Who is Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, the main opponent of the “last dictator in Europe”?

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Minsk, Belarus, July 14, 2020. – Natalia Fedosenko / TASS / Sipa USA /

  • Surprised candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa upset the Belarusian presidential election, raising the hopes of thousands of supporters.
  • This “ordinary woman”, as she describes herself, fled the country after the announcement of her defeat (9%) to Lukashenko, who claims to have received 80% of the vote.
  • Since the results were announced, she has fled the country, heading to Lithuania, under pressure from the authorities, according to her campaign team.

On the last videos that we have seen of her, she appears tired, staring into space. An image that clashes with those of the presidential candidate, a few days earlier, that of the unknown who has experienced a meteoric rise. In a few months, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa gave birth to new hope in Belarus in the face of the irremovable Alexander Lukashenko, twenty-six years of power and a nickname: “The last European dictator. “

It is a combination of circumstances that propels Svetlana Tikhanovskaya into the presidential campaign, when her husband Sergei, internet star in his country, is imprisoned by the authorities. He was a candidate, she replaced him at short notice. It brings together the 100,000 voter sponsorships (a considerable amount in a country of 9 million inhabitants) needed. The electoral commission validates his candidacy to everyone’s surprise, when those of two opponents, considered more “serious”, are rejected.

“I was asleep all these years”

“Everything I do, I do it for him first. For his freedom, because I love him so much. I love my children and my husband. I like Belarusians who want to feel free, who want to be able to say what they want about the government, ”she said. in an interview with Sky News. An English teacher by training – she speaks it fluently – she stopped her career to take care of her first child, born deaf. For several years, she was a stay-at-home mom.

But when her husband decides to run for the presidential race, the political novice accompanies him on his travels, and sees what he sees. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she woke up at this point. “Like many Belarusians, I was asleep all these years. I had an income and a family and I lived in a shell like everyone else, ”she says. She then realizes the real state of the country – poverty, the drained economy, the arbitrariness of power and “the rudeness of our president”.

A “poor girl”, for her adversary

While it gathers thousands of supporters, its adversary precisely, Alexander Lukashenko, refuses to give it credit. For him, who says he “knows hardly anything” about his rival, she is a “poor girl”, a “poor little thing”. The Village, a Belarusian news site, calls her “accidental Joan of Arc”. She; describes herself as “an ordinary woman”.

The one who put the suspense back and revived interest in the Belarusian election quickly gained confidence. To everyone’s surprise, his first television appearances were a success. In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, described as “psychosis” by the authorities, she denounces the abuses and lies of the regime. His program? This is one of its weak points: it remains unclear, apart from certain measures such as the release of political prisoners, a constitutional referendum and the organization of new free elections.

Anonymous calls and threats

Despite everything, her simple, direct style resonates with many of her compatriots, a style very different from that of her husband, who was illustrated by punchy videos denouncing the corruption of the Lukashenko regime. If his campaign hits the mark, it is also disturbing. “Sveta”, as her supporters call her, receives anonymous calls, threatening to throw her in jail and place her two children in the orphanage. “I would give up if I was alone,” she told Sky News, before recovering, smiling. “Sure … I think … Ok, maybe not.” “I’m afraid for you,” her son sent her one day by text.

Monday, the results fall: President Lukashenko claims an overwhelming victory, with 80% of the vote, 9% for his opponent. “Power has to think about how to cede power to us. I consider myself a winner, ”she responded. Tens of thousands of demonstrators are gathering in the streets of the capital Minsk and several major cities in the country to protest against the government.

A hasty departure in Lithuania

According to the human rights NGO Viasna, the crackdown on demonstrations in Minsk left one dead and dozens injured. If she accused the regime of “maintaining itself by force” after the repression of the demonstrations on the night from Sunday to Monday, Tikhanovskaïa does not join the protests, despite calls circulating online.

Abroad, Paris, Berlin and London condemned the crackdown and expressed doubts about the election. The European Union has deemed it “neither free nor fair”, in a declaration approved by the 27 member states. Conversely, the Russian and Chinese leaders, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, congratulated President Lukashenko.

Since then, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has fled to Lithuania, where her two children are. She says she made this “very difficult decision” “alone”. A departure under threat, according to his campaign team. “I thought this (presidential) campaign had hardened me and given me the strength to endure everything. But I undoubtedly remained the weak woman that I was at the beginning ”, she explained.
in a video, tired face. It remains to be seen whether this departure will be enough to extinguish the fire of protest in Belarus, where this vote in favor of Tikhanovskaya resounds like a warning for Lukashenko, like the message of a population hungry for freedom.

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