Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya says it is only "a matter of time" until authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, steps aside.
In an interview with The New Yorker magazine published on December 13, Tsikhanouskaya, who refers to herself as the "leader of democratic Belarus," said that while the almost daily protests over the August 9 election results may lose some momentum during the winter, Lukashenka is "politically bankrupt" and eventually will fall.
"Whether it’s from economic pressure or something else, people will soon stop tolerating him. Yes, people are tired and maybe they will lay low through the winter, because it’s hard to be stomped into the dirt by the security forces and then be taken to jail all cold and wet. But in the spring, it’s going to flare up again," Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus for neighboring Lithuania fearing for the safety of her family, said in the interview conducted online via video.
“Every country has its own path to democracy...And this is ours.”
Several protesters have been killed and thousands arrested since authorities declared Lukashenka the landslide winner of the vote, a claim the opposition and many Western countries refuse to recognize because of alleged electoral fraud. There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Belarus's Interior Ministry announced on December 14 that a total of 271 people were detained at protests around the country the previous day.
Lukashenka, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for almost three decades, has refused to negotiate with the opposition.
Tsikhanouskaya emphasized that she and her team will do everything to attract world attention to the situation in Belarus, adding that many in her country "are disappointed" with the pace of the West’s reaction to the ongoing situation in her country.
"When I was just a regular person, I used to think that Europe was so close and so big, and its leaders so powerful that they would surely do something; they couldn’t stand idly by. Now I see that although they have been expressing their concern -- their solidarity -- there is nothing they can really do," Tsikhanouskaya said.
According to Tsikhanouskaya, whose supporters have insisted that she won the presidential poll, she and her team have been working on instituting economic sanctions against Lukashenka’s government for months, but "it’s all so slow and complicated."
"European leaders are treading carefully, always looking over their shoulders at Russia. For us, this is painful. Every time I meet with heads of state, I try to convey this pain. We try to tell them about the innocent people who have been locked up and about the humiliation they are being subjected to," Tsikhanouskaya said.
Moscow, which sees the country of 9.5 million as a security buffer against NATO, has lent its support to Lukashenka through statements and financial backing,
In response to the crackdown on protesters, the European Union and Western countries have imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka.
Tsikhanouskaya said that the West should broaden the sanctions to include individual officials in Belarus involved in the arrests -- which the opposition says top 30,000 -- torture, and killings of protesters.
"For now, sanctions apply only to highly placed officials who’ve faced sanctions before and have parked their money elsewhere and are generally prepared. But people lower down -- the principals of the schools where election results were falsified, the Interior Ministry troops whom we’ve been able to identify, heads of jails, hospital directors who fire doctors for speaking out -- they’ve never faced sanctions before. They may be doing all this out of fear that the state will pressure them or their families. But the risk that they would land on this sanction list and, say, get barred from taking a shopping trip to Poland or Lithuania could counterbalance that fear," Tsikhanouskaya said.
She also said that major industrial enterprises must face European Union sanctions as well in order to force Lukashenka's regime to be toppled, adding that more and more workers across Belarus have been joining national strikes.