Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the undeclared winner of the Belarusian presidential election, was forced to flee the country on 11 August; that same day, Belarusian state TV broadcast a video where she asks her supporters to stop protesting the rigged election and accept Lukashenka's falsified victory. Photo: snapshot from video
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the unexpected challenger to Belarusian incumbent dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka, was forced to flee the country after two days of unprecedented protests against the rigged election that stole her victory. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted this morning that she is safely in Belarus, and later gave a press conference where he told that Tsiakhanouskaya hadn’t any other choice than to leave Belarus as she was pressured by the authorities, that the authorities helped her leave the country, and that she was safely reunited with her children, who were already in Lithuania.
— Linas Linkevicius (@LinkeviciusL) August 11, 2020
Shortly thereafter, the undeclared victor in the immensely rigged presidential election who had two days before declared that she does not recognize the official tally that awarded Lukashenka with a stupefying 80.08% and that she will fight for the truth with legal means, released a video where she looks visibly distressed.
It has been translated by The Guardian below:
“You know, I thought that this whole campaign toughened me up very much and gave me so much strength that I could stand everything. But, probably, I remained the weak woman I initially was.
I made a very difficult decision for myself. I made this decision absolutely independently – neither friends, nor relatives, nor the headquarters, nor Sergey in any way could simply influence it.
And I know that many will understand me, many will condemn me, and many will hate me. But, you know, God forbid you to face the choice which I faced. Therefore, people, take care of yourself, please – no life is a good price for what is happening now. Children are the most important thing in our life. “
Commenting to The Guardian, Linkevicius confirmed that Tsikhanouskaya had come to Lithuania together with her campaign manager Maria Moroz, who had been in detention since 8 August.
The video came as a shock to Belarusians who had been awakened from decades of political slumber by the campaign of Tsikhanouskaya.
The housewife who had no ambitions in politics had taken the place of her husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski, a YouTube blogger who was detained and disqualified on alleged procedural grounds. Two other competitors to incumbent Lukashenka, banker Viktar Babaryka and ex-diplomat Valery Tsapkala, had been similarly disqualified from participating in the election.
The campaigns of the three precluded candidates pulled resources around Tsikhanouskaya, and managed to win over the hearts and minds of Belarusians, pushing them on the 26th year of Lukashenka’s reign to decide that they finally had enough.
- Read also: What you need to know about the unprecedented Belarus presidential election, in a nutshell
In the days that followed the announcement of the official improbable results, Belarusians nationwide took to the streets of their cities in thousands, demanding a fair count and release of political prisoners.
At least two have died in the clashes with riot police that continued from each evening into the early morning. Law enforcers used stun grenades, tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets – which for Belarus is unprecedented violence during protests.
In the rallies on Monday evening, protesters were already making barricades and blocked the streets with artificial traffic jams so police vehicles did not get through.
The protest is decentralized and mostly coordinated through a network of popular Telegram channels which issue instructions and urge people to protest. Telegram channels were the ones who called the people to protest in the first place – Tsikhanouskaya did not join them.
- Read more: 5,000 detained as Belarus protests against rigged elections second day in a row, national strike announced
As OMON forces in some places started reportedly joining the protesters’ side, it started to seem that the street has the momentum – and determination – to win.
So a second video with Tsikhanouskaya which was broadcast on state TV when it became known that she was in Lithuania was especially disparaging.
Sitting on a couch, Tsikhanouskaya read a statement from paper, urging to stop the protests:
I, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, thank you for participating in the presidential election. The people of Belarus have made their choice. With gratitude and warmth, I appeal to all the citizens who have supported me.
Belarusians! I urge you to be prudent and respect the law. I don’t want blood and violence. I ask you not to confront the police, not to go out to the square, so as not to endanger your life. Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”
Internet users soon identified that the couch on which Tsikhanouskaya sat is located in the office of Lidiya Yermoshyna, the Head of the Central Election Commission, the very institution falsifying elections in Belarus so Lukashenka could stay in power since 2000.
Internet users identified the room by the sofa. It's the office of Central Electoral Commission, where God knows what Tsikhanouskaya has seen or heard. Pro-government media were first published and distributed this video. They believe people are stupid. pic.twitter.com/Wt4FawXEQW
— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 11, 2020
It was there that Tsikhanouskaya had been held against her will on Monday for more than three hours when she came to appeal the results of the election. Afterward, she left the building without her lawyer, saying that she “made a decision.” Apparently, the video was recorded at that time, and the energetic opposition leader must have been told or shown something that led to this transformation.
What was this something? We might never know, but it’s worth considering that her husband, Siarhei, is imprisoned and that the regime of Lukashenka will stop at little in order to stay in power.
Tut.by, an independent Belarusian media, published (on Telegram, as Lukashenka blocked the websites of opposition media and internet in general) a comment of her senior associate, Mariya Kalesnikava. Kalesnikava believes that Tsikhanovskaya made the statement under duress. When they were in the Central Election Commission, Tsikhanovskaya was taken away in a separate room and for three hours conversed with two high-ranking officials from the law enforcement organs. At some moment, people with black bags with what appears like video cameras inside came into the room.
Kalesnikava said she supports Tsikhanovskaya’s decision: “I can’t even imagine how much it cost her to make this decision. Sviatlana, if you hear me, I support you, you are a hero, you did a lot for the Belarusian people,” she told, explaining that a person who for three hours is left alone in a room with law enforcement representatives can be pressured to read aloud any text.
“If I was in her situation, maybe I could have been forced as well. I think it’s very difficult to make statements not under duress after three hours with law enforcement representatives when you have children, when you have a husband with an open criminal case, when your friends and supporters are in prison and you don’t know anything about them for several days, like Mariya Moroz, when all your surroundings and family are hostages,” Kalesnikava stated.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda is of the same opinion: