Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has given an exclusive interview to Belsat TV in Vilnius, where she was taken by order of the current authorities after the presidential elections.
Unexpectedly, she became a political personality and received support from a large number of Belarusians who signed up for her nomination. Unexpectedly, according to honest protocols of some election commissions, she won the presidential elections in Belarus. Unexpectedly, for her own sake, she left the country. Belsat managed to talk to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Vilnius. This is the first interview with Svyatlana after the departure, which answers the questions of our viewers. The interview was conducted by Belsat TV Deputy Director Aleksy Dzikawicki.
Please tell us about your family, about Mikashevichy where you grew up. Is it true that your grandmother talked to you a lot in Belarusian as a child?
Yes, it’s true. I was born in Mikashevichy, Brest region. Every summer we spent at my grandmother’s in the village. She spoke not pure Belarusian, but ‘trasyanka’. But we had heard this language since childhood and could speak it freely. It was not as difficult for us as it is for our children now. I can speak Belarusian, although it’s a little hard for me. I have an ordinary family, ordinary working parents. We have a very close relationship with Mom, Dad and Sister. There’s love between our family members. We always support each other.
Are you in contact now?
Yes, we are now in contact.
How was your meeting with the children when you came to Lithuania?
It was a very warm meeting, they missed their mother very much. It was very moving for me. My eldest son is 10 years old, and I was with him day in and day out. Of course, this separation was unnatural for me. My heart was breaking all the time that I had to be without them. I’m very happy to be here with them now.
Has it ever been so long that you didn’t see the children?
Our viewer from Kobryn asks if you are a believer.
I am an Orthodox believer. Faith for everyone must mean something different. I rarely go to church, but I believe that if a person does not go to church, it does not mean that they are not a believer. Faith is deep in me. Again, going back to my grandmother, she was a singer in church and we went there every Sunday when I was a child. We learned how to behave there and what to do. Sometimes I really want to go there for my soul.
Does faith help you?
You could say so, but probably not to the extent that deeply believing people are used to thinking about it.
The next question is not easy, but please answer it if you can. The question from our Vitsebsk viewer: “What happened in Lidziya Yarmoshyna’s office, followed by your decision to go abroad?”
I am sorry, but even now I can’t answer that question. I’m not ready to talk about it.
A question from a viewer in Pinsk. We walked in the streets with the flag for 10 days, we made flags, took risks, and the people in power haven’t changed. If Lukashenka stays in power and stifles the protests, what should we do?
You must understand that only our unity now, our belief in what we can all change, should govern us. We mustn’t give up now, because everything is at risk and everyone is afraid. But we must know that we will win. That only together we will be able to achieve self-respect, to gain respect from the authorities, to have our right to choose recognized. And we will hold new fair and transparent elections, where we will choose a new president.
Next question is from our Baranavichy viewers: “Svyatlana, we voted for you with all our hearts. Say that you are our president. Will you declare yourself legally elected president?”
You know, now I understand that for many people this point is fundamental, but the only thing that matters now is that our right to choose has been stolen. It is obvious to everyone that this election was held with many violations. And these elections were rigged. And now it is impossible to know the percentage and it is no longer important. What matters is that our right to fair elections was stolen. And only new, honest, transparent elections can restore justice. But these elections should no longer be held by this CEC staff, whom people don’t trust. All observers should be allowed to this election, not only Belarusian, but also foreign ones. And only then we will be able to understand who won the election.
As far as I know, you are in constant contact with the leaders of the European Union. What do they tell you?
The leaders of all the countries with which I have managed to communicate support the Belarusian people, support their desire to defend their rights to vote, to peaceful demonstrations, to fair elections. They consider it the feat of the Belarusian people that the Belarusian people have woken up and are finally ready to defend their rights, which they should have from birth, according to the Constitution.
They ask you whether it’s worth imposing sanctions against Belarus or not?
They do not.
And you are against the sanctions?
I can’t decide for others. The measures taken by the leaders are their position. We do not ask anyone for something like that in any way. We only thank everyone for their support, for the fact that they fully understand the complexity of the situation and the crisis in which Belarus is now. It is for the moral support of the Belarusian people that we thank them.
Here’s a question from Salihorsk: we are workers of the Belaruskali. If someone is fired, will you be able to help us in any way?
First of all, I want to thank all the workers, all the people who have decided to show their civic position in this way, who were not afraid and went on strike, because this is a legal way to protect their rights. And as you know, a lot of initiatives have already been created to help the strikers and there is a procedure to provide this assistance. Now, of course, all this is only starting to gain pace, but I am sure that these initiatives will help everyone who will face deprivation and any injustice during these strikes.
A question from Hrodna: we see a sea of white-red-white flags at protests. Does this mean that the people themselves have already made a choice? What should be the symbolism of the new Belarus?
It’s good that our people decide. This is how it should be. But it’s not really a priority issue. As for the symbols, people will decide for themselves in the future, but after the new elections, when the right of people to freely choose their president will appear.
It seems that the people have already decided, people come out with these symbols, make them.
So that’s what the people have decided. It’s their right.
A question from Polatsk: Svyatlana, do you often get scared? And what helps you overcome fear?
Scared… I get scared as often as every person who is now in Belarus. The thing that helps me is that I see the unity of Belarusians, their desire to protect their rights. This aspiration of people to a free Belarus is the only thing that helps me now. I am sure that this very feeling of unity helps every Belarusian now as well. The feeling that one is for all and all are for one. Human support for each other is the only thing that matters now.
Your husband is now in prison. We are all very worried about him. Maybe it’s not ethical to ask such questions. But is it true what has been widely written about his support of the so-called “Russian World”?
I saw these videos and I don’t know when they were made. I would not like to comment on them. And I am sure that when possible you will ask him yourself.
A question from Minsk: under what conditions are you ready to return to Belarus, to your homeland?
If I feel that my children and I are safe.
Is it possible under the current government?
So you’d be back when the person running the country would be gone?
Yes. And that’s a big incentive for us to have this victory.
Perhaps this interview will be seen on Belsat by someone who can pass on its contents to your husband. What could you tell him now?
I know that he is very worried about us, but I would like to tell him that I love him, think about him every day. I want him to believe in us, I want him to believe in the people of Belarus.
You have not had such experience before, I mean speaking in front of a lot of people, but you say everything very well and in a calm manner, your voice doesn’t break. How do you do that?
I’m a calm person by nature. But I am still nervous before every interview or press conference, it’s all very hard for me. But I get a grip on myself, and I go and do it. Why break down? There are people like me out there, just like me.
If it’s not too private and if you can talk about it, tell us how you met Syarhei? How did you fall in love?
We met at a club where he was a manager. I came there to dance, and that’s how we met.
How many years ago was that?
We got married 16 years ago this October. We met 17 years ago.
Do you miss him a lot?
I miss him very much.
How long has it been since you saw each other last?
It’s been three months.
Svyatlana, why do you think these so-called law enforcers, who beat up people, have so much brutality in them? They are Belarusians just like us.
When I saw these photos, I was so shocked that I couldn’t calm down for a long time. Because I couldn’t believe and still don’t believe that the Belarusian riot police did it. Because, I think, even the riot police in Belarus are good. And that they’re not capable of such atrocities. Of course, I can’t claim it, but I don’t want to believe it. After all, our Belarusians, they are people just like us. They each have a family, they have relatives. For me it’s… (pauses) I don’t want to believe that the Belarusians are hiding behind these masks, I simply don’t want to.
Many say that these people should face trial for what they did. Do you think that’s right? Or could we just say that they were following orders.
If it gets confirmed that this or that person did it, then, of course, they’ve committed a crime. We asked them not to obey criminal orders. But they were following that order. But I do not know if it is the personal responsibility of every security officer who did it. I don’t know what to do with them. I think it’s up to a fair trial after all. But you can’t forgive that, of course. Each of them should ask themselves if they can forgive such atrocities. What was done to ordinary people, how they were beaten is not about politics. It’s sadism.
Who would you see as a mediator in negotiations with Alyaksandr Lukashenka if such negotiations took place? Is it some country, some man, some organization?
I believe that this issue should be resolved within the country, without interference from outside. That is why we created the Coordination Council, which we propose as a mediator in negotiations with the authorities to resolve the crisis that is now ripe in the country and to hold peace talks so that we could come together to organize new honest and transparent elections.
Will you be running in the new elections? Will your husband run? Who, of course, must be released.
Of course, the release of political prisoners is one of the demands of all the striking people. I don’t plan to run (laughs).
Are there enough politicians already?
Yes. More than enough.
Please now look into the camera and say a few words to the Belarusians, to the millions who voted for you.
I would like to address not only the Belarusians who voted for me, but also those who voted for other candidates. Everyone has an opinion, but everyone must understand that this election was unfair, nontransparent and rigged. That means they stole our right to choose. And we must regain that right. And we really want the crisis that is now ripe in the country to end as soon as possible. But it will only end when we have a dialogue between the government and the people. But only the people can influence it. Belarusians must endure, the strikes must expand. Only in this case, the authorities will hear the people and agree to this dialogue. Then we will create optimal conditions for new honest and transparent elections and will elect a worthy president of our country for a safe and bright future.
Aleksy Dzikawicki/OS, belsat.eu