The EU and Belarus in 2021: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks to 700 diplomats, officials and journalists from around the world

Today the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) held an online discussion “The EU and Belarus in 2021: How is Europe planning to keep Belarus on the agenda and will it provide more political support for the Belarusian civil society?". The Foreign Ministers of France, Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, and representatives of the European Commission spoke at the meeting. About 700 representatives of the EU and other countries attended the event.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya started her speech with a story about the symbol of Belarusian protests – the painting “Eva” by Chaim Soutine – as an indicator of the peaceful and creative orientation of the struggle of Belarusians against the regime. Tsikhanouskaya spoke about the mass repression and shared stories of political prisoners of Belarus, including Ihar Losik. She stressed that the end of the 42-day Losik's hunger strike is an example of how international solidarity saved a person's life.

Tsikhanouskaya shared what the world community can do to help Belarusians:

  • strengthen sanctions and pressure on perpetrators of human rights violations;
  • investigate crimes against humanity that have already been committed;
  • recognize OMON and GUBOPiK as terrorist organizations;
  • redirect financial assistance to civil society;
  • provide assistance to the repressed;
  • lead the mediation process of an inclusive dialogue on peaceful transit of power in Belarus;
  • assist in the expulsion of Belteleradiocompany from the European Broadcasting Union.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's adviser Franak Viačorka also took a stand at the meeting. He spoke about a camp for protesters set up by security agencies. He said that, given the scale of repressions against people, this is not only a threat to the security of Belarus but the entire region.

Politicians of the participating countries expressed their full solidarity with the Belarusian people. The EU will provide support to the Belarusian civil society and ensure that the topic of Belarus is on the daily agenda of European countries. The Lithuanian delegation proposed to develop a package of support for Belarus: visa-free entry to the EU, investment projects, and assistance in reforms. The participants also unanimously stressed that Lukashenka cannot be recognized as the leader of Belarus. EU countries will revise their support policy for Belarus and redirect it to civil society, not the regime.

Read the full speech of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya at the event:

“Dear Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the European Council on Foreign Relations for organizing this discussion about Belarus after the August presidential election. 

Last year, Belarusians began protesting against the rigged election results, lawlessness, and police violence. Our peaceful movement acquired several important symbols, and today I’d like to mention one of them. I believe Minister Le Drian has heard about it as well. It is “Eve”, a simple portrait of a woman painted in France by Chaim Soutine, an artist of Belarusian origin. This “Eve” became the face of our revolution. Belarusians responded to the tyranny with art and non-violence. 

There were hundreds of thousands of peaceful Belarusians in the streets, the creative female protests, the students singing in the universities, strikers applauding in the factories, astonishing rallies of the elderly and people with special needs, the parties of the neighbors, and so on. The whole world saw it.

However, now the picture is somewhat different. It's harder to find the photos of beautiful mass rallies in Minsk on the international newspapers' covers, as was the case recently. Does it mean that the protests have finished? No, it does not. 

Belarusians have been peacefully protesting all across the country every single day for almost half a year already. The problem is that the only language that Lukashenka's regime seems to know is the language of violence. Belarusians go on protesting every day, but they are also kidnapped, beaten, and illegally imprisoned every day. This terror is not a very beautiful picture to look at. But the world must see it.

The regime's continuous repression particularly intensified in November, when the previous Lukashenka's presidential term expired and he was no longer even formally legitimate. In November, the peaceful rallies were turned into a human hunt, and for two Sundays in a row, there were more than 1000 arrests in a day. The young artist Raman Bandarenka was beaten to death reportedly by the officials from Lukashenka's cronies. His family was threatened; the doctor and journalist who told the truth about him are now in prison. 

The most politically active neighborhoods of Minsk were taken under 24-hour control by the police. One of them, Novaya Baravaya, was left without heating and water for almost three days. There are reasons to consider that this was done intentionally. 

We have heard the recording of Mikalai Karpiankou, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, who tells his subordinates that Lukashenka lets them shoot the protesters on sight and that a concentration camp for the “unnecessary” Belarusians should be built. The world must know about it.

These are the circumstances in which Belarusians live, work and continue their struggle. To this one should add physical and psychological fatigue, cold winter, and the hard second wave of coronavirus. And despite all that Belarusians do not give up, they are as brave and creative as they were in summer 2020. 

Now the protest is decentralized in time and space. Instead of great rallies in the city centers, there are dozens of smaller local rallies and chains of solidarity all over Minsk and other cities. They can happen anywhere, at any time of the day and any day of the week. They are organized by the communities of neighbors that will certainly become the base for the local self-government in New Belarus. People do not abandon humor and art: they support each other by writing songs, dancing, building snowmen in national colors, decorating everything they can with white-red-white flags and words “Long live Belarus!” This is still dangerous, in Belarus one can be detained for the wrong color of trousers or umbrella. The world should not forget about it.

Another front of this struggle is the quickly developing diaspora. Belarusians abroad support their fellow citizens at home and make sure that Belarus doesn't leave the international media agenda. The diaspora helped to pass the Belarus Democracy Act in the US and to cancel the World Hockey Championship and the pentathlon championship in Belarus, which would otherwise legitimize Lukashenka's regime. Now the diasporas try to exclude the Belarusian state TV from the European Broadcasting Union. I welcome this initiative because Belarusian TV is no longer the place for journalism, but only for propaganda and hate speech. Belarusians are now all over the world and they invite the world to listen to them.

I would like to tell you about Ihar Losik, a young journalist arrested on false charges on June 25, 2020. He's been in prison for more than half a year now. To protest, he announced a hunger-strike. All of Belarus was worried about him. People asked him to live, to be patient, to be sure they will make him free. This Monday, Losik stopped his hunger-strike after 42 days. He said that this is because he was “amazed by the incredible wave of solidarity”. He saw that Belarusians have changed, this gave him hope. “You will not let me down”, he writes. Yes, we mustn't let him down. 

This is what we ask the world and Europe – to help us not to let down Ihar Losik and other political prisoners, who are almost 200 by now. Belarus needs no more sacrifices. Europe needs no more ghettos. The world needs no more concentration camps. 

Belarusians paid a very high price, some even with their lives, for the dream and the chance to build a new democratic Belarus. We need to hold free and fair elections as soon as possible making sure that the will of the people is respected.

I truly hope that the EU's fourth package of sanctions will be adopted as soon as possible. It is crucial to impose pressure on those responsible for human and civil rights violations but also target corrupt officials and businessmen. Unfortunately, the reaction of the international community to the political crisis in Belarus is very modest. The adopted sanctions are several times less than after the 2010 elections when the repression was dozens of times less. People expect the West to be braver and stronger.

There are more opportunities the European Union, United Nations, and OSCE need to consider. In particular, we would appreciate OSCE participating states to lead the mediation process in order to organize inclusive dialogue on peaceful transition in Belarus. 

We need an investigation of crimes against humanity that have already been done and the prevention of the new ones. We ask to establish a high-level investigation body and lead the process of evidence collection. Urgency is essential as state violence and repression continue to increase in Belarus.

We also ask two organizations involved in atrocities, OMON and GUBOPiK to be recognized as a terrorist, by foreign governments

We also need solidarity. The funds originally meant for Lukashenka’s oppressive regime need to be redirected to the Belarusian people, civil society, families of the repressed or those participating in national strikes, independent trade unions, and independent media. We hope for a united response across the EU institutions on this matter. It is important to avoid bureaucracy, as people need support now. 

Political transformation in Belarus can be achieved only with the support of the European Union, the United States, and other international partners. The West shall speak with one voice with respect to the political crisis in Belarus. 

Your principled position on Belarus can help us bring closer the day when Belarussians will finally restore their civil right to elect their leaders in free and fair elections. 

Thank you”.  

27 January 2021 в 11:32