‘Dictators cannot be appeased or reeducated. They can only be fought’

‘Dictators cannot be appeased or reeducated. They can only be fought’

“Belarus is a crucial element for Putin but also his weakest link,” argues the exiled politician and leader of the Belarusian opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in a Kathimerini interview. On the sidelines of her participation in the 9th Delphi Economic Forum, the opponent of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko outlines to Kathimerini the uncontrolled and authoritarian situation in Belarus. 

With her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky imprisoned, she took on Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, with the latter receiving 81.04% and forming a new government and Tsikhanouskaya claiming to have won with at least 60% of the vote. The validity of the elections was questioned by international observers.

Based on your statement that the fates of Ukraine and Belarus are intertwined, how do you assess the development of the war?

I think that this and next year will be decisive not only for Ukraine but also for Belarus. The fates of our countries are indeed intertwined, not only because of our shared history and values but also due to the current geopolitical situation. The complete victory for Ukraine and the establishment of a democratic Belarus are both crucial steps towards ensuring peace and security in the region. Dictators hope that democracies will get tired, tired of Belarus, and tired of Ukraine. That after some time things will get back to business as usual. The democratic world should realize that dictators cannot be appeased or reeducated. They can only be fought. 

Ukraine must regain all its territories. And we must support Ukraine in that. If we make a compromise here, it will only embolden Putin. We have to weaken Putin and Lukashenko. Also, Belarus must be free. If Belarus remains under dictatorship, it will be a constant threat to Ukraine and the whole of Europe. 

Without Belarus, Putin is not able to change the situation in Ukraine and will not be able to launch invasions into the countries of the European Union. Belarus is a crucial element for Putin but also his weakest link. If we turn the situation around in Belarus – and I am sure that this is possible – it could change the entire course of events, weaken Putin, and help Ukraine win. 

Since 2020 your husband Sergei has remained in prison while you live in exile in Lithuania and Poland. What is the current situation in Belarus and how does Lukashenko’s regime treat its opponents?

The situation in Belarus remains dire, with the Lukashenko regime continuing and even increasing its relentless repression against our people. Every day, people are arrested for the smallest acts of defiance – even just for making a donation to Ukraine or liking something on social media.

I did nοt have any news from my husband for more than a year – he is being held incommunicado, like many others. I do not even know if he is alive. The conditions for political prisoners are appalling, with reports of torture, inhumane treatment, and lack of medical care. Just this week, another prisoner who was detained for insulting Lukashenko died in prison. It was the sixth death already of someone detained for political reasons. Many more can die if we do not act decisively.

In 2023 a Belarusian court sentenced you in your absence to 15 years in prison, with Lukashenko making provocative statements against you. Have you received death threats or assassination attempts against you and your associates?

I understand my work carries a personal risk, but the risks are much greater if we do nothing. I do not think about myself, but about all those inside the country who are at risk all the time. 

Unfortunately, the threat of violence, including assassination attempts, is a reality. The international community must recognize these acts for what they are – attempts by an authoritarian regime to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. Solidarity, support, and concrete actions from the global community are essential in safeguarding the lives of those who stand up for democracy and freedom in Belarus.

Lukashenko’s close contacts with President Putin create the feeling that he is working under his orders. Do you believe that the Belarusian government receives direct orders from Moscow? 

Lukashenko has tied himself to his masters in the Kremlin. He has given up our sovereignty to preserve his power and he does not care about our people – he only cares about his own interests. Russia’s support has enabled the regime’s continued repression within Belarus and created new threats against our neighbors. Russia denies our right to exist as a sovereign people. But unlike in Ukraine, they found a willing enabler in the Lukashenko regime, which is even suppressing our Belarusian language.

Looking ahead, would you like Belarus to join the European family and NATO?

We have made a clear European choice – we want to return Belarus to Europe, where it historically belongs. It means a commitment to democratic values, the rule of law, and human rights. The regime has spent decades isolating our country from the Western world. We want to restore these relations. Engaging in meaningful dialogue with European institutions and countries, actively participating in regional cooperation frameworks, and implementing reforms aligned with European standards are key steps towards this goal. We see membership in the European Union as a long-term goal.

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