Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya shared about her life abroad and protests
11 September 2020, 22:01 | Adarya Gushtyn, TUT.BY
On 11 September Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya turned 38 years old. She says that this year she spent her birthday working. We talked with Sviatlana about the changes in her life over the past month, what she thinks about Alexander Lukashenko’s reluctance to give up power, and what she misses most about her life in Belarus.
Sviatlana, please share how your life has changed recently. Not only did you leave for another country, now you meet with high level officials on a regular basis. Is this something you are accustomed to?
Well, not really! Everything has changed, now I have a lot of work. I have to learn a lot and very quickly, make important decisions – this is not something I used to do in my everyday life. But thanks to my wonderful team, to the incredible support of the Belarusian people, I realize that we are working towards the same goal – a better future for our country. And I make all of my decisions with that in mind.
How do you feel when people call you the President?
At this point it is still unusual to hear, but I understand that based on the election results I am indeed. And I realize that when I am addressed like this, people really mean it, no one is joking around. It is a huge responsibility.
Have you managed to reunite with your family? After all, your children were forced to go abroad?
Yes, I’m with my kids now. And I have been with them since my arrival (in Vilnius. – Note by TUT.BY). My children did not see me for a little less than a month. Of course, they missed me, because before all of this I used to be with them all the time, we never separated for more than half a day. For the children it was an adventure and new emotions – this helped them not to miss me as much. Everything is fine now, and I am very happy that we are together. A lot of things trouble me, but the fact that my children are with me is the most important thing.
Do you get news from Siarhei only through his lawyer?
Yes, all the information I have is from his lawyers. While I was here, I asked for my mail to be picked up from home, and a letter from Siarhei written on 20 July was photographed and forwarded to me. This is how long it takes for letters to make it to an addressee. He writes that he supports me, misses me a lot, sends greetings to everyone and believes in Belarusian people. He is confident that we will succeed. It can’t be otherwise! Siarhei’s letters are usually very cordial.
It has become a habit for Belarusians to wake up in the morning and check in the news about who was detained today. And this, of course, affects the mood in the society – from joy after the Sunday marches to complete despair after all the detentions. And in what mood are you in at this point?
Same as the rest of the people. When I read bad news, it seems to me that we haven’t done enough, and we need to push harder. And then I see that people are happy, come up with new forms of protest, unite, and I get excited with them – I realize yet again that no one gives up, everything is fine. When I am interviewed by foreign media, they tell me that protests are on decline in Belarus, but more than ever people are taking to the streets on the weekends. I believe in Belarusian people, just as Belarusians believed in me. We know what we want. We can no longer live the life we had before the elections. We will never be able to accept this government again, no matter what the cost is, no matter how long it takes. Of course, I want this to be over with, I want for the people to be free, to hold new elections, start modernizing Belarus, but we are ready to fight as long as it is needed, and I am sure the Belarusians feel the same way.
You do realize that people can’t protest forever, don’t you? Sooner or later people will get exhausted.
People may get a little tired, but at this point they will not be able to put up with the current government. And they are well aware that it is all up to them now. We must continue to fight together. I believe in people, I believe that this cannot be stopped. Protests may take new forms, and this is already happening. Good example are the flags that are being hung on the houses. The flags are being removed, but people hang them up again. It costs a lot of money to get the equipment there to take down a flag, and this all gets paid for with our tax money. People can’t socialize in the evenings when they gather outside, riot police officers keep showing up. But nevertheless, people stay united and go out. With the start of the school year, students have also been actively involved. This is tug of war type of situation. I believe in Belarusians, we will win regardless.
What do you think about Lukashenko’s statement “the power is not given, so one can take, abandon and give it away”?
It is hard to comment on most of his statements. No one gave him power, he was elected to this office to work for people. People once chose him, for some time they wanted him to leave this office, but by 2020 Belarusians finally woke up to the reality. Who will he not give up his power to? To the people, who should already have that very power according to our Constitution? He does not own this country, and we are not his slaves. It is not expected that he relinquishes his power – it is not how it should work. He is to hand over his responsibilities to another person. People don’t want him as a president anymore.
Many people were taken by the news about what Maria Kolesnikova did to stay in Belarus. When she tore up her passport, she knew that she would end up behind bars, and this is what really happened. What are your thoughts about what she did?
I think this was very brave of her. There are probably only a few people in Belarus who would do the same under such circumstances. Anyone who has been subjected to this type of pressure, who has been in this type of situation, would understand how difficult it is not to leave. But Maria did it, she broke the system. It’s quite an eccentric thing to do, it’s so like her, she is just amazing! We should all be proud of her.
Today only one member of the National Coordination Council, Svetlana Alexievich, remains in Belarus and is not detained, but for health reasons, she was not actively involved in the work of the Council. How will the Council be further represented in Belarus?
Correct, few members of the Council remain out of prison, but not a single person withdrew their membership from the Council. We are discussing how we will proceed further. There might be a need to elect a new council.
Today many people come to protest not so much because of the elections, but because of the brutality of the government security forces. During his interview with Russian journalists, Lukashenko mentioned that it might be worth “turning this page”. Is this possible in your opinion?
Lukashenko has his own book, the pages of which he turns, and we have our own. We will never turn this page, this one has turned into a title page, because people will neither forget nor forgive these atrocities. It was a huge mistake on the part of the government to commit this cruelty. Indeed, people came out to protect their votes. But such demonstrations probably wouldn’t have happened just because of the elections. Now most of them take it to the streets because they are outraged by the torture. These three days of atrocities is the worst thing that the authorities could allow to happen. They thought that this would suppress protests, but they made people even angrier and convinced them that they need to fight this, because otherwise we will mean nothing to this government. We’ll neither forget nor forgive this. And the fact that not a single criminal case has been initiated so far is outrageous. The authorities can “turn the pages” as much as they want, but people will seek justice. And if the authorities do nothing, international institutions will be involved.
You have been living in another country for almost a month. What do you miss most about your life in Belarus?
I don’t quite feel like at home. Talking about personal things, at home I feel closer to my husband. Of course, he gets support, care packages, but when I am closer to him, I feel more comfortable. Standing at the prison, I always felt a little closer to my husband. Also, I wish I could have felt the atmosphere at the demonstrations. When I watched them from here, it seemed to me that people were going there, and they were scared. But the participants told me that when they walked in a crowd of one hundred thousand people, all they felt is happiness. Of course, I would have liked to experience this. I really miss my Motherland. I know it might sound pretentious. I really do want to go home and hope that very soon I and all those people that were forced to leave will have this opportunity. We have no other choice but to win – too many people are looking forward to returning home.