Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s Heat Level: a heated pre-electoral environment that will persist.

  • + Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 with a silenced opposition.
  • + Hope has arrived in Belarus with Tikhanovskaya’s presidential candidature.
  • + She has surprised many with her strong opposition movement. 
Source: International Business Times

Why is Tikhanovskaya’s heat level hot?

Answer: She has managed to galvanize and strengthen a disorganised opposition movement in the entire Belarusian territory. 

On the 9th of June 2020, Belarusian presidential elections took place. A lot of controversy surrounds the electoral appointment. Protesters took to the streets of Belarus as a sign of outrage they felt after the announcement of Lukashenko, the current president’s, victory. The police and the military were present all day and tried to curb demonstrations by using violence – leaving several injured and a citizen killed. 

The pre-electoral has been especially dramatic for the opposition since its leaders have been subject to political persecution and imprisonment. For months, demonstrations against Alexandr Lukashenko’s candidature and government have been held, nourishing an atmosphere of tension and unpredictability. 

Lukashenko’s regime started in 1994, and since then he has managed – with the support of the military – to keep his political opposition muted. Current elections weren’t an exception, and opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and bloggers have been persecuted

But, since the eruption of Tikhanovskaya in the presidential race, Lukashenko’s electoral support has bottomed out – even though he was expected to win elections. 

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s triumph has been the one attracting a huge crowd in her presidential tour among national regions. A crowd that reached 10,000 people in Gomel, its highest level of attendance in decades. 

She had more weight than expected in the electoral race and is still in the spotlight. Tikhanovskaya was underestimated by Lukashenko and, despite not having reached a better electoral result – in elections with no guarantee of independence – she has opened the door for an alternative future – a democratic Belarus. 

Who is changing Tikhanovskaya’s temperature?

Answer: The Belarusian citizens who did not have a real alternative to Lukashenko’s regime and her colleagues, Kolesnikova and Tsepkalo.

The movement against the Lukashenko mandate was organized and became more effective thanks to the actions taken by Tikhanovskaya. A woman, who months ago was not involved in politics, accompanied by two other women, is becoming the voice of the opposition. And the citizens are showing their support for her.  

After the elections of last Sunday, thousands of Tikhanovskaya’s supporters took to the streets of Minsk against the election results. This was surprising considering the warning Lukashenko gave the same day stating that “if you’re going to go against our country, or even in the smallest way try to plunge the country into chaos and destabilise it, you will receive an immediate response from me”. 

Several attempts to ending Lukashenko’s power have been recorded since the 2000s, but they cannot be compared with Tikhanovskaya’s success. In her own words, what Lukashenko forgot when arresting her husband is that behind every strong man, there’s a woman just as strong. 

With the blazing support of Belarus’ citizens, a few brave journalists, and the backup of the male candidates to the presidency that have been arrested and persecuted, Tikhanovskaya has the power to agglomerate the resources needed to undertake a campaign that reaches the whole country through resources that otherwise would have been fragmented. 

Apart from Belarusians and NGOs monitoring Human Rights, the main political leaders from the European Union seems to have awakened a bit too late. The EU did not send international observers, nor officially positioned itself in favour of any candidate. After the protests that took place in Minsk, EU leaders tweeted their support to Belarusian citizens. Furthermore, there has been a call for EU action to the events in Belarus. 

What is driving Tikhanovskaya?

Answer: Her pursuit of justice in a corrupt system that preserves Lukashenko’s power and jails opposition leaders, such as her husband. 

Lukashenko is considered the last dictator of Europe. He has managed to remain in power for decades and has established a system in Belarus that is similar to the one of the Soviet Union. His regime doesn’t allow independent polls and targets everyone and everything that may be considered as a threat to his interests. 

Tikhanovskaya is a former English teacher who lives in that dictatorship, and who has seen her rights violated. Her husband was arrested for becoming part of Lukashenko’s regime opposition. 

She wants justice and in case she won the elections, she would have managed to celebrate democratic elections to the Parliament with all the candidates that want to be elected. In other words – fair elections with democratic guarantees. 

Tikhanovskaya is driven by a sense of duty to protect the oppressed citizens of Belarus – the ones that, such as her husband, have been silenced by Lukashenko. She is not looking for a political career nor power, but to be the door needed to change towards a democratic Belarus. 

Moreover, she has stated that she is willing to continue supporting her husband’s cause and to protect her children from an autocratic government. After years of living under an oppressed political system, she has felt that there is a lot to do in order to end Lukashenko’s term in office. Besides, as a woman committed to human rights, she was looking for a brighter future for Belarus. 

Even though she was not victorious in the elections, her will to democratize Belarus has developed a collective movement that might change Belarusian politics soon. Why? International media has echoed the violence inflicted upon Belarusian citizens on the election day. Furthermore, the EU leaders have spoken out and are probably going to take action. What is clear is that Tikhanovskaya has won the support of the international media, and has shown the world the fraud and corruption in the Belarusian elections. But the future is uncertain, and she better keep herself safe in Lithuania, where she fled after the second night of protests in Belarus.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: This can mean a lot for silenced citizens and women afraid to speak out against injustices.

For decades, Lukashenko has absorbed the powers of Belarus. His mandate has been characterised by several arrestments, persecution to the opposition, and lack of independent media and free information. Moreover, opinion polls not controlled by the State are banned in the country. 

Europe’s last dictator is still in power, a concerning situation for the European Union – especially its East Member States – and Russia. A breeze of democratization was felt in the whole continent, as Tikhanovskaya’s support increased in the streets of Belarus. But nobody could expect a victory for the opposition in elections that didn’t even allow observers. 

The situation in Belarus concerns all of Europe, and its government decisions and politics do have an impact on strategic aspects for the EU and Russia. Energy supply, migration movements, security in the frontiers, are among many issues that must be taken into account. Besides, the EU, in accordance with its values, will find it difficult to allow a dictatorship in its immediate neighbourhood. 

As for us, citizens of the world, the actions taken by Tikhanovskaya are an example of resilience and commitment to democracy. Perhaps, everything stated above could lead to a change of regime in Belarus. Perhaps, it is the start of a wave of democratization in other autocratic States. Perhaps, it is a step further towards a more peaceful and respectful world. 

Claudia María Yáñez Sangil

Research and Analysis Intern