Thursday

3rd Dec 2020

Milinkevich picks up EU prize in Strasbourg

Belarus opposition leader Aleksander Milinkevich dedicated his EU human rights award to prisoners and vanished persons on Tuesday (12 December), while criticising EU plans on trade sanctions and visas.

"This prize is for all Belarusians who are fighting for freedom," he said in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. "People who in Spring were standing in October Square [Minsk] fighting for their dignity, people who are now in prison, people expelled from university or work: we are many."

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  • "This prize is for all Belarusians who are fighting for freedom" (Photo: milinkevich.org)

"We are ready to sacrifice our health, our well-being and if necessary, our lives," he added, before mentioning fellow presidential candidate and hunger striker Aleksander Kozulin and listing vanished people such as Yury Zakharenko and Anatoly Krasovsky.

"We are doing it for our children - the same as French, Lithuanian or Polish children they are entitled to live in freedom," the 59-year old ex-physics professor said. "We have to overcome the fear that for the past 10 years...has been planted deep in our people."

The speech, bracketed by standing ovations from a plenary chamber full of MEPs, also saw Mr Milinkevich recognise EU work in support of Belarus as a symbol of European "moral politics."

But it did not spare Brussels from criticism over its plans to impose mini-trade sanctions worth €400 million a year and 100,000 jobs on Belarus from mid-2007 and to raise in January the price of visas into the EU from €35 to €60 per person.

Belarus state media have already begun saying that Mr Milinkevich's frequent trips abroad are designed to persuade the EU to impose sanctions, he warned.

"We would never call on anybody to impose any sanctions. Because any sanctions first of all are harmful against ordinary people," the opposition campaigner stated, echoing the concerns of Poland and Lithuania, who are trying to block the move.

On visas, Mr Milinkevich added "For many Belarusian people, who would welcome any kind of contact with the west, this will be like a Berlin wall. It would help only the dictatorship which would like to isolate the country."

The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually and comes with a cheque of €50,000 with past laureates including South Africa's Nelson Mandela and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr Milinkevich nearly didn't make it to Strasbourg to pick up the award after being arrested and released for misdemeanours three times in the run-up to his French trip. "I cannot predict what will happen when I get back," he said.

Journalists based in Minsk said state media did not cover the Sakharov ceremony, while EU-sponsored TV channel Euronews' Belarus edition did not broadcast Mr Milinkevich's speech, showing only fragments with a voiceover from a Russian reporter.

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