in the list. But it is impossible that someone is included in the list twice.
Observers from one polling station claim that they counted 30 voters while at the end of the day the official number was 108.
The only proof of participation in the elections are the data from the election commission. That is why all other claims are not based on the law.
Do you believe that the observers lied on purpose?
Photo: Nancy Waldmann
During the presidential elections in 2015, in the Novopolotsk and Pruzhany regions there were no spoiled ballot papers at all, while in 2010 they spoiled around 200 ballot papers. How can this be possible if we take probability theory into account?
So what? In 2010 there were more candidates, maybe that was the reason.
Why do the election commissions consider complaints about themselves? The judge and the defendant is therefore the same person.
And why not? They are not governmental officials. Members of the election commissions are civic activists, the same as observers. When an observer complains, we send his complaint to the election commission at a higher level, and they ask the head of the local election commission for an explanation. Then they decide whether the complaint was reasonable.
Do you consider it as pressure when a company director or university dean calls for participation in early voting?
No, as long as they do not force their workers or students to do so. If they only invite them, this is just agitation, which is allowed for every citizen.
Why there are so few opposition representatives opposition in the election commissions? One of the OSCE recommendations was to include them.
It's not required by the law to include them. We employ people who are well-known and respected within society. We consider recommendations of their colleagues and neighbours.
You mentioned once that women account for 54 percent of the population, and should be represented in the parliament proportionately. Do we need a law on the quota for women?
We cannot introduce such a quota as we have a majoritarian voting system. Unless we change to another system, like proportional, we can not fulfill it. Anyway, I hope that women will play a more active part in the elections, even within the existing system.
Photo: Aksana Rudovich
If so, why do you discourage women from doing so while stating in interviews that their place is not in politics?
I did not say that, probably you are biased. Women can do whatever they want, if it fits with their philosophy. In Belarus women are mostly not interested in politics, this is how it is. To become a member of the national parliament you have to change your place of residence, to move your family and kids. Women do not go for that by choice.
You talked about women having a career and not looking to get married as "cruel, psychologically destroyed, something inhuman". Why do you think you have to tell women what to do in their lives?
A woman not looking to get married is not normal, of course. It matches with her mentality to establish a family, give birth and bring up kids. We will die out otherwise. This is just my personal reasoning, my freedom of speech.
Humiliating women is your freedom of speech? You have insulted many women saying that.
I didn't insult anybody. Maybe for you it is offensive, but not for me.
Video: Aksana Rudovich
How do you relate to feminism?
I have no sympathy for this movement. Any division of humans based on their sex is wrong. You should distinguish people according to their personal qualities.
Without feminism would you hold such a high position?
Yes, I am in this position probably not thanks to feminism, but thanks to communism. The communists in the former Soviet Union gave women the opportunity to get an education, forge a career. Our tradition followed that line rather than feminism.
In communism women struggled for their rights, they did not got them just thanks to men. What does feminism mean for you?
A movement focused first of all on the participation of women in politics, in decision-making. I believe that women are indispensable where men can not replace them: in motherhood.
Photo: Nancy Waldmann
Imagine that the Republic of Belarus were a family. What would be your role?
I am a mother and homemaker. So my duties would be maternal, caring for the youth and the weak.
So you are the mother. And Alexander Grigorevitch Lukashenko is the father?
I mean in the abstract. Belarusian people call Alexander Grigorevitch бацька "father" in Belarusian.
A father is not elected by the children. Why organize elections?
Father is simply a moral definition. And elections are a legal one.
In other countries people say that Belarus is a dictatorship, because the same person has been in power for more than 20 years.
Alexander Grigorevitch is in power because people vote for him every five years in free and democratic elections. In a dictatorship, as a rule, power is kept in a forced manner.
Many people do not believe that 83 % voted for him.
I am absolutely convinced that the majority of people believe it.
Photo: Nancy Waldmann
When are you going to retire?
When the Head of State tells me to draw my pension. It depends on my health.
You often face criticism. How do you deal with that?
I am criticized by people who want to criticize me in particular. This is often not objective. If the criticism is justified then I consider it to be meaningful. Far-fetched criticism comes from foolish people.
Why do people target you for criticism?
Because their and my views on life and politics don't meet. Like you, you mentioned various phrases that I never said that explicitly. I speak in soft phrases, with a sense of humour. Maybe you have problems with humour.