More than two weeks into the standoff between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and critics and protesters who say he stole an election and had activists beaten and jailed — opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is standing firm.
In a Zoom interview from her exile in neighboring Lithuania, the 37-year-old teacher and mother of two told Fox News, “…the Belarusian people have changed and they will not stop.”
Meanwhile, the Lukashenko regime has renewed its crackdown on protesters demanding his ouster following a poll earlier this month in which he claimed he got 80% of the vote.
This week, more leaders of the revolt in the former Soviet republic have been rounded up and jailed. Tikhanovskaya’s husband is already in prison, which is the reason she is now in politics.
The protests go on. There were more Tuesday in the capital city, Minsk. “All of these arrests will not influence the Belarusian people’s struggle for their rights,” Tikhanovskaya told Fox News.
Lukashenko spoke again this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid concerns Moscow will, in some way, meddle in affairs in Belarus.
The opposition leader has said activists are neither pro-West nor anti-Russia, but their country is sovereign. “We are not Russia. We are Belarus,” she said. “Our people want to live in a democratic country and no one country should influence the decision of our people.”
The U.S. has lent its support to the opposition. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Biegun met with Tikhanovskaya on Monday before traveling to Moscow to meet with Russian officials there. She called it “a wonderful and kind conversation,” adding that Biegun “assured me that he, as a person, and the American people, will do their best to support us and to help us in this situation.”
However, Biegun also said the U.S. would not interfere in events there.
Tikhanovskaya was composed during the interview, as she has been in recent weeks.
Asked if she would be “amazed” a year ago if she could see herself now, she replied with a quick laugh, “of course,” and described herself as “a person who has found strength in myself I wouldn’t have expected.”
Analysts said officials forced her out of Belarus to Lithuania after the elections in which she stood as the main opposition candidate.
Her children are there. Fellow activists, friends and her husband remain behind.
Fox News asked her if she was afraid. “Of course, I feel fear every day, ” she replied. “I ‘step over’ my fear every day.”
As Lukashenko looks to tighten his grip on the levers of power he has held for 26 years in Belarus, Fox News also asked Tikhanovskaya if she still had hope. Clasping her hands together in front of the Zoom computer screen, she replied, strongly, “We will never forget the violence he committed to Belarusian people and he should understand. … We will win.”
She also said, “I have to admit … we are not the ‘opposition’ any more. … We are the ‘majority.'”