Exiled Belarusian leader calls on Ireland to “be more vocal” against Lukashenko regime

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Exiled Belarusian Leader Calls On Ireland To “Be More Vocal” Against Lukashenko Regime
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is in exile.
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David Raleigh

The exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called on the Irish government to “be more vocal” in support for pro-democracy supporters locked in a brutal five-month standoff with the Alexander Lukashenko regime, which is accused of rigging the country’s presidential elections last August.

The election result saw Mr Lukashenko receiving 80 per cent of the vote despite a massive show of public opposition to his 26-year rule.

Ms Tikhanovskaya who, as a youth, came to Ireland in the 1990s and was hosted by the Deane family in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, through the family’s own Chernobyl Lifeline charity which it set up following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, was forced into exile after losing the presidential election to Mr Lukashenko.

Exile

All major opposition figures have been jailed or forced into exile for allegedly attempting to overthrow the regime, which has faced some sanctions from Europe.

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Among the incarcerated include Ms Tikhanovskaya‘s husband and YouTuber, Sergei Tikhanovskaya, who remains in custody after being detained by authorities in Minsk last May, on a charge of plotting mass disturbances.

Speaking from Lithuania where she has found refuge, Ms Tikhanovskaya said 32,000 people had been arrested by police since August.

Some continue to languish in prison where they have been “beaten, tortured, and raped”, Ms Tikhanovskaya claimed.

She said she has had only minimal contact with her husband “through our lawyer mostly”, and that “he is in jail for seven months for nothing”.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called on Irish people to be “more vocal” about the situation in Belarus.

The impact on the couple and their daughter Agnia (5) and son Korney (10) has been “very stressful”.

“My children haven't seen their father for so long, and when my daughter asked me lately, ‘Mum are you sure Daddy is still alive’, it was a shock for me. I understand he is not alone in there, that there are so many political prisoners in jail, and that this is a national pain.”

After meeting Ms Tikhanovskaya in Brussels last September, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, showed his support for the revolutionary, tweeting afterwards that she was “extraordinary and brave, risking everything for peaceful, democratic change in Belarus”.

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Minister Coveney later stated that he and other EU leaders “assured her that Ireland strongly supports the rights of Belarusian people to determine their own future, in a democratic way”.

In a Zoom interview today, Ms Tikhanovskaya said, while she appreciated the moral “support” shown by Ireland, she argued that Ireland and other EU countries “have been rather quiet” about the Lukashenko regime, “so, we ask them to be more vocal about the situation”.

Humanitarian assistance

Europe as a whole must “take it more seriously” she said, urging Ireland to support her call on the EU to impose tougher sanctions on the Lukashenko regime, as well as delivering “humanitarian assistance” for citizens.

Ms Tikhanovskaya said she was speaking out “to remind people that genocide is going on in the 21st century” and that the country needed “medicines”.

Having been cast into the role as opposition leader, despite having no political experience, she said she will continue to fight for “new, fair and transparent elections” but she will not contest another presidential contest, “because there are a lot of other candidates who can suit this role better”.

She will continue to focus on her family and on “defending human rights in the future”.

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Despite the impact on her loved ones, she has “no choice” but to continue to fight for the cause.

“If I feel depressed or tired, I always remind myself of all the people who are suffering in jails, who have been beaten, who have lost their limbs and eyes because of this brutality.”

“The Belarusian government are terrorising their own people; eight people were killed and 32,000 detained; there are 157 political prisoners at the moment; More than 1,000 people have been charged in criminal cases; and we have lost count of administrative cases.”

She describes how an 84-year-old female survivor of the Holocaust has recently been put on trial for hanging a revolutionary flag at her home.

“Old people can’t go out on the streets because they are afraid of Covid, and they just show the flags from their balconies and support us, and they are being detained and are accused. You don't even have to go outside; if you put a small flag in your window the police will come to your house, search it, collect all your devices, like computers, phones, money, because you put this symbol on your window.”

Despite it all, she remains upbeat: “Belarusians have changed forever, they will not go back to being slaves, the point of no return has passed.”

She is convinced that if she sets foot back in Belarus under the current regime she “will be jailed”.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spent time living with the Deane family in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

Henry Deane, the Chernobyl Lifeline project, who accepted a “signed revolutionary flag” from Ms Tikhanovskaya at his home in Roscrea today said: “I’m very very proud to receive the flag, as Sveta was always a very important part of our family, and she always will be, it is very much a woman’s revolution.”

“The Belarusian people are very brave, and very peaceful, I can’t understand how they are so peaceful, because frustration alone would drive people to become violent, but they are very quiet people,” he added.

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