The Struggle for Democracy in Belarus: A Perspective from Svetlana Tikhanovskaya"
13 January 2024
In a compelling interview conducted by Franka Hummels for Vrij Nederland in December 2023, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Leader of the Opposition in Belarus, shares poignant insights into the challenging journey toward democracy in her homeland (Hummels, 2023). The conversation delves into Tikhanovskaya’s personal experiences, illustrating how democracy was a concept foreign to her upbringing in a dictatorship.
Growing up, Tikhanovskaya never learned to aspire for more, as the idea of wanting something was simply not part of life in an authoritarian regime. Democratic values were absent from her reality, and when glimpses of democratic developments appeared on television, they were dismissed as irrelevant. The absence of options and choices shaped her worldview, making democracy seem distant and unattainable.
However, a significant shift occurred when Tikhanovskaya’s own children began to experience democracy in Lithuania. While she may not consciously understand the concept, she acknowledges giving her children the freedom to make choices, a stark departure from her own upbringing.
Under Russia’s influence, Belarus faces a paradox―increased repression has led to a more unified civil society. The internet has emerged as a pivotal player in Belarus’s evolution, providing direct access to information and diminishing the influence of the diaspora. The regime’s inadequate response to the pandemic shattered the social contract between the people and the dictatorship, paving the way for self-organization and a commitment to dialogue and knowledge acquisition.
Transitioning to democracy proves challenging, as it necessitates assuming responsibility for all aspects of governance. Tikhanovskaya emphasizes that democracy is more demanding than dictatorship. The European Union (EU) can play a crucial role in supporting this transition. Post-dictatorship, the inclusion of Belarus in the EU could prevent a return to authoritarian rule. Additionally, the EU should facilitate travel, enabling people to experience democracy firsthand. However, the immediate focus remains on dismantling the dictatorship and laying the foundation for a democratic Belarus.
Hummels, F. (2023). Oppositie. Vrij Nederland, 70-79.