Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on the European Union to do more to help Belarusians, whom she called 'forgotten Europeans,' in their fight for freedom.
In an address to the European Parliament on November 24, Tsikhanouskaya urged the bloc to slap more sanctions on the regime of longtime authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and emphasized that the ongoing migrant crisis along her country's border with three EU member states -- Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania -- shows that the struggle for freedom in Belarus is linked with the fight for freedom in Europe in general.
Speaking to Current Time after her speech, Tsikhanouskaya praised the bloc for its 'very courageous' efforts to punish Lukashenka, but called sanctions so far imposed 'leaky.'
She urged the EU to take 'more decisive actions' to increase pressure 'on the enterprises that have been monopolized by Lukashenka and his family,' and step up assistance to civil society in Belarus.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Tsikhanouskaya was the main opposition candidate in the disputed August 2020 presidential election, which handed longtime authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term as president.
The opposition and the West have refused to recognize the results and have called for a new, independently monitored vote.
Following the election, mass protests broke out against the alleged fraud; the demonstrations were met by a brutal crackdown by the Lukashenka regime. Fearing for the safety of her family, Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus and currently lives in Lithuania.
Tsikhanouskaya told the European Parliament that the number of political prisoners in her country is currently 882 -- as she put it, 'more than the members of this chamber assembled here today.'
She also said that the thousands of migrants from the Middle East and other countries trapped on the border between Belarus and the EU's eastern border have become Lukashenka's 'hostages,' thus joining the 9 million Belarusians who she said are hostages of the regime.
Tsikhanouskaya said that if the EU chooses to 'avoid confrontation with a bully, it will only make the inevitable showdown much more costly and dangerous.'
She cautioned the West about the continued threat that the Lukashenka regime would pose to the rest of Europe even in case the migrant crisis is being somehow resolved.
'But do you really suppose it will stop there? We are already seeing how dangerous a regime like this can be to its neighbors. Lithuania and Poland are facing the biggest test of their border security... Supposing this abuse of migrants is somehow stopped, do you really believe the regime's threats beyond its borders will end there? Increases in the flow of smuggled drugs and other contraband? A military provocation?...None of this is just my imagination. These are threats that the regime itself has made. Whatever it takes to get what it wants,' Tsikhanouskaya warned.
Tsikhanouskaya challenged the 27-member bloc 'to have the courage to take decisive action now' and come to the aid of her fellow Belarusians.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya: 'What can the European Union really say to the people of Belarus -- to the forgotten Europeans -- who want the same things the rest of Europe enjoys?'
'What can the European Union really say to the people of Belarus -- to the forgotten Europeans -- who want the same things the rest of Europe enjoys? Perhaps we have no right to demand your help or support. Perhaps you may refuse us because it may contradict your national interest. Or perhaps it's bad for your businesses,' Tsikhanouskaya said.
Tsikhanouskaya also called on the EU to continue to refuse to recognize the authoritarian who has run the country since 1994 as the president of Belarus.
She criticized Western media outlets such as Deutsche Welle and BBC for calling Lukashenka 'president.'
'Today not only democracy in Belarus but also democracy in Europe depends on whether we will walk this path together and overcome these obstacles together. It is time to show that European values are and will continue to be our greatest source of strength -- the only solid foundation for peace and prosperity. I am here today to invite you to walk that path with us,' Tsikhanouskaya said.
Speaking to Current Time, the opposition leader said that her understanding of the fifth round of EU sanctions currently under discussion won't include measures against 'those enterprises that provide real assistance to the regime inside the country,' adding, 'It remains to be seen.'
She declined to name individual companies but cited 'oil factories, potash-fertilizer factories, nitrogen factories, transport companies, [and] wood-processing [companies].'
Tsikhanouskaya also said new entities quickly arise to bypass such sanctions and other countries step in to supply substitute goods.
Tsikhanouskaya also said she was 'extremely surprised' by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's calls with Lukashenka over the border crisis and at Lukashenka's claim, unchallenged by Berlin, that Merkel had addressed him as 'Mr. President.'
She said she 'understood why this had been done from her point of view.'
Tsikhanouskaya added: 'But from my point of view as a Belarusian, with thousands of people in my country now being exposed to the most horrifying conditions in prisons where they are tortured and humiliated every day, this [phone call] was something incomprehensible, because for more than a year now, the European Union has been pursuing the policy of nonrecognition of Lukashenka as legitimate, and they have not stepped back from their strategy."
"Well, such a phone call was very unexpected and strange,' she said.
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036