Belarusian Opposition Leader Alleges ‘Creeping Occupation’ by Russia
Creeping Occupation: A Deep Dive into the Belarus Crisis
In a recent interview conducted in Strasbourg, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled opposition leader in Belarus, shed light on the current situation in her home country. She described it as a “creeping occupation” by Russia, asserting that the neighboring country is penetrating all facets of Belarusian life, from education to the military, with the aim of suppressing the national identity.
Tikhanovskaya also voiced concerns about Russia’s attempts to establish a physical presence in Belarus, including the placement of Russian military bases and nuclear weapons, allegedly with the consent of the country’s disputed leader, Lukashenko.
Controversial Elections and Repression: A Brief Background
The 2020 elections in Belarus, contested by Tikhanovskaya against Lukashenko, were mired in controversy, with allegations of rigging and refusal by the opposition to recognize the results. This led to widespread protests across the country, resulting in thousands of detentions.
Following her arrest and a brief detention of seven hours, Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania. This year, she was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison in Belarus. Her husband is currently serving an 18-year sentence.
A Battle for Power: Tikhanovskaya’s Accusations Against Lukashenko
Tikhanovskaya maintains that Lukashenko lost the 2020 elections but managed to retain power through brutality, tyranny, and with the aid of Russian President, Vladimir Putin. She describes Lukashenko as a fraud who stole the country and continues to control the people through fear. However, she remains optimistic, believing that the citizens of Belarus will not surrender and are forming small groups to continue communicating.
Expectations from the European Parliament: A Plea for Support
When asked about her expectations from the European Parliament, Tikhanovskaya outlined her primary objectives: freeing the political prisoners (currently estimated at around 5,000), holding free and fair elections, and aligning Belarus closer to Europe. She also called for more sanctions against Lukashenko, support for civil society, and accountability for his actions.
The Path to the European Union: A Difficult Journey Ahead
Tikhanovskaya argues that under the existing regime, any path to the European Union is impossible as she views Lukashenko’s regime as illegitimate. She emphasizes that Belarus first needs to regain its sovereignty, release its citizens from prison, and conduct free and fair elections. However, she believes that preparing for EU candidacy and institutionalizing relations with the EU now will make the transition easier and faster once changes occur.
Prisoners and Exiles: The Humanitarian Crisis in Belarus
Tikhanovskaya also revealed her concern for her husband, who has been in prison for almost three and a half years, and about whom she has had no information for the last six months. She views this as an emotional pressure tactic to make the prisoners and their waiting families feel abandoned and forgotten.
Furthermore, since 2020, she stated that approximately half a million people have left Belarus due to repression and persecution. Around 700 former political prisoners have completed their sentences and are in need of rehabilitation and psychological help due to the torture and maltreatment they experienced in Belarusian prisons.
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