Every day, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the 40-year-old leader of Belarus’s exiled opposition, tries to rally her camp against the man who, as she says, is “proud of being called ‘the last dictator in Europe,’” Alexander Lukashenko. Every day, he seems to ratchet up his regime’s campaign of repression, which—overshadowed by the war in Ukraine—goes largely unnoticed elsewhere in Europe.
For Tsikhanouskaya, the democratic movement’s struggle is also personal. One of the political prisoners in Belarus is her husband, Sergei Tikanhovsky. Tsikhanouskaya herself became Lukashenko’s chief political adversary in the 2020 presidential election when she took over leadership of the opposition election campaign from her husband, following his arrest—which prodemocracy activists saw as simply a tactic to remove him from the race.
Lukashenko was reelected in August, but the result was contested amid widespread claims of election fraud. The mass protests that ensued resulted in deadly violence from state security forces and thousands of arrests and detentions. The European Union imposed sanctions on Belarus for the election fraud and the violence against demonstrators.
After a brief spell of detention, Tsikhanouskaya was escorted by Belarusian security forces over the border and into exile in Lithuania. She continues to live there, with her and Tikanhovsky’s two children. She herself was charged with terrorism offenses in a Belarusian court, so she has no possibility of returning as long as the Lukashenko regime—which has become only more dependent on President Vladimir Putin’s Russia for support—endures.
Because of his Russian alliance, Lukashenko is under severe pressure from Putin to play a more active part in Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. In recent weeks, military analysts have noted a buildup of forces in Belarus that might presage a renewed assault over the border into northern Ukraine. [Continue reading…]