By Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska
WARSAW (Reuters) – Exiled opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko met in Poland on Sunday, on the eve of the third anniversary of their unsuccessful post-election protests, to display unity and plan strategy including the issuance of “New Belarus” passports.
Set up in August 2022 by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the self-declared government-in exile has opened more than 20 alternative embassies and information centres abroad. Tsikhanouskaya, 40, a former English teacher who fled after running against Lukashenko in a 2020 vote critics called rigged, said the opposition would seek international recognition for the alternative passports.
Speaking at a hotel in Warsaw to several hundred activists, including independent media and civic groups, Tsikhanouskaya urged opposition forces abroad to unite and support the creation of a “New Belarus” movement.
“Unfortunately, the past three years have taught us to always prepare for the worst. We are used to the fact that the strongest desire is not enough to change a rotten system,” she said at the opposition’s second annual gathering after last year’s meeting in Lithuania. “We are used to the fact that due to the regime’s policy, our peaceful Belarus is today called an aggressor country – and put on the same level as Russia.”
Russia used ally Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion of Ukraine.
Tsikhanouskaya said the opposition was organising initiatives to promote Belarusian-language theatre, book printing and education.
“This allows us to preserve our identity – and to pass on our national values to the new generation of Belarusians,” Tsikhanouskaya said. Russia has long been the de facto first language, with use of Belarusian viewed by authorities as being pro-opposition. Protests over Lukashenko’s 2020 election win, which was officially a landslide, lasted for several months before being snuffed out by security forces, triggering a mass exodus of Belarusians.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron first since 1994, using security forces to intimidate, beat and jail his foes or force them to flee abroad. Tsikhanouskaya’s husband Syarhei Tsikhanouski has been in jail since 2020 after being barred from taking part in the election that his wife contested instead.
Photo: Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya . EPA-EFE/Piotr Nowak