Belarusian ‘Joan of Arc’ rallies thousands against veteran leader

Updated 01 Aug 2020

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MINSK (Belarus): Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya leads a rally in Maladzechna, a town near Minsk, on Friday. — AFP
MINSK (Belarus): Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya leads a rally in Maladzechna, a town near Minsk, on Friday. — AFP

MINSK: Just weeks after emerging from political obscurity to run for president, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya took the stage as darkness fell on Thursday and addressed the biggest opposition rally in Belarus since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Occasionally gazing down at a clipboard as tens of thousands of people chanted her name, she urged the east European country to vote for change when she takes on long-serving President Alexander Lukashenko in the Aug 9 election.

“I am tired of being afraid. And you — are you tired of being patient? Are you tired of being silent? Are you tired of being afraid?” she asked.

Tikhanouskaya, 37, announced her candidacy only after her husband, a blogger, was arrested in May and jailed on what she says were trumped-up charges and forced to pull out of the race.

Although Lukashenko is expected to win, she has quickly become the figurehead of a protest movement against Lukashenko, who was once described by Washington as Europe’s last dictator.

Western observers do not judge elections in the former Soviet republic as free and fair. But Tikhanouskaya poses the most serious challenge in years to Lukashenko, a 65-year-old former collective farm manager who has allowed little dissent since coming to power in 1994.

Belarus is strategically located between the European Union’s eastern edge and Russia, which sends oil to Europe via the country and regards it as a buffer zone against Nato.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2020