EU sanctions on authoritarian leaders can help democratic oppositions

Democratic opposition in Belarus wins Sakharov Prize. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, now the leading representative of the democratic opposition in Belarus, says the EU can do more

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, pictured above, has become a leading figure in the Belarus protests fighting for free and fair elections. Photo: European Parliament
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, pictured above, has become a leading figure in the Belarus protests fighting for free and fair elections. Photo: European Parliament

The 2020 Sakharov Price for Freedom of Thought is being awarded to the democratic opposition in Belarus. Opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addressed a press webinar today with the European Parliament's standing rapporteur on Belarus Petras Auštrevičius, where she offered insight on the current situation in Belarus and where the EU could do more. 

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for the 2020 Belarusian presidential election in place of her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, expressed how grateful Belarus is for the support and assistance offered by the EU, but she did not hesitate to remark that more can be done, especially in terms of sanctions. 

“The EU needs to put more pressure on the regime. When protests broke out after the 2010 election roughly 600 demonstrators were detained and the EU placed 150 persons on the sactions list. Since this year’s election, 32,000 people have been detained, and no more than 100 persons were put on a sanction list,” she said. 

Tsikhanouskaya said that a third package of sanctions will be announced tomorrow, but only 29 people will be added through this round of sanctions. “It doesn’t sound like a serious effort from the EU,” she said. “For Belarusians the EU holds huge power, and people feel abandoned by the EU. We’re no longer asking; we’re demanding that you pay more attention to Belarus.” 

She emphasised that support from the EU does not have to equate to interference in Belarusian affairs. “The Kremlin showed support for Lukashenko, and now people are disappointed. We want to decide everything ourselves – the EU never intervened, we’re only asking for support of human rights,” she said. 

Dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”, Alexander Lukashenko has been the head of state in Belarus since 1994, enjoying a relatively unchallenged reign spanning five elections. However, his poor handling of the pandemic this year has allowed public opposition to gain traction, with protests reaching a boiling point when Lukashenko was declared winner of this year’s election on August 10. 

“He’s illegitimate in the eyes of the Belarusian people – they won’t forget the crimes he committed against his people,” Tsikhanouskaya said. 

Belarus’s borders are set to close on December 21 following claims by government officials that neighbours are trying to destabilise the country. “It feels like a sign that violence will escalate. We are always afraid that violence will escalate. People are suffering, and there is always this fear that he will be more and more cruel to his own people,” she said. 

On being awarded the Sakharov Prize, she expressed her gratitude and noted the importance of winning the award. “This fight is important for our country, but it also serves as inspiration for the whole world to see our courage and will to create change. Belarus appreciates the prize, and I’m grateful.” 

Standing rapporteur Petras Auštrevičius paid tribute to all representatives of the Belarusian opposition, saying that they represent the future of democracy in Belarus. “Awarding the Sakharov prize to these representatives shows our commitment in the fight for democracy and basic freedoms within our neighbourhood. They want to live the European life, and what more can we do than offer a hand and help,” he said.


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