US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and promised “to continue efforts to stand with the Belarusian people and their aspirations for human rights, democracy, and their broader Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” The meeting happened in the context of yet another series of crackdowns on the democratic opposition by the Lukashenka regime. In a press statement, the State Department has called on Belarus authorities to release the political prisoners and engage in dialogue with the civil society.
NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly interviewed Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Washington before she met with the US officials. Tsikhanouskaya offered a brief explanation of her agenda for the US trip, her previous efforts with the European leaders and the scale or repressions in Belarus. Tsikhanouskaya urged the US to stand together with the EU in imposing strict financial and political sanctions on the Lukashenka regime as the only way to improve the situation. The move is supposed to make the interactions with the regime costly for any country, particularly Russia.
Labeling Belarus' civil society as “bandits and foreign agents,” Lukashenka is determined to finish the “mop up” of NGOs and independent journalist organizations deemed as “harmful to the state” and “brainwashed” by Western money. The Viasna human rights center says the country’s law enforcement agencies have conducted more than 200 searches of offices and apartments of journalists and activists so far this month.
In this editorial opinion, the Washington Post continues to draw the White House’s attention to the visit of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The newspaper argues the politician’s visit to the US is of enormous symbolic significance to the Biden administration. Engaging with Tsikhanouskaya will allow the president to act on his promise to support democracy worldwide at a time when U.S. democracy is itself in a precarious state.
The key to a free Belarus lies in a clear and principled stand that Western partners need to take against the dictatorship. So far, the response from the West has lacked real political will and unity. Both the EU and the US need to end the practice of “incremental” sanctions and announce comprehensive measures, thus sending a clear signal to Lukashenka and Putin.
Repressions in Belarus
As the raids against the independent journalists and NGOs continue, most human rights activists agree that it may lead to the complete purge of the civil society in Belarus. The raids have touched all corners of civil society, from groups that campaign for political prisoners’ rights to those that crowdfund medical care and have helped medics in the fight against coronavirus.
PEN Belarus received a liquidation notice from the Belarus Ministry of Justice inviting PEN representatives to a hearing that was supposed to take place two days prior. PEN Belarus is a member of PEN International association of professional writers, chaired by the Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich.
The exodus of IT companies from Belarus accelerates as neighboring countries are happy to welcome top-level high-tech talent with their open hands. Several companies already relocated their headquarters across the border. Many people are also fleeing, afraid of continued reprisal for criticizing the government or taking part in peaceful protests.
Belarus and US
During this week’s meeting with top US officials, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called for renewed determination in challenging the Lukashenka regime. Tsikhanouskaya proposed sectoral sanctions on government-controlled industries, claiming that the United States has a moral obligation to stand with Belarusians who are currently on “the front lines of this world struggle between autocracy and democracy.”
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, along with US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher, met with a US bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss the support for her vision of democracy in Belarus. Among other things, they discussed the Lukashenka regime’s shameful human rights record, rejection of the choice of the Belarusian voter, and recent crackdown on journalists.
Lithuanian embassy in the US hosted a celebration of the Launch of the bipartisan Friends of Belarus Caucus. According to Representative Bill Keating, the Friends of Belarus initiative group was created to support “the aspirations of the Belarusian people and to hold the Lukashenka regime accountable for human rights violations.”
Belarus and Europe
The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a strategic initiative with the goal to strengthen political and economic relations with the countries bordering the EU. On June 28th, the Lukashenka regime suspended the country’s membership in the initiative, undermining a wide range of bilateral agreements and cooperation mechanisms on issues of economics, security, and migration. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reacted to the move by saying that the suspension will “cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the outcomes of EaP,” noting that it has no long-term consequences for the country since Lukashenka has no right to represent it.
Lithuania’s president has signed into law a measure that restricts migrants' rights and speeds up the processing of asylum claims amid a flurry of illegal crossings into the EU country from Belarus. Almost 2,100 migrants have entered Lithuania from Belarus illegally this year, including 1,400 in the past month alone, a move seen as revenge after the latest European Union sanctions on Lukashenka’s repressive regime.
Belarus and Russia
World champion kickboxer Alyaksey Kudzin will be extradited to Belarus despite an earlier European Court of Human Rights opinion banning the verdict. The athlete, a known critic of the Lukashenka regime on social media, is accused of assaulting a security officer during pro-democracy protests. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison, with the possibility of torture accompanying the pre-trial detention and jail time.
During her meeting with the National Press Club, Tsikhanouskaya assured the audience that Belarus’ struggle for democracy will be a success story and urged the world leaders, including President Biden, to stand up “for human rights and the rule of law in the country.” The visit comes amid the sweeping crackdown on free press in Belarus, including radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya shares how she found the strength to challenge a dictator and carry on the fight, when her husband’s imprisonment thrusted her into the political spotlight.