Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is visiting Portugal on the personal invitation of foreign affairs minister João Gomes Cravinho

Belarus opposition-leader-in-exile on two-day visit to Lisbon

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to be received by President Marcelo

Belarus opposition leader-in-exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has begun a two-day visit to Lisbon today, at the personal invitation of Portugal’s minister of foreign affairs, João Gomes Cravinho.

Ms Tikhanovskaya is the most prominent opponent of the regime headed by Belarus president in office, Aleksandr Lukashenko, whose legitimacy she does not recognise. 

Mr Gomes Cravinho has told Lusa that Ms Tikhanovskaya will be received by Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and then go on to meet with the speaker of Portugal’s parliament Augusto Santos Silva, and others, including Lisbon’s mayor Carlos Moedas, and the chair of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs Sérgio Sousa Pinto.

The 39-year-old activist, who has been living in exile in Lithuania since Mr Lukashenko secured a fresh presidential term in 2020, will also be meeting with the Belarus diaspora in Portugal, adds Lusa.

The State news agency refers to Ms Tikhanovskaya having won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament in 2020, when the results of Belarus’ elections “were not recognised by Western countries because they were considered to have been fraudulent”.

Mr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994, and is said to owe much in terms of his political position to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Lusa recalls that the 2020 elections saw Ms Tikhanovskaya replace her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, as opposition candidate after he was arrested ahead of polling day, later to be sentenced to 18 years in prison.

There was a brief moment where she actually claimed victory over Lukashenko, before he “ordered a bloody crackdown on the opposition” which forced her to flee 

Since that time, says Lusa, “Tikhanovskaya has tirelessly repeated that “nine million Belarusians are still hostages” of Lukashenko and that “Belarusians are not safe at home or abroad, and neither are other Europeans.” 

She has gone so far as to argue that Lukashenko can be fought with the same strategy used against Covid-19: isolate, treat and cure, says the news agency.

“To isolate the Minsk regime”, she suggests avoiding receiving its ambassadors and has called on Belarus democratic forces to participate in events such as the Eastern Partnership summits between the EU and several former Soviet republics.

She insists that “treatment” must be based on a strong sanctions regime from the West and cannot be limited to statements of “great concern” about what is happening in Belarus.

Belarus has provided a key strategic advantage to Russia since the Soviet regime invaded Ukraine nearly four months ago “by allowing Russian troops to attack Ukraine from its territory”. But the country “has so far not taken a direct part in the conflict”, Lusa continues.

Ms Tikhanovskaya has said Belarus soldiers “do not have to share responsibility for the actions of the Lukashenko regime” and has praised volunteers from her country who are fighting in the conflict alongside Ukrainians: “We are very proud of them. They are defending Ukraine’s independence, but they are also defending our future”, she says.

Ms Tikhanovskaya has a busy Twitter presence which bears testament to the efforts she makes to keep the world aware of human rights abuses in her homeland.

It was Alexander Lukashenko who effectively hijacked a Ryanair flight from Athens to Lithuania just over a year ago in order to arrest dissident Belarus blogger Roman Protasevich and his former girlfriend Sofia Sapega The pair had been attending an economic conference in Greece with Ms Tikanovskaya, who was fortunately not on the same flight.

Sources: Lusa/ Twitter/ Portugal Resident