Thursday

26th Nov 2020

EU diplomats on guard at Belarusian writer's home

  • Svetlana Alexievich (c) with EU diplomats at her home on Wednesday

EU diplomats have started keeping a round-the-clock guard at the home of Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian writer and opposition activist, amid fears for her safety.

"They'll keep changing who's there, but someone will be there all the time, including overnight, to give her diplomatic protection," an EU source told EUobserver on Wednesday (9 September).

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"We are together with her," Lithuania's ambassador to Belarus, Andrius Pulokas, also said.

"Svetlana plans to stay where she is now - in her apartment - and to keep carrying on as the symbol of the Belarusian nation, as a hero of the people, as a unifying personality," he said.

The unusual diplomatic cordon arose after unidentified people began ringing on the door of Alexievich's 7th-floor Minsk flat and phoning her on masked numbers on Wednesday morning.

She sent an SOS to her contacts, prompting journalists and diplomats to rush to the scene, where they saw a police car and what appeared to be plain-clothes officers outside her building.

The Austrian, Lithuanian, and Polish ambassadors came along. Lower-level EU foreign service (EEAS), as well as Czech, Romanian, Slovak, and Swedish diplomats also came.

Alexievich is the last member of an opposition Coordination Council who remains free or who has not fled abroad.

She won the Nobel prize for literature five years ago.

But diplomats believe her international renown is one of the reasons why she is being targeted, in a bid to break public morale.

"On Tuesday, they arrested 24 people who were actors or TV presenters. It looks like they've started deliberately targeting people who have high visibility," the EU source noted.

Alexievich, who is 72 and in poor health, was distressed by the events, the source added.

And reports keep flooding in that people in detention are being beaten and tortured, the EU source said.

The diplomatic guard in her home comes as EU states prepare to blacklist Belarusian officials guilty of violence and of rigging the 9 August presidential election.

The visa bans and asset freezes are to hit 31 names, including the interior minister, and to come into force on 22 September, the Reuters news agency reported, citing EU sources.

But at the same time, the EU is wary of looking too active, in case it feeds president Alexander Lukashenko's propaganda on alleged Western interference.

Protests calling for a free and fair election have seen tens of thousands of Belarusians from all walks of life face down riot squads in city streets every Sunday for the past five weeks.

Five activists have died and about 80 have vanished.

But opposition leaders voiced ongoing defiance on Wednesday, saying they would nominate three new Coordination Council members for every one that Lukashenko forced into exile or jailed.

Russia appeal

"First they seized our country, and now they are seizing the best of us. But hundreds of others will come and fill the places of those who have been taken from our ranks," Alexievich said in a statement the same day.

"It is the whole country which has risen up ... People are coming out to protest with their small children because they believe they will win," she said.

Alexievich called on the "Russian intelligentsia" to add support.

"Why have you remained silent? ... Why don't you speak when you can see this proud little nation is being crushed? We are still your brothers," she said.

"To my own people, I want to say this: I love you and I am proud of you," she added.

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