‘Belarus has woken up’, opposition leader Tikhanovskaya tells EU lawmakers

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (on screens) speaks in video conference as Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament holds an extraordinary meeting on the political situation in Belarus in Brussels, Belgium, 25 August 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The protests to unseat Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko are neither pro- nor anti-Russian but a democratic revolution “for the right of the people to decide their own destiny,” the leader of the protests told an extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee on Tuesday (25 August).

“This peaceful revolution is not about geopolitics. It is neither a pro-Russian revolution nor a contra-Russian revolution. It is neither a pro-European nor an anti-European revolution,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told MEPs via video link from exile in Vilnius, Lithuania. She urged MEPs to continue their support for what she called Belarus’ “democratic revolution.”

“It is … a strive by Belarusians fighting for the possibility of democratic and free elections and for making decisions by themselves,” she told EU lawmakers on the AFET committee.

Tikhanovskaya said the goal of the Belarusian opposition is to hold new elections, which the activists intend to achieve through dialogue for which the opposition is ready to nominate negotiators to discuss the situation with the current authorities under the auspices of international organisations.

“Belarus has woken up. We are the majority now. This is not a geopolitical but a democratic revolution, for the right of people to decide their own destiny,” she added.

On 19 August, the Coordination Council created by the Belarusian opposition announced it will seek a solution to the political crisis through dialogue with the authorities, renunciation of violence against protesters and the release of all political prisoners, as well as new elections.

President Alexander Lukashenko had accused the Council of attempting to seize power and the authorities then opened a criminal case against its creation.

“Despite the peaceful protest, the government is trying to prevent it by force. This is taking place in the centre of Europe,” Tikhanovskaya warned.

In the wake of a violent crackdown on protests by state security forces, the EU had signalled its full support for the Belarusian people and a peaceful transition of power.

During an extraordinary summit last week, EU leaders said they do not recognise the results of the Belarus elections and the bloc is set to impose targeted sanctions on those involved in electoral fraud and repression of the protests that followed.

Crisis in Belarus not geopolitical, EU leaders say after 3-hour summit

EU leaders made it clear following a 3-hour long online summit on the situation in Belarus on Wednesday (19 August) that the crisis following the controversial elections was not a geopolitical one and that it should not antagonise Russia.

A legal process was started by EU foreign ministers on 14 August to draw up a list of targets in Belarus for a new round of sanctions in response to Lukashenko’s post-election crackdown, likely to be further discussed in an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin.

The EEAS, the EU’s diplomatic arm, had been tasked with preparing EU sanctions against those responsible for violence and falsification of election results and “the idea [sanctions] is, of course, to take a decision on this very very soon”, the head of EU foreign service, Helga Schmid, confirmed during the meeting.

However, although Schmid confirmed EU foreign ministers would discuss the sanctions list in Berlin, it remains unclear whether they will agree on its final form.

Schmid also suggested that the EU will need to conduct a wider review of relations with Belarus inside the Eastern Partnership on how to support the country and its civil society.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell is prepared to visit Belarus to help find a solution to the unrest in the country, Schmid said, but for the time being, the focus is on the proposal by the OSCE.

Belarus “not about a binary choice between the West and Russia,” Schmid told EU lawmakers. “There are no EU flags flying at the demonstrations and we must take this into account when considering what the EU can do.”

Last week, European Parliament group leaders called on the EU to appoint a ‘special representative’ for Belarus to support the country’s peaceful transition of power.

MEPs across the board welcomed the decision to roll out sanctions, with some of them emphasising the EU’s need for the conclusion of an EU-style Magnitsky Act under Germany’s EU presidency, while others called for greater scrutiny on how the Commission’s recently announced financial support package for Belarus will be spent.

“Our message is very clear, we do not recognise the elections in Belarus; We support the demand of the Belarusian people for organising new and free elections, under the supervision of independent observers,” said the AFET committee chair David McAllister (EPP).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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