Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya will meet Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, as the stalemate in Belarus increasingly takes on a geopolitical dimension, becoming another topic of contention between Russia and the West.
Tikhanovskaya said he will ask the German Chancellor about “his potential participation as mediator” in talks between protest leaders and the government of the warring autocrat Alexander Lukashenko, who was backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and flatly refused to participate. in negotiations.
“We will discuss ways to put pressure on Belarus, because Belarusians think that only with pressure can we force the authorities to talk to the people,”
Who is Svetlana Tikhanovskaya?
Born in 1982 in Mikashevichy, Belarus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya rose to prominence as an opposition leader to Alexander Lukashenko after her husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski, a popular YouTuber, was arrested while preparing to run for election.
After announcing his intention to run for his post, the Belarusian authorities thought they could quietly leave Tikhanovskaya in the run-off of the 2020 election to provide a showcase for democratic competition. Instead, Tikhanovskaya emerged as a formidable opponent, describing herself not as a leader, but a symbol, and promising new swift elections if she reached power.
One of the “Chernobyl children” hosted in Ireland to help them recover from the effects of the nuclear accident in neighboring Ukraine, as an opposition figure he drew crowds of thousands even in small towns, where people sang along with Changes, the song 1987 by the Soviet rock group Kino which became the soundtrack of an earlier generation of people demanding a new kind of politics.
Tikhanovskaya had sent her children out of Belarus during the campaign after saying she received threats, and then in a video posted days after rejecting the official contested election result, a visibly distressed Tikhanovskaya indicated she faced an ultimatum involving his family . She was forced to flee to neighboring Lithuania. “God forbid you face the kind of choice I had to go through,” he said. “Children are the most important thing in our life.”
The EU responded to Tikhanovskaya’s call not to recognize the 2020 elections.
“The Belarusian people already consider Lukashenko illegitimate,” he said. “When we talk about negotiations with the government, we are talking about people below; some people should take responsibility and start these negotiations to find a way out of the crisis. “
Tikhanovskaya, who officially received only 10% of the votes in the elections, has declared herself a national leader and wants to be a transitional figure until new free elections can be held. Over the past two months, massive protests have rocked Belarusian cities every weekend, with authorities responding with arrests, violence and threats. On Sunday, the police again arrested the protesters in Minsk.
Tikhanovskaya has received more and more support from Western politicians, meeting the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Vilnius last week and the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, before that. After visiting Berlin, he will travel to Bratislava to attend an international conference.
Tikhanovskaya and other protest leaders wanted to emphasize from the outset that theirs is not an anti-Russian or pro-EU movement and does not have a geopolitical agenda. But as Lukashenko clings, relying on Russia’s support, his claims that the opposition wants to remove Belarus from Russia could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the first two weeks of the protest, the Kremlin seemed to have sat down and weighed its options, but soon after there was a change of tone in official statements and on Russian state television, calling Lukashenko the legitimate president and suggesting that the protesters had support from abroad.
While Tikhanovskaya meets Macron and Merkel, Lukashenko traveled to Sochi to meet Putin and received a number of Russian regional governors in Minsk, who showered his regime with praise. The Kremlin declared the opposition coordinating council unconstitutional and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Tikhanovskaya’s meeting with Macron as “a meeting between the French president and a Belarusian citizen”.
Tikhanovskaya said she and her team have not received any contact from Russian officials, not even informally or through intermediaries. He admitted that perhaps the opposition should have made an effort to speak to Russian representatives in the early stages of the protest movement. “We were open to talking to everyone and we have said this many times, but perhaps we should have taken some steps to proactively seek this dialogue,” he said.
Tikhanovskaya said the Kremlin should realize that betting on Lukashenko is bad policy. “They are experienced politicians and I am sure they can see that the Belarusians cannot accept these current authorities and they cannot forgive them,” she said.
When asked what he would have said if Putin had called her, Tikhanovskaya replied: “I would say that I am glad to hear your opinion, Vladimir Vladimirovich. Let’s talk about the fact that the Belarusian people in their country want to make decisions about who wants to build the country. , and the Belarusian people can no longer live under the dictatorship, because we have changed “.
Where I am now? Belarusian women who opposed Lukashenko
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, initially a replacement for her husband, a famous blogger who was banned from running and jailed by the authorities, became the main opposition candidate for Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, as part of an all-female opposition campaign led by herself, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo.
She fled to neighboring Lithuania in early August, from where she posted a video indicating that she had faced an ultimatum involving her family.
In September, in a video appearance before the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, he promised that the country’s movement for democratic change would not give up, even in the face of continued intimidation and violence by the Lukashenko regime.
A former Microsoft employee, she led the campaign for her husband Valery Tsepkalo before he was forced to flee with the couple’s children to Moscow before the election. After campaigning alongside Tikhanovskaya and Kolesnikova, she joined him on election day.
Apart from a one-day stopover in Belarus, when she says she was threatened with jail, she remained in exile in Moscow. He told a radio interviewer in early August “I think I can do more by being in Moscow, being free and being able to speak for the Belarusian people to the international community.”
Kolesnikova had led the presidential campaign for another opposition politician, Viktor Babariko, who was also excluded from the elections and jailed by the government. She was the only one of the three women to remain in Belarus in the aftermath of the disputed elections in August.
On 7 September, it was reported that she had been kidnapped by unidentified masked men from the street in the capital, Minsk. Kolesnikova’s press secretary Anton Rodnenkov confirmed his kidnapping to the media, then reportedly disappeared about 40 minutes later. According to a Ukrainian minister, Kolesnikova then tore her passport at the border between Belarus and Ukraine to thwart deportation attempts. She is currently being held in Minsk.
On August 31 he announced that he was forming a new political party, Together.
He said he would also ask Putin to act as a mediator, but said that if the Kremlin asked for a guarantee that a new government will not leave the State of the Union, the current alliance between Moscow and Minsk would not be able to give it. , words that risk alarming the Kremlin.
“I will not speak for the future president of Belarus … if the majority wants to build closer relations with one or the other country, it is the will of the people and the president will do what the people want.”
Tikhanovskaya, a 38-year-old former English teacher, had no political experience before this summer, when she became a last-minute presidential candidate. Her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a famous YouTube blogger, had planned to run for election in August but was jailed, along with another would-be candidate, banker Viktor Babariko.
Tikhanovskaya said she would run in for her husband and be allowed to vote, apparently because Lukashenko believed a woman would not pose a threat. However, a growing mood of protest coalesced around her and led to anger when the official results were announced. Tikhanovskaya said he still has no ambitions to be long-term president, just to act as a transitional figure, and said he is getting used to his new role in international diplomacy.
“I wasn’t prepared for such high-level speeches, it would take a long time to prepare, but life pushed me to do it, and I think I do it well,” she said.