Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's speech at the Kalinouski Forum, 2022

“Dear Madam Speaker, Madam Prime-Minister, friends of Belarus,

Now, in times of war, I particularly appreciate your work for Ukraine and for Belarus. And I appreciate that you accept Belarus as part of the European family. It is critical today.

This forum is named after Kastus Kalinouski, the leader of the Uprising against the Russian Empire. 160 years ago, from prison, here in Vilnius, before execution, he addressed our people:

“…go and fight … for your human and national rights, for your faith, for your native land. For I say to you from beneath the gallows, my people, you will only then live happily, when no Russian remains over you”.

And hundreds of thousands of people heard his words and stood up to fight against tyranny and oppression.

They were murdered.

And the Uprising was stifled in blood.

Today, 160 years after that, the Russian tyrant is trying to murder away a whole nation, Ukraine – the people who had chosen freedom and sovereignty.

We, Belarusians, understand it acutely: Ukrainian and Belarusian fates are interconnected now. Should Ukraine fall, there’ll be no future but slavery inside the Russian Empire for Belarus. There’ll be no peaceful future for Europe either.

If Ukraine wins, we’ll have a chance to return to the European family.

In 2020, people in Belarus stood up to fight for their human rights. Like Kalinouski, our freedom fighters called people to rise against the dictator and people showed to the whole world that Belarusians, in their majority, are against the regime of Lukashenka.

In 2022, our country is de facto under military occupation. The regime is selling Belarusian sovereignty at this very moment. This new reality transformed our struggle from the fight for democracy to the fight for Belarusian sovereignty and against Russian revanchism.

On February 27th, despite 18 months of devastating repression, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the war. We know that more than 900 were detained – tortured with gas, beaten up, naked, to unconsciousness, some got their bones broken. And none got medical help there.

Yes, now we are in wartime, and that adjusts our goals and our tactics.

Cyber partisans blocked Russian transports by hacking railway systems. Activists destroy Russian military equipment. Citizens, very often, mere teenagers, report the positions and moves of Russian troops in Belarus – those who are caught are tortured in prisons.

Our real heroes – Belarusian railway workers. Just two days ago, completely disrupted the railway connection between Belarus and Ukraine so that trains with Russian equipment could not be transferred to Ukraine.

It is crucial for us to let Ukrainians and the whole world know – Belarusians stand with Ukraine, while our country is under occupation.

Belarusians also fight for their freedom and their future. Both on Belarus and Ukraine’s territory. A Belarus battalion named after Kastus Kalinouski was formed to defend Kyiv, 200 people are already fighting and 300 are being trained. One of our compatriots lost his leg near Bucha. Two other young men have been killed. Our medics work there as well. And 2 weeks ago we agreed with Minister Baerbok that Germany will provide Belarusians medics with a field hospital. Our independent journalists work in Ukraine.

Seeing what the Russian tyrant is doing to our sister-nation, Ukraine, all Belarusians are shaken. 

Belarus has lived too long outside the geopolitics, making no choice or not willing to make one. The war pushed Belarusians to come to this choice.

Belarusians in Belarus are united in support of Belarusian independence and opposition to the war. Even before the war started, only 11% of Belarusians agreed that our soldiers should be sent to Ukraine to support Russia, according to polls from Chatham House. Now there is only 3 percent of them. Even Lukashenka’s supporters are against war. We're hearing reports of discontent among the nomenklatura and the army. People understand they don't want Belarus to become a pariah like Russia.

Perhaps, this is the reason why Belarusian regular troops refused to cross the Belarus-Ukrainian border. Notice that Belarusians are fleeing for Europe, not Russia. Europe means safety for them, Russia means war. We see the spark of pro-European moods among Belarusians, and this inspires me a lot.

The main lesson all of us should learn: dictators can't be reeducated, and definitely not appeased. The tyrant Lukashenka enjoys his personal impunity, and believe me, he will try to fool you again and pretend to be a peacekeeper.

Lithuania understands it better than anyone else does, and sounds the alarm for the whole world. Ačiu, draugai! We watch with admiration how your diplomacy is advocating in the rest of Europe for harsher sanctions against Kremlin and Lukashenka’s regime. Your support, Lithuania, stretches out now not only to our fight for democracy but to our fight for sovereignty itself and for our European choice. And we urge other states to follow your example. We are all in the same boat, after all.

There are several steps I ask you to take to support this cause.

I call on you to make a determination that Belarus is a country under de-facto occupation and demand that Russia withdraw its forces from Belarus respecting the constitutional clause on the pursuit of neutrality. We need to stop this shameful participation in the aggression against Ukraine that threatens the interests of entire Europe.

I call on you to stop recognizing the regime in Minsk as legitimate or legal. Its full derecognition is long overdue. The new ambassadors to Minsk should not present credentials to Lukashenka. Moreover we need to suspend him from Interpol and all international organizations.

I advocate for sanctions on Putin’s regime to be applied to Lukashenka’s clique. Belarusian state banks should be disconnected from the SWIFT network and imports from state enterprises should be banned. We need to make sure that Russian companies and banks do not use Belarus as a loophole. It is already happening. Half-measures do not work, they only make things worse.

On the other hand, we ask democratic governments to recognize democratic Belarus, and support those who fight for freedom and independence.

I also ask you to support Belarusian media, volunteers, and human rights defenders, working from Minsk, Vilnius, Warsaw, Kyiv. Belarusian civil society now helps Ukraine. Human rights defenders like Viasna. Activists, solidarity funds like BySol and Сountry For Life. Media like BelSat. All of them are constantly working to debunk Russian fakes, helping the refugees, and assisting Belarusian soldiers who don’t want to take part in it.  I ask you to support initiatives popularizing Belarus culture, language, history – everything that strengthens Belarusian national identity. Ukraine is an example of how important it is to strengthen a unifying national identity – they are invincible and demonstrate incredible resilience in the face of terror.

The success of Ukraine in defending its independence and freedom is our common interest. We all can make a difference starting today. In Belarus, in Ukraine, in Europe. To help Ukraine, more needs to be done to bring change in Belarus.

Just like Kastus Kalinouski 160 years ago, today in Belarus, prisons are full of freedom fighters. One of them, my husband Siarhei Tsikhanuouski, sends poems and letters to us here, in freedom. His recent poem ends with a reference to the old Biblical wisdom: Faith without works is dead.

His message to the fighting Belarusians is that faith in our cause dictates us to be free and – consequently – to fight for freedom. Otherwise, faith is dead.

Let me re-address his message to you, people who have the power to stop tyranny: faith without works is dead.

Is your faith alive?”