EU pays tribute to Belarusian ‘revolutionaries’

Senior EU officials have tried to boost the morale of the Belarusian opposition by presenting the annual European human rights prize, the Sakharov Prize, to one of their leaders in exile, Svetlana Tikhanvoskaya, in Brussels Wednesday, December 16.

“Your cause and your strength of spirit have shown the way to revolution (…) and we pay tribute to you,” European Parliament (EP) David Sassoli said in a speech.

“We are fully aware of what is happening in your country…we see the deplorable abuses and we see the violence,” he added.

“In the EU, it is our moral duty to support them [Belarusian protesters],” he said.

Tikhanvoskaya herself, whose husband, also an activist, is in prison in Belarus, has shed light on some of the regime’s crimes.

She spoke of an unarmed man who was shot in the street and a second who was “abducted and beaten to death in a police station”.

“Inmates [in police custody] are marked with colors to determine the severity with which they should be beaten,” she said.

Police were “deliberately infecting people with Covid-19,” Tikhanvoskaya said.

“We call on Europe to be more courageous in its decisions and to support the people of Belarus now, not tomorrow,” she added.

“It’s not an interference [in Belarus]but the duty of any self-respecting country,” she said, referring to the Belarusian regime’s propaganda about Western conspiracies.

Tikhanvoskaya spoke after the 19th straight weekend of street protests, riot attacks and mass detentions in Belarus following a rigged election in August.

At least seven people have been killed and thousands are being held behind bars, some serving long sentences.

The EU has blacklisted 55 Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko.

He is also preparing visa bans and asset freezes for oligarchs who give him money in his next round of sanctions, scheduled for mid-December.

Meanwhile, the EP building in the EU capital displayed pictures of Belarusian women clashing with riot squads on its facade to mark its Sakharov Prize.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and senior MEPs, such as German conservative Manfred Weber, came to hear Tikhanvoskaya speak and posed for photos.

Some MEPs took selfies with Tikhanvoskaya, a sign of the international notoriety of the former housewife turned politician.

Tikhanvoskaya also met with EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, whose job it is to draft sanctions proposals.

They “exchanged assessments of the current situation in Belarus,” Borrell’s office said in a statement.

And Borrell’s services were “finalizing additional sanctions, which will target both individuals and entities,” he confirmed.

Wednesday marked the third time in the past 16 years that the EU has awarded its Sakharov Prize to Belarusian activists, indicating the longevity of the Lukashenko regime, which first took power in 1994.

Thelma J. Longworth