“I’m not asking [the United States] to support me I ask [it] to support democratic values, ”said Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the democratic opposition in Belarus, during her first working visit to Washington, DC, to meet with senior US government officials.
“It is understandable for America. We share common values like rule of law, human rights, democracy. The fight is now in Belarus locally, but it is the problem of the whole world” , she continued.
Tsikhanouskaya sat in person for an Atlantic Council homepage event hosted by the Council’s Eurasia Center, where she was interviewed by PBS NewsTime Chief Correspondent Amna Nawaz and was joined by US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher and Deputy Director of the Eurasia Center Melinda Haring. The event came a day after Tsikhanouskaya met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other State Department officials, and hours before his meetings with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and members of Congress.
Asked by Nawaz what she expects from the Biden administration, Tsikhanouskaya replied “Maximum pressure and maximum support for civil society in Belarus”, especially Belarusians who are still working to document human rights violations and crimes committed. by Belarusian authorities.
“Send a clear message that the independence of Belarus is the highest value and Belarus is not [up for deals]. No one can sign an agreement with Lukashenka at the moment because he is illegitimate.
watch the event
Tsikhanouskaya rose to prominence by challenging longtime Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the run-up to the country’s 2020 presidential election. When her husband, political blogger Siarhiy Tsikhanouski, was jailed by the government for attempting To challenge Lukashenka for the presidency, Tsikhanouskaya, an English teacher with no political experience, showed up and ran in her husband’s place.
Lukashenka stole the elections and forced Tsikhanouskaya to flee the country when she probably won. Belarusians took to the streets in droves in protests that immobilized the country for months and faced severe beatings and detentions by police, torture and assaults in prisons, as well as one of the harshest authoritarian repressions in years.
Today, Tsikhanouskaya heads the Handover Coordination Council which works to rally the international community to support the Belarusian people and hold Lukashenka accountable.
“Our goal is to organize new free and fair elections in Belarus and to observe [the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] or different organizations to keep people’s right to vote, ”Tsikhanouskaya said.
But as the face of the democracy movement in Belarus and the biggest voice against Lukashenka, would Tsikhanoskaya represent herself for the presidency?
“I am not going to participate in new elections,” she told Nawaz. “My only mandate is… to bring our country to new elections. But I never wanted to be in power.
Since fleeing Belarus and finding refuge in Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya has struck a balance by using her newfound importance to elevate the issues facing Belarusians – especially the more than 550 political prisoners still locked up, including her husband – while maintaining that success will mean she will stray far from the leadership role she now occupies.
One of the biggest concerns Tsikhanouskaya faces is the ability of the democratic movement to maintain itself. As Belarusians took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands last year, the combination of massive state violence and a brutally cold winter limited large-scale protests.
“Has the enthusiasm gone? Did Loukachenka win? Nawaz asked.
“Of course, people have gone to fight on an underground level… People continue to fight, even though we cannot come out so massively,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “It’s bravery. When you are attacked, oppressed, but keep fighting. People understand that they can be detained at any time, you can be kidnapped on the streets just because of the color of your socks or because you have participated in peaceful protests. [last year], but you go out and do something.
“This is why, in my meetings, I urge countries to: ‘Do not lead a policy based on images, lead a policy based on values”. Don’t think that if you don’t see these huge protests, people have lost their intention of changing. Of course not.”
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Another key question is what a future Belarusian state will look like on the world stage. To stay in power, Lukashenka relied heavily on the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin as Western leaders berated him. What does Moscow want in Belarus and how essential is Putin’s support for the Lukashenka government?
“Putin supported Lukashenka after a fraudulent election because the Kremlin did not expect such an uprising from the Belarusian people either,” Tsikhanuskaya said. “It’s a real shame, because we have a wonderful relationship with the Russian people. Lukashenka is not all of Belarus, he is just one person.
“I have a question,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “Why are we talking about Russia in this case? This is not a fight between the West and the East, our fight is between the past and the future. It is a fight within our country to give people the right to choose who they want. “
“Our country is in crisis, and if Russia wants to play a constructive role, it is enough not to interfere in the politics of our country.”
At the end of the conversation, Tsikhanouskaya left for the White House to meet with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, then to Capitol Hill where she met the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and other members of Congress. , and later with USAID administrator Samantha. Power.
While his appearance on the Atlantic Council came on the third day of his trip, Tsikhanouskaya also plans to travel to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles for other meetings.
Doug Klain is a program assistant at the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. Find him on Twitter @DougKlain.
Wed Jul 7, 2021
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