The leader of Belarus’s opposition movement has promised their combat will continue “until victory” – because the Belarusian people will never again accept to live in “a state of slaves”.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been the figurehead of the Belarusian protest movement, which has seen thousands turn out for weekly demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko, who they accusing of fixing elections in August which gave him a sixth term of office.
“The protest movement will not die out,” she told Euronews’s Isabelle Kumar, in a special edition of the Global Conversation held at the GLOBSEC international forum in Bratislava, Slovakia. “Demonstrations will maybe fade out because of the weather or some other factors, I don”t know. But protests will not, because our people will never be able to go back to that state of slaves we used to live with for 26 years. Everything has changed. We felt that we are united, that we are a nation and we are proud to be Belarusian people. So Belarusians are ready to fight until victory and the authority has to understand this.”
She said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had offered to help mediate in the combat and that a “seaside” exit for Lukashenko could be negotiated, if it helped resolve the conflict.
Tsikhanouskaya also told how she pretends to her daughter that her father is away on a business trip, because at five-years-old, she is too young to understand that he has been imprisoned by the Belarusian authorities.
But she was not frightened for herself, despite now facing an arrest warrant issued by Moscow.
“We are women. We are strong,” she said. “We are much stronger than people used to think about women. My people is my inspiration, it’s what gives me strength to move forward.”
Watch the interview in the video player above and read below the transcript.
ISABELLE KUMAR, EURONEWS: First of all I would like to speak to you about the arrest warrant that has been placed on you by Russia. How did you react to that when you found out?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, BELARUS OPPOSITION LEADER: It didn’t change anything. It’s their problem. We are striving for victory and only after victory I can go home. That’s it.
ISABELLE KUMAR: Svetlana, how does it make you feel, though, personally, when you have an adversary like Russia who wants to stop you in your efforts to bring democracy to your country?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, the question is not in Russia. The question is in Belarus, we are talking about Belarus and we have to pay attention to Belarus, not to Russia. It’s our responsibility to solve this political crisis inside Belarus.
ISABELLE KUMAR: So you’re not frightened when you have an arrest warrant on your head from Russia?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: No.
ISABELLE KUMAR: You are a very brave woman. So you have been meeting with a whole host of EU leaders here in Bratislava, but also with Angela Merkel. You’ve been speaking to Emmanuel Macron. There’s a lot of words, but what concrete, actionable commitments have they made to you?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Now, all the leaders I have met with are extremely supportive of the Belarusian people. They understand what we are fighting for, why they are doing this, and what we want at the end of this fight. At the moment, I have to ask for mediation in the organisation of negotiations with our authorities, so I’m asking if they can be such mediators. And I think they will be helpful in this question.
ISABELLE KUMAR: You wanted Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to mediate. Has she said yes?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: She says that she will do her best to help us in this question.
ISABELLE KUMAR: And how?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: Just to try to call to see the best way out, because she’s an experienced politician and she knows how to organise it better, if it is possible at all. Maybe while they will be organising this mediation, something else can happen and we will see another way out of this situation. So it’s like messages to the countries that we need this help, but we will move on inside the country, whether you will be able to mediate or not.
ISABELLE KUMAR: This is an internal issue in Belarus, but Russia does need to be part of the solution. How are you going to bring Vladimir Putin on board?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: You know, we have to distinguish Russian people and Kremlin. Because we are friendly with the Russian people. We have relatives there. We have friends there. And in the future, after a new president comes to Belarus we want to continue this relationship, trade relationships. We are neighbours forever. We want to even widen this relationship with Russia. But it’s a pity that the Kremlin supported the regime, but we can’t do anything about this. We are ready to talk to the Kremlin, we are eager to talk to them. And it’s a pity we haven’t at the moment been able to make any contacts.
ISABELLE KUMAR: Sviatlana, you have shown pictures of the human rights abuses in your country. Hundreds of people are detained every week, when there are the protests. Would you like to see President Lukashenko in front of the International Criminal Court to stand trial?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: It should be a subject for negotiations, because if…..
ISABELLE KUMAR: But will it be something that will be subject to negotiation?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: For sure, because it’s easier to, you know, to let him go. We don’t have a feeling of revenge. We just want to build a new country, to build a democratic country. And if it is the way out for him to go somewhere, to the seaside and spend his time there, I think it could be done.
ISABELLE KUMAR: Are you worried that the protest movement that has been going on week after week, bringing so many people out onto the streets… If there isn’t change, if the international community doesn’t support you in the way you would like it to and doesn’t bring about that change, that the protest movement will die down?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: The protest movement will not die out. Demonstrations will maybe fade out because of the weather or some other factors, I don’t know. But protests will not, because our people will never be able to go back to that state of slaves we used to live with for 26 years. Everything has changed. We felt that we are united, that we are a nation and we are proud to be Belarusian people. So Belarusians are ready to fight until victory and the authority has to understand this.
ISABELLE KUMAR: So tell me, how do you explain what’s happening to your children? They have lived through so much. Their father is in jail. Their mum’s travelling all of a sudden. They are little kids. I have kids. How how do you explain this to them?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: For my younger daughter, she’s only five and she doesn’t understand that her father is in jail. But the situation with her is worse because she misses her Daddy so much and every evening she asks the same question, “When will my daddy come? I miss him so much.”
And I have to explain that “He’s on a business trip, sorry, he will come very, very soon.” And every evening it’s the same story. My older son understands where his dad is, but he doesn’t ask so many questions to me, because he is adult enough to understand that it’s painful. So somehow we manage, you know.
ISABELLE KUMAR: How do you deal with all the strain, you know? How do you deal with all of this? You’ve just gone through such massive change. You’re suddenly a figure everybody recognises in the world. How do you cope?
SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA: We are women. We are strong. We are much stronger than people used to think about women. My people is my inspiration, it’s what gives me strength to move forward.