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Tsikhanouskaya: The people 'want a new Belarus'

Dave Raish
August 25, 2020

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says embattled President Alexander Lukashenko must go, because protesters "will not step away." Speaking to DW, she also praised the support she's received from the EU.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks to the press
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

'The Belarusians woke up'

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says the recent disputed presidential election in Belarus and the government's harsh crackdown on protesters has made President Alexander Lukashenko's position untenable.

"Our people have changed," Tsikhanouskaya told DW's Konstantin Eggert in Vilnius, where she fled after the August 8 vote. "I don't know what is going to happen in the nearest days, but I know what will happen in the nearest future: Our people will not step away, they woke up and they want a new Belarus."

Read more: Opinion: Lukashenko's desperate measures

"The person who has to step away is Mr. Lukashenko," she added. "People will not forgive him, people will not forget anything about this situation that happened after the elections."

Official figures claim Lukashenko won a sixth term in office with 80% of the vote, but the opposition and the European Union have disputed those results. Tsikhanouskaya and EU leaders have called for fresh elections.

When asked whether Lukashenko himself could participate in the proposed new vote, Tsikhanouskaya said: "It's only up to him. We are a free and fair country, so any person would be able to participate in these elections."

Praise for EU support

Tsikhanouskaya also said she was happy with the amount of support the EU, including Germany has shown for protesters in Belarus. "We have seen a great support from all the countries, and the leaders of many countries contacted me and showed their support to our people," she said, adding: "I am sure that they do their best to organize support for our people."

The 37-year-old former English teacher, who stood for election after her husband was arrested and prevented from running, also addressed the European Parliament on Tuesday. In a speech delivered in English via video link, she stressed that the unrest in her country was "taking place in the middle of Europe."

"Belarus is in turmoil and crisis," Tsikhanouskaya said. "Peaceful protesters are being illegally detained, imprisoned and beaten."

On Monday, several members of the opposition Coordination Council were arrested or called in for questioning by state investigators. The council said that top Tsikhanouskaya associate Olga Kovalkova and strike leader Sergei Dylevsky were detained in the capital, Minsk, and accused of organizing an illegal strike. Meanwhile, Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize, was summoned for questioning.

"We wanted to hear Mrs. Tsikhanouskaya's voice because she is a symbol of and speaks for the opposition," German MEP David MacAllister, a member of the center-right European People's Party and chair of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, told DW.

He stressed that the protests in Belarus were not about forging closer ties with the EU or NATO, but rather basic fundamental rights. "We want for our neighbor Belarus to be able to enjoy equal rights, we aren't taking sides here," MacAllister said.

'Peaceful revolution'

Speaking to European Parliament, Tsikhanouskaya said the protest movement currently taking place in Belarus was a "peaceful revolution."

"Belarus has woken up," she said. "We are not the opposition any more. We are a majority now. A peaceful revolution is taking place."

Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by critics, has held a firm grip on power in Belarus since first winning the presidency 26 years ago. In the wake of the this month's disputed election, however, the country has seen an unprecedented wave of anti-government protests. Lukashenko has dispatched police and the military to break up demonstrations and arrested thousands of protesters, but his government has so far been unable to quell the unrest, with tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets over the weekend.