Belarusian opposition figures win Charlemagne Prize

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Belarusian pro-democracy activists Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Veronika Zepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova were awarded this year’s Charlemagne Prize during a ceremony in the German city of Aachen on Thursday.

Tsikhanouskaya and Zepkalo are currently living in exile and were able to accept their awards in person. But Kolesnikova has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in Belarus, so her award was collected by her sister.

The prize has been awarded since 1950 and is named after medieval emperor Charlemagne, known historically as the “father of Europe.”  The prize recognizes work done in the service of European unification.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attended the ceremony, praising the three women as the “bravest women in Europe.”

The three women have become the face of Belarus’ opposition movement. Tsikhanouskaya was a political novice and stay-at-home mother of two when her husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who had launched a presidential campaign against Lukashenko, was arrested.

She took his place in the presidential election and is widely believed to have won the August 2020 vote, which Lukashenko claimed as his own victory.

(L-R, front) Sister of arrested Belarussian opposition politician Maria Kalesnikava, Tatsiana Khomich, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and Belarusian political activist Veronika Tsepkalo stand on the town hall balcony after receiving the Charlemagne medal during the Charlemagne Prize (Karlspreis) ceremony in Aachen, Germany, 26 May 2022. The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen is awarded annually since 1950 to people who have contributed to the ideals upon which Europe has been founded. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

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