Spring is starting, and street protests will grow again.

Interview with Svetlana Tichanowskaja

Deutsche Übersetzung. Mehr...



 How do we have to imagine your life in exile? Do you have some sort of office, staff, advisers? How is the interest of governments, mass media in your work?

There is an office and a compact but highly productive team, covering functions in domestic politics, communications, foreign affairs. Governments, media, NGOs, international organizations and academic institutions demonstrate a very high and ever-growing level of interest in our work.

Do you have contact with your husband? The arrest of him was one of the reasons that protests started in Belarus.

We communicate through a lawyer. Unfortunately, direct communications are not allowed.  Sergei's arrest was one of the many reasons for the protests. The main reason is the disrespect and disregard of the authorities in relation to people. Lukashenko did not take any measures in spring to save people from the coronavirus pandemic. The Belarusians themselves organized assistance to doctors, they themselves made protective equipment for doctors, sewed maxi and dressing gowns, donated money for these purposes.

It was during this period that they demonstrated high abilities for self-organization and solidarity with each other, learned to receive real information - it was at this time that a huge number of people became subscribers of Telegram channels and other independent social networks.

As a result, people united and, in spite of the fact that many candidates ended up behind bars and were not allowed to attend the elections, people voted against Lukashenko.

Do you have contact with opposition within your country, how do you communicate and coordinate?

On a daily basis, me personally and my team communicate with grassroot movement inside Belarus and with Belarusian democratic forces that have been forced to leave the country and operate from the outside. Also, I would like to underscore here that we are the majority and do not consider ourselves opposition. This conviction – that we are the majority and that the victory was stolen from people – is a driving force of people’s demands to conduct new elections.

We have see films of mass protests in Minsk. Nearly two third of the population live in smaller towns and the countryside. Does opposition have some stronghold there? Is there any network, organization?

According to estimates by independent observers, literally every small town has at least one new community group established by people on their own, without any help or guidance from Minsk or from existing civil society or political forces. And this is one of the defining traits of the protest movement that it is not confined to the capital only and has a broad representation across the country. 

We know form peaceful revolution in former GDR. People are united against an immoral system, but soon they split in several divisions. Does opposition in Belarus have any common agenda?

Unity is absolutely crucial to our joint success. In February, I released a strategy for common victory that was discussed with all major political forces in Belarus. We had taken into account the feedback and made sure the approach is inclusive and reflective of the diversity in the protest movement. All initiatives and plans adopted and implemented by various centers of activity follow the strategy and advance our cause in the same direction. On a daily basis, we are in communications with all forces, coordinating and supporting each other’s plans and actions.

Einigkeit ist absolut wichtig für einen gemeinsamen Erfolg! Im Februar habe ich eine Strategie für einen gemeinsamen Sieg veröffentlicht, der mit allen wesentlichen politischen Kräften in Belarus diskutiert worden ist. Wir haben das Feedback berücksichtigt und sicher gestellt, dass unser Ansatz alle mitnimmt (inclusive) und die Verschiedenheit (diversity) der Protestbewegung berücksichtigt. Alle Initiativen und Pläne, die an verschiedenen Zentren von Aktivitäten beschlossen oder umgesetzt werden, folgen dieser Strategie und treiben unser gemeinsames Anliegen in der gleichen Richtung voran. Täglich kommunizieren wir mit allen Kräften und koordinieren und unterstützen gegenseitig unsere Vorhaben und Aktionen.

A quote of yours about the end of street-demonstrations, translated into German, was confusing some people. What do you really mean? Is there the end of so far protest-forms, will there be other forms?

I said that at the moment - in winter - the street protest has decreased significantly.

But the protest has never stopped. Protesters had to evolve and adapt to raging violence and repressions of the regime which has been determined to push people out of streets and destroy any visual presence on the streets. But a huge number of Belarusians continue protesting daily in a variety of forms that are safer but still demonstrate to the regime that people are not giving up and they are the force to reckon with. Besides street marches, people are displaying national colors wherever possible, some avoid buying state produced goods and services, withdraw deposits from state owned banks putting additional pressure on the financial system.

And now spring is starting, and I think street protests will grow again. We will soon see how it will be in reality.

How stable is the governing system? Will we see changes?

We know from our contacts with those who are still in public service that the system has been increasingly struggling. The economy is very weak and does not have any resources to grow, armed forces are under pressure to fight civilians, foreign policy has completely collapsed. The only asset Lukashenko still has is propaganda as well as law enforcement who are actually unhappy that they are being abused to keep Lukashenko in power at the cost of their reputation. We see a growing number of leaks from the system reporting about absurdity, sloppiness and criminal orders.

There is the idea of negociations with government. Are there any preconditions?

The main precondition is to recognize that Belarus is in crisis and it is deepening. The regime is trying desperately to create a perception that it has taken situation under control. But the reality is that the protests continue on a daily basis, people are not giving up in their demand of democratic change and the standoff between the society and the regime is getting more entrenched. As a step to show that his intentions are serious, the regime must stop the violence and release political prisoners. The main issues that must be resolved in negotiation is to create conditions and conduct free and fair elections under international observation.

What kind of support do you expect of German government and civil society?

Human rights defenders, independent media, community groups, people who have been repressed need material support. In terms of foreign policy, we expect that Germany will put more pressure on the regime to start negotiations with the society to resolve the crisis. The pressure could be on the national level, through EU, in the international organizations – OCSE, UN, Council of Europe. Germany can do more to rally other nations within EU and outside to coordinate policies to make them more impactful. The most important thing is that Germany stays consistent with its own policies and implements its own measures until regimes meets the objectives – stops violence, releases political prisoners and embarks on the transition period leading to free and fair elections under international observation with credible results recognized by Belarusians. 

What about your own future. When do you think, you could return from Exile to Belarus.

I would go to Belarus on any given day to take my children home and to reunite with my husband. As soon as the safety and security conditions are there, I will return to Belarus. My ultimate objective is to bring Belarus to elections. The path to this point will help me determine my own next step.