Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya: ‘It is impossible to oppose the regime openly’ (interview)

Belarus is being discussed in the West, but not in the way we want to see it, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya thinks. What did she talk about with Polish President Andrzej Duda? Can the Lukashenka regime be openly opposed? Alina Koushyk, a Belsat TV news presenter and anchorwoman of Belsat TV show Prasviet (World and Us), talks to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

AK: We meet at the Warsaw Security Forum. There was a lot of talk about Belarus. There were not many Belarusian speakers, but the topic of Belarus was one of the most discussed. Where is Europe’s security frontier now? On the border with Belarus?

STs: Precisely because migration has now created a threat on the border with Belarus, Belarus is being discussed again, unfortunately, not in the way we want to see it. Human rights and violence in Belarus are the focus of our reports. I very much hope that Europe, seeing what methods the regime uses to become a threat not only to Belarusians, but also to European countries, will take more active actions to put pressure on the regime, and will talk about what is happening not only at the border, but also in Belarus.

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You are talking about the migration crisis at the highest level, you have met with the Polish president, this is your second meeting. What did you talk about and what were the results of the meeting?

First of all, we talked about Belarus and Belarusians in Poland. The fact that Kalinouski’s program now admits much fewer students. There was talk about the relocated people, that they needed help; about businesses that have moved from Belarus. The focus was on Belarus, but it is clear that the issue of migration is particularly sensitive now. There is great concern, because there are different opinions in Europe about what to do with the migration crisis. They probably condemn some actions of the government, when not all people are allowed in. I said that Poland was innocent, that people were brought to Belarus specifically to avenge the help to Belarusians. I call on the international community to overcome the problem, and the problem is in the regime. If you build walls and agree with the countries from which migrants come, then there may be another security threat. When solving the problem with migration, it is necessary to remember the reason for it.

This is Lukashenka’s goal: to divide Western society. But the migration crisis is a problem for Lukashenka himself. More than 10,000 people are now in Belarus, the so-called tourists. Winter is coming. Even my parents, who live very close to the border with Poland, say they have seen dark-skinned people coming out of the woods. People are really scared.

People from the south are not used to such weather conditions, so there will be even more victims. In a conversation with Andrzej Duda, I realized that this worries them on a human level. This is becoming a problem for Belarus. There is no place to settle people. They can start claiming housing near the border. And it becomes a problem of the regime what to do with these people. It’s like a trap from which there is no way out. No one knows what will happen next. And the regime must address this. Who is more humane, who will last longer? Either they will let everyone in, or they will ‘show inhumanity’, as some like to blame the Polish and Lithuanian governments. There must be a clear position. We must not allow these political games to be played with people’s destinies.

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People here are hostages, they do not fully understand why they are here, why this situation came up. We also know that they do not want to stay in Poland. Their way is to the West, which emphasizes once again that they are not refugees in the full sense of this word. Do you support the position of Poland and Lithuania that these people should not be allowed in?

I cannot decide for the governments of neighbouring countries, but understanding why this is done, I believe that we need to help those who really need it: women, pregnant women, children, those who are in poor physical health. You can’t refuse them. But people should not be allowed to be used in the fight against neighbouring countries. This is a difficult situation, and there are a lot of opinions about what to do with it. Obviously, this problem is created artificially by the regime. We insist to look at its root.

It is important not to forget about Belarusians who are now in Belarus. What is most important to you now, how to support these people? They are hostages of the regime in a sense, even if not in prison.

The topic of migration is now on the surface. I keep saying that migration is a serious problem, let’s see what’s behind it. There are Belarusians who are afraid to stay in the country day by day. They need to be supported.

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What are your steps, what is the most important way to support the remaining Belarusians?

To think about safety. I understand that it is impossible to oppose the regime openly. But if you can do something, take a small step. Write letters, help relatives of political prisoners, help yourself, but do not stop and do not give up. When people give up, they go into such a phase (and I hope it doesn’t happen) that we go back to the state in which we have lived for 27 years. Too many victims, too much has been done to stop now.

The interview was part of the episode of PraSviet news show (07.10.2021):

Photo: Syarhei Pelyasa