Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's speech at the Club de Madrid, 2023

Club de Madrid (CdM) is the world's largest forum of democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers who leverage their individual and collective leadership experience and global reach to strengthen inclusive democratic practice and improve the well-being of people around the world. 

As an independent, international, non-profit organisation, it counts on the hands-on governance experience of more than 100 democratic political leaders from over 70 countries, along with a global network of advisors and partners across all sectors of society.

  • Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's speech:

“Dear Excellencies,
Members of the Club de Madrid,

It is an honor for me to address you today. I would like to talk about the challenges for democratic change in my country, Belarus, and how the international community can support us.

In 2020, an overwhelming majority of the people of Belarus voted for change. They voted not only for new president – they voted for their dignity, freedom, democracy and European future.

They voted with their ballots on the 9th of August. 

After that, they voted with their feet, by marching of the streets in the hundreds of thousands. 

They voted by raising their voices as the regime stole the election.

However, one thing is certain — nothing will ever be the same again. Change did come, inside each and every one of us. Belarusians will never be the same again. We won’t be trapped in a cage, when we have seen the beauty of freedom. 

The regime managed to keep power by unleashing a wave of repression that keeps getting worse. Just in the last weeks — Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski sentenced to 10 years in prison along with other human rights defenders. My husband Siarhei’s sentence was prolonged to 19,5 years. I myself was sentenced to 15 years in absentia. 

At the same time, thousands of Belarusians are serving sentences not in absentia, but in real and terrible prisons. In conditions that can only be described as pure hell.

The journalist’s association BAJ was declared extremist. The death penalty can now be used against state officials and military personel accused of treason. 

Every day, there are 17 new political arrests on average, and the regime’s puppet courts are working like a factory, mass-producing political sentences without any justice.

One wonders how they would have time to catch any real criminals when they are so busy chasing down opponents of the regime. But that is a sad truth: the justice system was repurposed into a machine of repression.

But despite all of this, the people of Belarus continue to fight for their rights and freedoms. And they need the support of the international community now more than ever.

First, we need to continue to apply pressure on the Lukashenka regime. Sanctions have been an effective tool, but it is crucial to synchronize sanctions against Lukashenka’regime with sanctions against Russia. This will close many loopholes. 

Second, we need to provide support to democratic movement, human rights defenders and independent media outlets in Belarus. These organizations are doing crucial work in promoting democracy and human rights. 

Third, we need to bring perpetrators to justice. We need to continue to speak out against human rights abuses and to make it clear that there will be consequences for those responsible. Help us to open cases in ICC and ICJ, also under universal jurisdiction. 

Fourth, we need to continue to raise awareness about the situation in Belarus and to keep the pressure on the regime. We are forming the international coalition in support of the democratic and independent Belarus.

I would like to end by saying: Don’t leave Belarus for another day. The regime in Minsk is much more vulnerable that it might seem. Changes in Belarus can come unexpectedly, and we must be prepared for them. We must stay consistent, demanding, and brave. 

Also, we can’t forget that changes in Belarus can help Ukraine to win. But also vice versa: the success of Ukraine will catalyze changes in Belarus. 

Every day brings us closer to freedom. Thank you!”

18 March 2023 в 10:00