This text is an amalgamation of a keynote address Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya gave at the Future of Belarus in Europe conference with some responses Ms Tsikhanouskaya offered to questions posed by Ivan Vejvoda in a Q&A session. First published by our partners at www.visegradinsight.eu
The future for Belarus and the future for all of Europe are closely connected. We walk together on the same path.
Recently, we have held historic events, international conferences with high-level attendees on the future of Belarus. That is the first time the topic of Belarus has been discussed in such a setting.
Chancellors, commissioners, public figures and ministers from Slovenia, Germany, Finland, Estonia, Poland, Austria and Slovakia as well as myself, all participated in these high-level segments and, more importantly, were speaking with one voice.
Together, we outlined the principles that can become a part of a common approach for tackling the crisis in Belarus.
First, we agreed that there is no other solution to the crisis than through new elections. Only real elections — not their imitation — will give Belarusians a chance to live up to our full potential as a true part of Europe. Naturally, all political prisoners should be released and be able to participate in these elections.
Second, Belarusian sovereignty and independence should not be undermined. Only Belarusians should decide their own future. The dictator will go any length to preserve his power, and Belarusian independence might become yet another bargaining chip for him.
Third, we should present a positive alternative to Belarusians. It could include a flexible programme of assistance for civil society, a positive agenda such as a vaccination programme for Belarusians or the EU’s comprehensive economic plan.
I hope we all understand here that the dictator will not give up power without pressure. Therefore, I proposed to maintain a strong sanction policy, non-recognition and diplomatic isolation of the regime.
Where We Are
I will remind you how this has all started. In August 2020, our election was stolen by the dictator; an act that sparked mass protests which were followed by mass repressions.
Since then, there has extensive evidence of torture and murder while myself and other political leaders have been forced into exile.
The regime’s next move was to crack down on civil society: 240 NGOs and 40 media outlets have been subsequently liquidated. In Belarus, we have a de facto military dictatorship limiting the information and media space available to the people.
Then, earlier this year the Ryanair flight was hijacked and Raman Pratasevich was illegally detained. Such brazen acts have sadly become common as is the cases of the attempted kidnapping of Olympic athletes and the death of a diaspora activist in Kyiv.
And finally, an orchestrated border crisis which is a de facto hybrid attack on the EU.
Where We Need to Go
We can see that the crisis in Belarus has become a security problem for the whole region, and Europe should under no circumstances give in to the regime’s blackmail.
Even if the border crisis is resolved, no one knows what tomorrow will bring: perhaps the facilitation of drug trafficking or maybe a sequence of suspicious nuclear plant accidents?
We are dealing with a desperate, impulsive and insecure person, constantly looking for enemies among his own people. He relies on terror and repression to rule, but how long can you manage the country in such a way? Will we allow him to terrorise and blackmail us forever? Can such a regime resist the energy of people who have not given up in these 15 months of struggle?
We are witnessing how fearlessly the people of Belarus are when fighting for their freedom, and many across Europe could recognise that spirit in themselves.
Just a few years ago, many Europeans did not even know where Belarus was. There was little familiarity with my country and its people. There was a wall between us.
Now, we are witnessing so much support and love from around the world in our hour of need, for people who want to take their place among the free and democratic nations of Europe. And this wall is coming down.
It is up to Belarusians to determine which exact role our democratic country will play in Europe. However, what I’m absolutely certain of is that it won’t be the role of hijacker, blackmailer or trafficker; it will be quite the opposite indeed.
Together, we will build a country that will reclaim its rightful place as a democratic, safe and prosperous nation.
Photo: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Ivan Vejvoda at IWM
The article gives the views of the author, not the position of ‘Europe’s Futures Ideas for Action’ project or the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM).