New Year’s Greetings by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya 2023

Dear Belarusians, how have you been doing?

How did the weeks before the New Year go for you? I am not sure if you hear this often, but you do an incredible job. You build a life despite the circumstances that make planning even for two weeks impossible. You raise free and talented children despite the terrible state of things in the economy and education. You stay kind and affectionate despite the hatred that’s incited from everywhere. You’ve made it through this extremely difficult year and managed to create a little festive mood for your loved ones. This alone is a reason to be proud of yourself.

This address is not only to those who’ve been waiting for it but also to those who’ve lost hope for a change, as well as those who take no interest in what Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says.

Thank you for listening to me. But can you hear and understand each other? Can a laid-off Belkamunmash worker understand a Minsk resident who opens a cafe in the old town and is looking for employees? Can a Mahilyow resident, who has to spend her whole evenings doing household chores, understand a political emigrant who cannot come back home and is no longer sure what is waiting for him there? Can the wife of the political prisoner Ales Bialiatski, who received the Nobel Prize on behalf of her husband, understand a student who’s new to Minsk and passing by Volodarka, she doesn't think what kind of place it is? Can a pensioner from Viciebsk, who watches TV and believes propaganda, understand his daughter, who’s been arrested for a photo from the protests? Is it possible for the mother of a volunteer who died fighting against the invading Russian troops to understand the prosecutor's daughter, who is tired of arguing with her father about politics?

I believe we all can understand each other. Because the problem is not that we are different. The problem is that it seems to everyone that others do not hear and do not understand them. This is how we lose trust in each other and faith in ourselves.

You know, once a man from a small town called me and told me his story. He started by saying: “I am no one important and there’s not much I can do”. His words touched me deeply because it is very reminiscent of how Belarusians see themselves. But you know what the story was about? He alone managed to stop a whole train with military equipment destined for the war in Ukraine. Just imagine – a little man who stopped a big train.

To be honest, I also think I'm no one important. But I remember the man who stopped the train, and I think that you and I should all stop thinking of ourselves as no one important. We are going through such a difficult path – and no one has the right to downplay its importance. We are totally important. If we believe in each other and in ourselves, we are a nation.

We are the nation of Skaryna and Chagall. Kupala and Kalinouski. The nation of Olympic champions and Nobel laureates. The nation of talented musicians and scientists. Honest workers and kind owners. We are a nation that always chooses to be human. And no one will make us forget who we are.

Indeed, we have such a trait – self-doubt. And we sometimes want someone stronger, more experienced, fearless to come and help us solve all our problems. We want a strong hand to appear and show us the way.

***

But someone strong, experienced, and fearless is you and me. Our nation does not need a strong hand – we need trust, mutual respect, and solidarity. I want to reach out to each of you, so I am ready to speak in different ways for everyone to hear.

Like many of you, I have children. I know the price of human life and I strongly oppose war. Like you, I am frightened by how close the war has come to our home. The fact that we discuss the nuclear threat in our kitchens, men across the country receiving subpoenas, and teenagers being shown weapons in schools is not normal.

Our country is on the brink of a war that none of us wants. The reason why our territory is used to launch missiles into Ukraine is that those calling themselves the government have lost their independence and are under Russian influence – that is why missiles are flying from our territory to Ukraine. Prices in the country are rising because complicity in someone else's war is very expensive. There are thousands of political prisoners in the country, and their number keeps increasing every day. It breaks my heart and the hearts of all their loved ones. But it also affects the well-being of every citizen – because the sanctions can be lifted only once the political prisoners are released. As a result, rising prices, fear of mobilization, isolation – this is what the state is now offering Belarusians.

Russia attacked Ukraine because it dared to think that Ukrainians must not exist as a nation. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, including children, and this is a monstrous tragedy. But Russia will lose this war because Ukrainians are defending their home and the whole world supports them. Russia will lose this war. And we, Belarusians, will either follow it into the abyss, or we will be able to build a peaceful future we deserve.

Belarusians have always been treated well. But the government involved us in this war on Russia’s side, making us co-aggressors. Belarusians have never supported this, Belarusians have always been against war. And that enabled us to prevent Belarus from becoming a pariah state like Russia. But a possible full-fledged involvement of Belarus in the war will be a point of no return. It will make us a nation of aggressors for decades. It will affect the lives of literally every Belarusian. And neither my work, nor the efforts of the democratic movement, nor even the heroism of volunteers will be enough to convince the world that Belarusians stand against this war.

We must not allow the deployment of Belarusian troops in Ukraine. We do not want Belarus’ territory to be shelled in response. We need peace for the future we deserve. For us and our children to live peacefully in the next decade.

To abandon dependence on a dangerous neighbor is our national interest. Belarus can be a developed, independent, economically stable, nationally-oriented state. A partner country, not a debtor country. A country where, instead of looking for another “elder brother” or creditor, we finally focus on ourselves.

Indeed, we must be a country that is open to the world. Because if we want to say good things about something, we don't say “like in Russia” – we say “like in Europe”. And we don't have to leave Belarus to get to Europe. Belarus is Europe. We want to learn from those neighbors who live better, not from those who steal and send home washing machines from occupied Ukrainian cities.

I know that this is not the most festive New Year's address. But in these difficult times, our nation deserves respect and truth. I know how much you want to believe that next year will be better – not on TV, but in real life. That the dark times will end. That families will reunite. That prosperity will return. And that the bright part of our history will begin. I alone cannot promise you this. But we can promise this to each other. I, the United Transitional Cabinet, democratic forces, media, activists and businessmen, honest officials and volunteer fighters, workers and teachers, students and doctors, pensioners, musicians, bureaucrats, that woman from Mahilyow or that IT guy from Minsk – we can all promise that we will take care of each other in the coming year and protect our country and our nation. Now we can hug those around us and say thank you to each other for making it. For being there for each other. For becoming stronger and not giving up. For bringing back the confidence that we are capable of anything when we are together. We’ve managed to make it through this year, which means we will make it through anything. Thank you.

Happy New Year!