Th, 1.06.2023

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: Putin wants rid of Lukashenko

Karl-Hendrik Pallo
Facebook Twitter
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Photo: Sander Ilvest

Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is weaker than ever after organizing an international act of terror and its fake Sochi visit, says Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and urges Estonians to write to political prisoners in Belarus.

If Lukashenko is finally overthrown, what will happen to the judges, militiamen, prison guards and security services operatives who have actively participated in repressions, and how to ensure a peaceful transition in that kind of a situation?

First of all, we need to see separately those who are just following orders and are clearly less at fault. Those issuing the orders need to stand just and fair trial, with the court deciding their fate.

People who help the regime by simply doing their job form a different group. For example, heads of prisons or prison guards who refrained from beating prisoners or those responsible for holding elections. People who were forced by the regime to do certain things needs to be seen separately, and I believe that the people will forgive those whose are less guilty. But some people cannot be forgiven for what they have done.

How should the current system be reformed to make sure the state could not exercise such violence on its citizens in the future?

Our president cannot have the kind of power Lukashenko has held for the past 26 years. That is why we need to amend the Constitution and switch from a presidential to a semi-presidential republic where the parliament has more say. However, this is up to the people of Belarus to decide.

The people of Belarus will never allow something like that to happen again once Lukashenko is overthrown and will fight to make sure it doesn’t. I’m sure of that.

You admitted in February that the fight on the streets had been lost, while you remained hopeful in terms of Lukashenko’s regime collapsing soon. Do you remain hopeful, and when could the current system fall?

We must do more than hope, we need to fight for it, and people are fighting every day. The regime was on an unsure footing before and remains unstable. It has been further weakened after the act of terror it committed as we could see strong reactions from the Americans and the EU.

The most important aspect, which I frequently emphasize, is that Lukashenko has completely lost his iron first reputation. He will never regain it, and that is a very serious problem for him. He is a criminal in the eyes of the Belarusian people, which is not a position from which he can stay in power for long.

Perhaps we will not be able to bring out as many people in the coming years as we did a year ago, but people are fighting the regime how they can, step by step. Nine million people taking such gradual steps has real power and consequences.

The resistance is less visible today as, instead of mass meetings, people are fighting individually or in spontaneous localized protests to demonstrate that the will of the people has not disappeared.

Are exiled opposition activists and journalists more fearful of attempts to kidnap them after what happened to Raman Pratasevich?

People definitely started feeling less safe or comfortable as the move was both unexpected and incomprehensible. To create an international scandal of this magnitude just to capture a single person is unheard-of.

I know that the Polish government has ramped up the security of opposition politician Pavel Latushka following the Ryanair incident and that Lithuania has also taken steps to better protect Belarusians in exile.

We do not know how far Lukashenko’s power reaches, and it is only natural that people are scared. You can be walking home one day when you are suddenly stuffed in the trunk of a car with diplomatic plates and driven across the border back to Belarus

Of course, my team and I are also more careful picking flights and flight paths.

What is the situation of people living in Belarus today?

We have nine million people flying Ryanair so to speak. Europe felt the dread for less than a day, while the Belarusians must live under this pressure day in, day out.

I have said it before, but it is very difficult to understand and experience what the people in Belarus feel. You never feel safe and must always be making preparations should you be kidnapped by the authorities. Think about who can take over your business, who will pick your kids up from kindergarten, who will take care of your parents. These plans need to be in place because one never knows when one is taken. That makes everyday life very stressful.

Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday and Saturday, the country was given financial aid, while the Russian head of state said he is glad mutual relations have improved. What will this partnership mean for Belarus in the short and long terms?

As concerns aid, this was the second payment based on a previous agreement and, therefore, nothing new.

Experts say that the visit was solely aimed at public relations and putting on a show. As demonstrated in the fact the presidents were shown swimming together and that Lukashenko appeared to bring to the meeting additional documents concerning the Ryanair incident in his briefcase.

We know [Putin and Lukashenko] have never been friends and this remains the case. Lukashenko has the Kremlin’s support on the diplomatic level and nothing more. We do not know the Kremlin’s strategy for the near future, but the entire meeting was fake.

We are always sending out messages to say we are ready to talk to Russia. They are still our neighbors, our countries have a long history of diplomatic relations, and it is only normal for neighbors to want a normal relationship. Perhaps these relations simply need to become more transparent.

The Kremlin definitely wants out of the current situation because it is sullying Putin’s reputation. He is now perceived as a friend to violent offenders and torturers and it’s doing him no favors. He wants rid of Lukashenko, but he does not know how to do that yet.

How are you holding up, living in exile and heading the opposition?

Luckily, I’m not too far from home, just 30 kilometers, and I talk to Belarusians every day: students, teachers and workers. We coordinate our activities, trying to better gauge public opinion and sentiment and inspiring one another to continue the fight. It is important to listen to one another.

Every Belarusian is the leader of the resistance today. I’m just doing everything I can to fight for Belarus. People living in Belarus and the Coordination Council are doing the same.

If I am kidnapped and thrown in jail, the absence of a single person will not affect the revolution. The struggle will continue, and that is the most important thing. Everyone can be a leader in this situation.

Personally, what keeps me going is knowing that there are a lot of people in Belarus who are suffering far more than me.

Sometimes, when I’m stressed and feel like I cannot go on, I try to imagine what the people in jail are going through. The conditions they must endure, what they must do, what they eat and think.

Other Belarusians fighting for them out there remain their only hope. When I think about that, my weakness and fatigue disappears.

How has Estonia helped and how could Estonians contribute?

Even though we might feel that everyone knows about the problems, suffering and situation of Belarusians, that is not really the case. Firstly, everyone who is aware of the current regime’s crimes should tell their neighbors, friends and relatives for our situation to be more widely understood. Secondly, Estonians could take ten minutes out of their day to write letters to political prisoners in Belarus. It can be done without leaving one’s home. Our IT specialists have created a special online platform called politzek for that purpose.

Such letters constitute important moral support for political prisoners, with those coming from abroad especially inspiring. Therefore, be vocal, send as many letters as you can and donate money to families of political prisoners who must pay for legal assistance and fines!

Estonia has been a great help on the national level, and not only in words. Estonia is a small country, while it is also an excellent example of a well-run democracy.

Estonia has kept the Belarusian issue on the agenda in the UN Security Council, and I’m sure you will keep the focus on Belarus even more firmly as the presidency. (Estonia holds the UN Security Council Presidency since June 1 – ed.). Estonia has also helped Belarusian students and media through foundations and promised to make sure illegal funds of Belarusian oligarchs do not reach Estonia. Estonia has done everything in its power, and I’m sure it will continue to do so.

How would you describe Lukashenko and his regime in three words?

Cruel, inconsiderate and dishonorable.

Facebook Twitter