«Dear Mr. Congressman Boyle,
Dear Mr. Minister Tom Köller,
It is a big honor to address you today on behalf of all Belarusians, who despite fear and repression, continue fighting for their freedom and independence.
Our fight is our common fight. It is the fight against the evil past, against tyranny, and Russian imperialism.
It is the fight for a peaceful, safe, and democratic Europe where Belarus deservedly belongs.
Europe where there is no place for wars, where every person is respected, and people are not thrown in jails for their political views or striving for freedom.
Today, May 21st, is the day of international solidarity with Belarusian political prisoners. On this day, Vitold Ashurak, a 50-years old democratic activist from Lida, died or — to put it straight — was killed in prison. Along with thousands of others, he was imprisoned for participating in protests against the brutal dictatorship of Lukashenka.
I’m wearing a T-shirt with my husband Siarhei. In 2020, he was among the first to be arrested. I haven’t seen him since. But it is thanks to him and thousands and millions of freedom-loving Belarusians that I’m here talking to you.
Back in 2020, after he announced his plans to challenge dictator Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, he was immediately arrested and put in solitary confinement. To support him, I registered my candidacy. I did it out of love. The dictator did not believe a woman could beat him. “Our constitution is not for women” — he said. But I won that election. We won.
But elections were stolen. Hundreds of thousands rallied all over the country for many months. We protested peacefully to defend our democratic and European choice. The regime’s answer was unlawful brutality, violence, and torture.
With Russia’s money, equipment, media, and trolls, Lukashenka unleashed a full-fledged police war against Belarusians. At least 60 thousand people have passed through prisons in the last few years.
Lukashenka’s war against Belarusians is still going on. In April only, Belarusian police were arresting about 11 people daily based on politically motivated charges.
Lukashenka survived only thanks to Putin. And he is paying for this support with Belarusian sovereignty. He became a proxy Russian agent constantly destabilizing European security. In 2021, Lukashenka gave the order to hijack a civil Ryanair plane to arrest journalist Raman Pratasevich, who was recently sentenced to 8 years. He orchestrated the migration crisis on the EU border to distract the West from Putin’s plans of invading Ukraine.
Finally, Belarusian and Russian military exercises became a pretext to bring an essential Russian military force to Belarus, which attacked Ukraine from the North in February 2022.
From day one of this war, Lukashenka became Putin’s accomplice in all his murderous criminal endeavors. He provided Russia with airfields, military bases, training grounds, hospitals, and all the infrastructure. He gave Russia fuel, ammunition, military armor, and vehicles.
A thousand missiles were fired on Ukraine from Belarus in 2022. Recently, we got evidence of Lukashenka’s complicity in kidnapping Ukrainian children and bringing them to Belarus.
All this means just one thing: after the ICC issued the warrant to arrest Putin there should be the same warrant to arrest Lukashenka for crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity.
In the shadow of the war, Lukashenka intensified terror against Belarusian society. He banned almost every NGO, media outlet, democratic political parties, and independent trade unions: all these organizations were proclaimed “extremist” or “terrorist”.
Today, supporting Ukraine and criticizing Russia for its war crimes became a criminal offense. You can be arrested for donating to the Ukrainian army a small amount of money, for tweeting, singing Ukrainian songs, speaking the Belarusian language or just having Western education. Recently, a woman from the small town of Chashniki was imprisoned for posting a photo of the cake in white-red-white colors, the national flag of Belarus.
We know the names of approximately 15 hundred political prisoners. The real number is three times bigger. Many of them are serving unprecedentedly long prison terms, from 10 up to 23 years.
My husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 19,5 years. My friend Maryja Kalesnikava got an 11-year sentence. Our Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski has a 10-year sentence. And I could go on like this for an hour.
People in prisons are being constantly interrogated, and tortured. Presidential hopeful Viktar Babaryka was brought to the hospital last month, severely beaten. Then he disappeared. There’s no news from my husband since March 10. I just want to know if he is alive. Almost one month ago, our Nobel Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski also disappeared. Under Lukashenka, Belarus became North Korea in the center of Europe.
However, despite the terror, Belarusians don’t give up. We continue our fight. But now we are fighting not just for freedom and democracy, but for the very existence of Belarus. We created alternative institutions of power: United Transitional Cabinet and Coordination Council. Two hundred of thousands joined Peramoha which means Victory plan. The network of underground resistance unites people all over the country. We struggle but we find ways to support them.
Also, we maintain our contacts within the regime structures, including the Belarusian army. There are stronger anti-Lukashenka and anti-war moods than it may seem. To scare officials from defection, the regime has introduced the death penalty for so-called state treason”.
According to polls, 86% of Belarusians are against Belarus's participation in the war. And this number inspires. It makes the situation in Belarus very different from Russia. Our goal is to transform this anti-war sentiment into action.
The fate of Belarus depends a lot on the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive. We try to help Ukraine as much as we can. Only last year, Belarusian railway partisans conducted 80 acts of sabotage to slow down the advance of Russian troops. In February this year, Belarusian partisans launched a successful drone attack damaging the Russian extra-expensive surveillance plane A-50. It never returned from the repair shop.
30,000 Belarusians participate in the project Belarusian Hajun. We call it “people’s intelligence”. People collect data on all Russian military activities, to help Ukraine. Hundreds joined Belarusian volunteer units within the Ukrainian army. Among all foreign volunteers within the Ukrainian army, Belarusian representation is the biggest.
Many Belarusians gave their lives in this noble fight. Last week, five Belarusian volunteers from the Volat battalion died in fights for Bakhmut. Their sacrifice must not be in vain.
The Volat Battalion is named after Pavel «Volat» Suslau. Pavel was a Belarusian patriot, who went to fight for Ukraine in 2016. In Donbas, he became an experienced soldier. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Pavel co-founded the first Belarusian unit within the Ukrainian army. On May 15 last year, he was killed in battle.
At the time, his mother Natalia was teaching literature at the Homel University. After her son died, she went to Ukraine and practically became a mother to her son’s brothers in arms. Today, she takes care of them as if they were her own children. In her own way, she goes on with her son’s mission.
Pavel and Natallia are just two examples of Belarusians’ self-sacrifice for their motherland.
With their deeds and their blood, Belarusians prove to the world that they want and deserve to live in freedom.
Lukashenko will not change. Putin neither. We should abandon illusions that dictators can be appeased, or any sort of deal is possible. Putin badly needs Lukashenka, because only through him, Putin can control Belarus. Without Belarus, the war for him becomes senseless. Without Belarus, he can’t reach Kyiv or win the war. And Belarus is the weakest link in Putin’s plan.
The changes in Belarus can begin suddenly, and we must be well prepared for them. We work on the strategy of democratic forces, but we also need a strategy for the international community. To use the momentum when it happens, and prevent Russia from interfering. Last week, Lukashenka got sick and disappeared for a few days. It provoked some panic among officials. We all saw how vulnerable and unstable the regime is.
Therefore, we must continue exerting pressure on Lukashenka’s regime. Pressuring the regime with economic sanctions, and supporting Belarusian civil society and democratic forces is also a way to bring the Ukrainian victory forward.
For more than a year, no strong sanctions were imposed by the EU against Lukashenka’s regime. Instead, they are discussing softening sanctions on potash fertilizers, which would be a strategic mistake and a victory for Putin and Lukashenka if it happens. Sanctions are not a silver bullet but they are weakening the regime and bringing closer its collapse.
We must prevent Putin’s plan to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. This deployment violates Belarus’ constitutional non-nuclear status. Besides, it would secure Russia’s control over Belarus for years ahead. It should not happen. It would mean a mortal blow to Belarusian sovereignty. And a further threat to European security, not to speak of the security of Ukraine.
It is very important to support Belarusian units fighting for Ukraine. They are our heroes, the core of our future army. Your assistance with non-lethal equipment to them would be not just a symbolic gesture, but also practical help to Ukraine.
I always repeat: We all have to provide Ukrainians with everything they need to win the war. And one of the best contributions to Ukraine’s victory will be democratic changes in Belarus and the collapse of Lukashenka’s regime.
We should not allow Belarus to become Putin’s consolation prize. Belarus is part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution.
Last week in Aachen I spoke at a public event after the Charlemagne Prize ceremony, which Belarusians received a year ago. This year, the Prize was given to Ukrainians and the president Zelenskyy. In my remarks, I assured President Zelenskyy that Belarusians stand by Ukraine.
I do believe that both of our countries deserve a peaceful democratic European future. I do believe that Belarus will get out of Russian claws, will conduct all necessary reforms, and will become a reliable neighbor and partner for NATO Alliance.
With the democratic forces of Belarus, we have developed the five steps plan which I ask you to support:
- First: Belarus should leave the Union State with Russia. The transition from dictatorship to democracy is not possible while Belarus is chained to Moscow.
- Second. Belarus should leave the Collective Security Treaty Organization or CSTO and its military alliance with Russia. We should not be in the same military alliance with the aggressor. Every Russian soldier must leave Belarus immediately. An illegitimate Russian military presence in Belarus is a threat not only to our country but to other nations too.All agreements between Lukashenka’s regime and Russia must be recognized as invalid or revised. Instead, Belarus will uphold its commitments under international law.
- Third, Belarus should normalize relations with its other neighbors and will launch broad regional cooperation, especially with Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States. We will launch cooperation on political, social, cultural, economic, regional security, and foreign policy.
- Fourth. Belarus will seek more cooperation with the European institutions and EU member states. Belarus should join the Council of Europe and develop a long-term strategy of cooperation with the European Union. Because Belarus is Europe. We will conduct all the reforms based on the best European practices.
- Fifth, democratic Belarus will become a reliable and responsible international partner. We will adopt a new constitution that will prevent Belarus from falling again into tyranny and will build democratic institutions to rule out the abuse of power
Belarus is a country with a European past and a European future. I envision Belarus as a partner for NATO and other organizations defending security and peaceful cooperation in our part of the world.
Russia’s defeat in this war will give us a historical opportunity to return to the European family of nations. I’m positive that, this time, Belarusians will use their chance.
21 May 2023 в 14:53