Minsk (dpa) – A year after mass protests began in Belarus against ruler Alexander Lukashenko, the opposition is ruling out new, larger actions. The price would be too high, says civil rights activist Swetlana Tichanowskaja of the German news agency.
“Anyone can go to jail for years, not 15 days.” However, society must continue to be mobilized without the masses taking to the streets.
“People’s safety must come first,” said the opposition leader, who now lives in exile in the EU country of Lithuania for fear of persecution. “There have been enough casualties, too many lives destroyed.” The trigger for the month-long mass protests was the presidential election, widely labeled as rigged, exactly one year ago, in which Lukashenko was confirmed by the electoral commission with 80.1 percent of the vote for a sixth term. Some demonstrations were brutally crushed.
According to human rights activists, there are currently more than 600 political prisoners in Belarus. The protests have not stopped, Tikhanovskaya said. “Demonstrations on the street are just part of the protest movement.” The strength is that the people of Belarus have not given up and the international community has mobilized.
Maas promises support
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas assured the democracy movement in Belarus of further aid in the resistance against Lukashenko. An entire country has been “held hostage” from the man, the SPD politician said, according to a Foreign Affairs report on Sunday. In view of the anniversary, he spoke of a “turning point in Belarusian history”.
Given the increasing repression in Belarus, the EU had threatened additional sanctions against Lukashenko. The US imposed numerous sanctions against the power apparatus in Minsk for serious human rights violations. However, so far the Belarusian government has not responded to demands for fair and free new elections and the release of the more than 600 political prisoners.
Foreign Minister Maas criticized peaceful civilians being tortured and driven into exile. He again emphasized that Lukashenko had lost all political and moral legitimacy. “That is why Germany and the European Union stand with the people of Belarus who are fighting for respect for fundamental democratic values and human rights.”
Foreign FDP politician Alexander Graf Lambsdorff called for EU sanctions against Lukashenko. “The regime in Minsk must be hit where it hurts Lukashenko and his accomplices,” Lambsdorff of the German news agency in Berlin said. The EU should therefore decide on an embargo against the potassium sector. Also consider an exclusion from the Swift payment system.
Tichanovskaya published minutes on her channel in the news service Telegram a year ago with the counting results of the vote, which showed her clear lead over Lukashenko. People should print out these documents and stickers and distribute them in their cities, she said. In addition, cards and letters were sent to the political prisoners to show their solidarity.
The EU no longer recognizes 66-year-old Lukashenko as president. Lukashenko brutally suppressed the peaceful mass protests that had lasted months after the elections, which were considered fake, in some cases. The demonstrations left several dead, hundreds injured and thousands arrested.
Lukashenko, backed by Russia and personally by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, repeatedly emphasizes that he has successfully suppressed the revolution in his country. State media celebrated the anniversary with a multi-part documentary as another victory for independence. They accused Lukashenko’s opponents of treason. Lukashenko claims that the revolution was initiated and financed by the West. Tikhanovskaya rejected this several times.
Lukashenko would speak on Monday on the anniversary of the elections. He had also recently announced a constitutional reform, including power-sharing. Experts see it more as an attempt by the politician, who has been labeled the “last dictator in Europe”, to stay in power. Tikhanovskaya also announced talks with citizens for the anniversary.