German FM calls Belarus opposition leaders ‘Europe’s bravest women’

The three women were awarded the prize “in honour of their brave and empowering commitment against brutal state despotism, torture, suppression and human rights violations on the part of an authoritarian regime,” the award committee said. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

Belarusian opposition members Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo, and Maria Kalesnikava are “the bravest women in Europe,” said German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock as the three women were awarded the Charlemagne Prize on Thursday.

The three women were awarded the prize “in honour of their brave and empowering commitment against brutal state despotism, torture, suppression and human rights violations on the part of an authoritarian regime,” the award committee said.

While Tsikhanouskaya and Tsepkalo attended the ceremony in Aachen in person, Kalesnikava’s sister accepted the award on her behalf, as she remains detained in Belarus.

Baerbock, who gave the laudatory speech, said the three women were “role models for women everywhere in Europe” and called Kalesnikava’s detention a “blatant injustice.”

She also criticised Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for oppressing his own people and supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin in his war of aggression against Ukraine. “With this, with their inhuman cynicism, the Russian and Belorussian regimes are going against everything we stand for in Europe: peace, freedom, democracy, and human rights,” she said.

On the Ukraine war, Baerbock called for Germany to reorient its policy vis-a-vis Eastern Europe: “For the time being, we cannot talk about security with Russia – only safety from Russia,” she said.

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