Tikhanovskaya confirmed in an interview with BNS that she has asked Lithuanian government officials to review of the transit conditions for Belaruskali if it carries on with repressive measures against its workers for political reasons.
Belaruskali uses Lithuanian railways and the seaport of Klaipeda to export its products. Norway's Yara has recently warned that it could restrict the purchase of fertilizers from the Belarusian manufacturer due to repression.
Asked about the Astravyets nuclear power plant, Tikhanovskaya said that the station must be subjected to safety checks according to international standards, adding that Belarus' new authorities will have to discuss the issue of the facility's further operations with Lithuania and other interested parties.
In the interview, the opposition leader also spoke about changes in Belarusian democracy activists' tactics during the winter months, Belarusians' changing attitude towards Russia and the impact of the heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on Belarusians' identity and their future relations with Lithuania.
Below is the full transcript:
– The new government is about to be sworn in. What kind of support do you expect from it?
– As a matter of fact, the same as in previous years, because Lithuania is very supportive to Belarussian people. It was, it is and I'm sure it will be. So the new government will show solidarity in the same way that previous government showed – they will stand for human rights in Belarus, they will stand for people who had to flee from Belarus. Lithuania is extremely supportive and we're really grateful for such a strong position. Representatives of the Lithuanian parliament are always pushing Belorussian questions in the European Union.
– Recently, you gave an interview to LRT where you called for sanctions against Belaruskali. Could you please elaborate what kind of sanctions against Belaruskali you expect?
– Belaruskali is one of the state enterprises that is like a pocket of Lukashenko; it's very powerful in Belarus. Their workers are being fired because of their civil position. Of course, we started to talk about sanctions against Belaruskali.
But first of all we started with conditioned sanctions. We contacted Yara and they just put forward conditions – if you fire workers, we'll stop buying your products. It is much better than just stop buying products: do this or that and that and we will continue to work with you. But they continued to fire workers and now we understand that these economic sanctions have to be hardened towards Belaruskali to fulfill all those conditions.
We ask to stop buying products from Belaruskali so that money from this enterprise stops going to Lukashenko's regime. It's not only about Belaruskali – it's also about Grodno Azot, it's about Naftan and all these enterprises that are important for the regime. But we are not talking about stopping forever: when the new president comes or transition period comes, all relationship has to be renewed.
– Have you spoken to Lithuanian government officials about this? It's an economic issue as well, since Belaruskali uses Klaipeda Port and it would have some economic consequences as well. Have you raised this idea to Lithuanian officials?
– Yes, we have. And, as a matter of fact, I can't tell the peculiarities of opinions, because, in reality, opinions are a little bit different, from one politician to another. But we raised the question of increasing the cost of delivery, of transit. Also, to put some conditions – if you fire people, then we will raise the price or we will just cut this transit. First of all, it's conditions then, if you don't fulfill it – then we'll put more restrictions.
– Another issue that Lithuanians are concerned about Belarus is the nuclear power plant and from time to time we are hearing reports about incidents there. Do you think that the new democratically elected authorities of Belarus should close the plant for safety reasons and for good neighborly relations with Lithuania?
– I'm sure this will be a question for discussion. And, first of all, the plant has to be checked in the terms of safety, according to all the international standards. As far as I know, there was no such research by international organizations. So we don't know in reality how this plant is working now and we have heard about some accidents, though the Belarussian government said it was planned to switch off electricity or something, but we don't know what is going on there in reality.
And you know, both countries – and others that are interested – we will find consensus on this question. But first of all, it has to be investigated by international organizations.
– Vilnius has become a center of Belarusian dissidents. One reason is probably geography, because we are close neighbors, but another one is history. Would you say that the common heritage of history has become more important both for you personally, and Belarussians as a nation, as they build their identity at this very moment?
– Belarus was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and evidently, Lithuania is the main word there; so, of course, we have common history, we have much more in common than we used to think.
For 26 years, we were closer to Russia, to Ukraine because of Lukashenko's politics. We were not in such close relationship with Lithuania or Poland, we just looked to Russia, Ukraine. But in the future, I'm sure that our new government will be friends with everybody, with all countries. Of course, Lithuania will be one of the priorities of the future government. We will restore our relationship, because we have a lot in common.
- You have repeatedly said that the revolution is not anti-Russian, not anti-EU, it's a democratic revolution. Do you think that a new democratic Belarus could also maintain good relations with autocratic Russia? If yes, do you see any role model in post-Soviet space showing that this could prove possible?
- I am sure that the future president of Belarus and future government of Belarus will try to find good relationship with every country. They will find how to deal with all of our neighbors.
I am sure we will be able to be friends with Russia, with Lithuania, with Poland, with Ukraine, with everybody.
I am not sure I can find any examples, but I am sure that the new government will find how to build good relationship with Russia and, for sure, we will have to because they are our neighbors and we have very strong trade relationship.
But the same is with Western countries; they will try to do their best to be friends with everyone.
- So far as I understand, the Russian government refuses to speak to you, correct me if I am wrong. Russian media started speaking loudly that you are being funded by the West, that the protests are coordinated from the West, from Lithuania, from Poland. How could you respond to that and can you explain who is funding your activities?
- It is true that we haven't had any official contacts with Russia. We always repeat that we are open to such a dialogue, because we understand that Russia in the beginning supported Lukashenka, they didn't support Belarusian people and, as a matter of fact, Belarusian people are really offended by this fact.
Lately, there were about 60 percent people who were positive toward Russia, and now this number decreased very much.
And as for the accusations, propaganda is working rather well and I am sure they just are repeating what propaganda in Belarus say. There is no need to listen to Lukashenko and his regime, because at the beginning they told that Russia is financing this revolution and then they turned to Lithuania, Poland and other countries.
They don't understand that our revolution is grassroots – it isn't financed by anybody. Now there are different funds and we are asking to support Belarusian civil society because people are getting fired, people have to print newspapers. Now we are asking for this help, but at the beginning this was only peoples' initiative. Nobody ever paid anybody, it is impossible to pay for 300,000 people every weekend.
And I am sure that people there understand this, but they still do it to tell people who are not watching the Internet, who are watching only TV that people are paid by the West just to blame people.
They know that this revolution is the real will of the people and not because of money. They want just to show that this revolution is paid, for but it is not so.
– Please tell me what is the strategy now to move forward to force Lukashenko to step down.
– Our strategy hasn't changed. Our revolution is peaceful. Our strategy is pressure on the regime, the negotiations and new election.
Now we are on the first stage, the stage of pressure – inside the country and outside.
Maybe everybody has noticed that the quantity of people on the streets has decreased. But people have to understand that lots and lots of activists are in jail now and it's rather cold and people are tired, but they still keep going out.
I think that during the winter period underground revolution will blossom.
This is very exhausting for the regime, because they won't have anybody to put in jail but all these flags, all these signs, all these protests are going on, but they can't find anybody. It is rather exhausting for them.
Of course, we are now waiting for the third package of sanction list from the European Union and we really wonder how many people will be there and if economic sanctions will be there. We will continue to move in this direction, because the economic sanctions are very efficient in our fight for democratic Belarus.
– What business companies would you expect to be put on the European Union sanction list?
– I can't name these companies. It is only up to the European Union to decide what enterprises; businesses or people are in this list. Nobody can influence it.
– What do you think of the talk that Lukashenko will step down after constitutional reforms?
– First of all, he can't change the Constitution, because he is illegitimate. Secondly, all this game with the Constitution is only for him to save more time for himself as if he is doing something towards democracy, but it's a lie because he never did anything for Belarusian people.
We don't know what he's going to change, he's not discussing this with anybody, as usual. People don't know what's going on there.
The most important is that he is nobody for Belarusian people. How can he make amendments in the Constitution if we don't accept him? But there is necessity for change in the Constitution and we accept this, but this change has to be with new elections or right after. It is necessary, but not with Lukashenko.
– You will receive the prestigious Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament next week. What message would you bring to the EU on this occasion?
– This prize is given for freedom of thought and for human rights. And we are really, really grateful that Belarusian people have been noticed by the whole world in their fight. We became like an example and inspiration for other countries, how it's necessary to fight peacefully step by step without any violence from our side.
We are really grateful for this recognition. This prize is not only for people who are listed there, but it's for all Belarusian people, because everyone put a part of himself in this fight. Everybody is important. It doesn't matter if you have the right to talk on the international arena, as me, for example, people gave me this right; and the same person who on the ground drew this small flag, white-red-white: we both are extremely important for this revolution.
The Sakharov Prize is like recognition of every person in Belarus, who is doing little for this revolution, but little by little and we have a great amount of people who are fighting for the changes.
Freedom of thought – people have changed their self-consciousness, they are thinking differently now, they don't want to be slaves in their thoughts. I think that Belarusian people deserved this prize this year and we are really grateful that we have been noticed and we are honored to get this prize.
– Moving a little bit from Brussels to Washington, DC, what do you want Joe Biden's administration to do differently than Donald Trump's administration towards Belarus?
– Before the election, Biden made a very strong statement about Belarus that he is going to help Belarusians in their fight for democracy and I am sure that he will keep his word. The USA is a powerful country and powerful political player, so we are sure that he will be helpful in our revolution, we don't know how now, we are working with this, we just can't have any contacts until he is the official president of the USA.
I am sure he could influence not the situation in Belarus, but the situation in understanding of Belarus' problem in the world, that other countries – Canada, the EU, the USA – they will speak in one voice. And the position of all these states will be much louder if they have a united statement about Belarus. It will be helpful for the people that are suffering in our country.
– My last question, it's a bit personal. How is your husband, how are your kids doing at this moment?
– Thanks God, in Lithuania my children are fine and safe here. They are having the usual childhood life, going to school, kindergarten. As for my husband, he is in jail. We have opportunities to communicate through the lawyer. They visit him twice a week just to keep in contact all the time. He is interested how we are doing, what's going in Belarus. We try to give him as much information as we can. Of course, he understands that for six months he is in jail for nothing, the same as, at the moment, 160 political prisoners. It's not the final number, because every day more and more people are considered to be political prisoners. These are awful numbers; they are suffering for nothing. Their only hope is Belarusian people, with the help of Europe, other political players, that everything will end soon.
Conditions in our jails are awful and attitude to political prisoners is not very good either, because they dared to think differently, dared to start fighting for their rights.
We have to do our best and all the countries have to do their best to release these people, to release our country from the dictator and start to build new equal relationship with Belarus. And I think we have a lot to offer in the future for the world.