23rd Sep 2021


Belarus - dictators win when democracies appease

  • Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. 'She has never been actively involved in politics and was not about to do so until her husband was imprisoned for "anti-state activities".' (Photo: Serge Serebro)

The sincere and simple personality of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, currently the most famous Belarusian opposition leader in the world, is truly fascinating.

When I spoke to her, she was not hiding that politics has never been an area of her interest.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Two months have passed since Lukashenko's falsified elections and brutal acts of violence and abuse against peaceful protesters have been taking place (Photo:

She has never been actively involved in politics and was not about to do so until her husband was imprisoned for "anti-state activities." She has never concealed that many basic things in politics are simply not familiar to her and are still difficult to understand.

Nevertheless, she says "coming from the outside [of politics], you can see things better".

"When I came to politics, I learned about a number of different organisations and structures functioning. At the same time, so few concrete actions and results," Tikhanovskaya said. Quite a relevant remark.

Dictatorships and dictators often win not because they are very talented, but because the society and the international community, with all the structures of cooperation they have created, are simply powerless to resist them.

Not just because they do not have the power, often because they cannot realise and recognise the threat on time.

Another reason is the popular misconception that this is not a threat to them, but to someone else who is far away at a sufficiently safe distance.

The most appropriate description of such behaviour is condoning. There are plenty of facts and examples in history to prove this.

Let us remember the Munich treaty of 1938, later called the "Munich Betrayal", when the leaders of several European states "allowed" Nazi Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia - the Sudetenland.

British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, when he returned to London, showed a document with Hitler's signature, claiming - "I brought peace to you." What this peace had become, humanity remembers forever.

The embarrassment of the United Nations is the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995, when the UN peacekeepers, stationed in the conflict zone, had neither a mandate nor a chance to make a real assessment of the threat. Serbian nationalists simply took men and boys on buses to kill them.

Did we learn the lesson of the genocide in the outskirts of Europe?

History of modern times witnesses the ambition of another dictator to "recover" the lost lands after the "greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century - the fall of the Soviet Union" as he, Vladimir Putin, put it himself.

The Kremlin is consistently pursuing its "military" foreign policy.

In 2008, 20 percent of Georgia's territory - South Ossetia and Abkhazia - were occupied. It was strongly condemned by the international community.

Both the EU and Nato have set very specific requirements for Russia to restore constructive cooperation. As Russia showed no intention of changing its behaviour, thus nothing changed in its actions or rhetoric.

Soon our Western colleagues began groaning, saying that cooperation and those "communication channels" are necessary and we supposed to be pragmatic. It all went back to normal pretty quickly. Alas, some have learned lessons, while others have not.

Those who learned their lessons annexed Crimea in 2014. The ongoing aggression in Donbas is like an undeclared war. The Russian army pretends it has nothing to do with it.

The Kremlin is even ready to mediate in finding solution of Ukraine's "internal conflict".

Therefore, we do not recognise the annexation, we condemn the aggression, and we have adopted personal and economic sanctions. However, has anything changed?

No. Nothing changes not because sanctions do not work, but because they are not sufficient. Even so, there are calls to "restart" relations with Russia, seek rapprochement, and expand areas of cooperation.

Now Belarus

Now it is the Belarus turn. More than two months have passed since the falsified elections and brutal acts of violence and abuse against peaceful protesters have been taking place.

If there just a little part of that is true in those testimonies about torture and rape at a KGB jail, that is far too much. We condemned it, made statements, and finally approved a few sanctions.

It took us a while to agree on the list of sanctions and the fact that the initiator of all those actions and potentially committed crimes, a former head of state, must be included.

My question is very simple. Who wins? Time is on whose side? What hope Belarusians have for revival, having newly discovered their identity and still protesting on the streets despite intimidation?

I very much hope that the "new reality" will not prevail. I hope that newly appointed ambassadors will not provide their letters of credence to the head of state who has lost legitimacy.

I hope that his "dialogue" with the opposition in prison and promises of constitutional reform will not serve as an excuse to win time and appease international community.

Most of all, I hope that the rebirth of the Belarusian nation will not be discouraged in the face of all the violence and injustice. I hope that all the organisations and structures that were created and mentioned by Svetlana, will be capable not only to perform, but most importantly – to win.

Author bio

Linas Linkevičius is Lithuania's minister of foreign affairs.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


Belarus: Where's the EU when you need it?

It has been 81 days since the first police cosh hit the first skull in Belarus and president Alexander Lukashenko has still not paid any EU price.

Belarus opposition leader urges EU to be 'braver'

The Belarus oppositon leader asked the EU not to support the Belarus authorities financially, and not to recognise Lukashenko as the country's president when his term ends in November.


What do ordinary Belarusians want from the EU?

Western experts and diplomats have agonised over how to help end the Belarusian crisis in a peaceful way, but ordinary Belarusians have their own ideas.

The EU's 'backyard' is not in the Indo-Pacific

Europe is no longer an Indo-Pacific power. It will not become an Indo-Pacific power. And if it keeps overreaching its geopolitical ambitions, Europe might lose its credibility as a power - entirely.

News in Brief

  1. French ambassador to return to US after Macron-Biden call
  2. Borrell: EU needs armed force independent of US
  3. Polish region does U-turn on gay rights
  4. Johnson makes fun of French anger on submarine deal
  5. Ukraine vows 'tough response' after gun attack on top aide
  6. Poland again delays ruling on primacy of EU law
  7. EU to table emergency proposals on gas-price surge
  8. EU delays first set of anti-greenwashing rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  2. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body
  3. Lead energy MEP silent on gas meetings before vote
  4. WHO makes major cut in 'safe' air-pollution levels
  5. EU negotiators defend high Covid vaccines prices paid to pharma
  6. The EU's 'backyard' is not in the Indo-Pacific
  7. French MEPs lead bogus EU monitoring of Russia vote
  8. Europeans think new 'Cold War' is here - but not for them

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us