“Alexander Lukashenko Has No Future in Belarus – He Will Have to Go!”
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is the female face of the democracy movement in Belarus. During the August 9, 2020 presidential election, the 38-year-old ran against long-term authoritarian strongman Alexander Lukashenko after her husband, 42-year-old blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was detained months earlier as a “political prisoner”. Tsikhanouskaya officially lost the election, which was widely considered rigged, and has been living, tightly guarded, in exile in Lithuania ever since. Her husband, who is still being detained, faces up to 15 years in prison. Sven Lilienström, founder of the Faces of Democracy initiative, spoke with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya about democracy in Belarus, “Europe’s last dictator” and the question of which price she is prepared to pay to stop Lukashenko.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, thank you very much for making time for this interview. As the Leader of democratic Belarus, we would like to ask you first of all: How significant are democracy and democratic values to you personally?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: Democracy is about participation in the first place. And with participation comes responsibility for decisions and actions.
The last year has shown how much Belarusians want to be part of deciding about their own country.
The last year has shown how much Belarusians want to be part of deciding about their own country. They have also proven that they are willing to fight for this right. I am part of this national upheaval.
Ten months have passed since the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, and Alexander Lukashenko still holds the scepter of power firmly in his hands. When will time run out for the “last dictator of Europe”?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: His grip on power is more hysterical than firm. For more than ten months he did not manage to suppress the popular protests. The repressions are raging and hitting new lows every day.
Lukashenko has no future in Belarus. People have decided against him, and he will have to go!
This is not a sign of strength but of deep insecurity and fear to lose the power, which for Lukashenko means everything. As for the timing, his point of no-return has passed; he has no future in Belarus. People have decided against him, and he will have to go.
In your speech in Prague on June, 9 you called for the formation of an international tribunal to investigate the “crimes of the Lukashenko dictatorship”. So far, there have “only” been sanctions. Is Europe being too hesitant?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: There has been much more from the EU than only sanctions which have also evolved over these months. Political isolation, support of civil society and independent media, help for the repressed as well as justice initiatives. We appreciate all these efforts undertaken by the EU, national governments, and ordinary citizens of European nations.
The crisis in Belarus belongs not only to Belarusians – it is in the interest of all to resolve it.
The crisis in Belarus belongs not only to Belarusians – it is in the interest of all to resolve it. We ask the EU for help and involvement, but we also realize that Belarusians are the ones who have the biggest responsibility for the change.
Freedom of the press is the foundation of a democracy. What was your initial reaction after the forced landing and imprisonment of blogger Roman Protasevich? Did you think such an “escalation” was possible until then?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: It looked like a real shocker to the international community, but for Belarusians it is an everyday reality when Lukashenko crosses all imaginable legal and moral boundaries for his personal political gain.
It looked like a real shocker to the international community, but for Belarusians it is an everyday reality!
So, for us it was a new form, but it was not unusual to see this kind of brazen disregard for basic norms of behavior.
And speaking of freedom of the press and information: What role do social networks like Facebook or Twitter play in a country where information is censored, media is state-controlled, and critical journalists are arrested?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: These are often the spaces for freedom even though during this crackdown the regime started using any disloyal activity in social networks against people. A photo from a completely peaceful march could be used to arrest and imprison.
If you express an opinion about a public official who would find it hurtful, this can be grounds for criminal persecution.
Another similar photo from several weeks ago could be used to extend the arrest, and so on. If you express an opinion about a public official who would find it hurtful for whatever reasons, this can be grounds for criminal persecution. Still, Belarusians appreciate the possibility to get to the news and discuss them in a relatively unrestrained environment.
Your husband has been in solitary confinement for ten months for organizing mass unrest and stoking social hostilities. He faces up to 15 years in prison. How is Siarhei Tsikhanouski? Are you in contact with him?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: It is not easy to be isolated from people for such a long time and to be deprived of communication with family and relatives before a court trial. Those awaiting trial in Belarus have no real right to see their family members.
I am in contact with Siarhei through a lawyer who sees him regularly.
It is left to investigators’ discretion to decide on such requests and almost always it is “unnecessary” (from their point of view, of course). I am in contact with Siarhei through a lawyer who sees him regularly.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, you are not only an opposition politician, but also a wife and mother of two children. How far would you go to put a stop to the “Lukashenko dictatorship”? What price are you willing to pay?
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: We are all paying a price every day, and it is already very high. But we want to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Belarus, to stop the degradation of the state and of the country and to create conditions for realizing a significant potential for Belarus’s development.
We are all paying a price every day, and it is already very high. But we want to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Belarus!
The recipe for this transition is rather traditional – free and fair elections. I know for a fact that Belarusians want this and will not give up in their pursuit of freedom and democracy.