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Ms. Tsikhanouskaya´s speech at the Czech Senate (09.06.2021)
Your Excellency, Speaker of the Senate Milos Vystrčil,
Dear sirs, dear friends!
First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Vystrčil and the distinguished members of the Senate for this invitation. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of the Belarusian people at a time when they are experiencing one of the most important and difficult moments in their history.
This complex Belarusian history is in many ways similar to the Czech one, and the ties between our countries go back more than one century. Belarusians remember well that it was here, in Prague, that humanist Francysk Skaryna published his first Bible more than half a thousand years ago. In the preface to it, he wrote in Old Belarusian language that all people are "supportive" to the place where they were born. But to love your homeland means to be responsible for it. And the drama of Belarusians and Czechs for a long time was that they could not freely rule on their own land.
Finally, a hundred years ago, our peoples simultaneously proclaimed independence, but their future has developed in different ways. Belarus could not resist as an independent state and was forcibly included in the Soviet Union. But the democratic Belarusian authorities continued their work abroad, including in the Czech Republic, which hospitably received them. Yesterday we honoured the memory of the Presidents of the Belarusian People's Republic at the Olshansky cemetery. These were people who worked all their lives for the sake of Belarus and hoped to see it independent again. Unfortunately, they could not live to see this day.
But even after them, we saw that an independent country does not necessarily mean a free country. An independent country can also become not free if the law and human dignity are neglected. Therefore, the struggle continues, and now we have a great chance to finally realize the dream of a free, democratic Belarus - one that inspired generations of our predecessors.
Over the past year, Belarusians have been experiencing and creating historical events themselves, when more happens in one day than usually in a whole decade. I think that the Czech people are well aware of this feeling from their 1968 history. So, a year ago, the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko finally gave up taking care of the life and health of people and left them alone with the coronavirus. But instead of getting confused, Belarusians organized themselves and began to help doctors and each other. The people felt their strength and united to defend their rights, including the right to vote. Because a person is free when he has a voice. Independent candidates, including my husband Sergei, were detained and thrown into jail. But Belarusians voted for the new leader of the country.
The regime responded with terror, which our country has not seen since the days of Stalin. But Belarusians insistently demand democratic elections, and our peaceful protests have been going on for more than 300 days. During this time, there was not a day without street demonstrations, even in winter frosts. But also there was not a day without arrests and violence from the regime - tens of thousands of people went through prisons, thousands are there now.
For ten months the past has been struggling with the future, for ten months the authorities have been trying to wage a war against the people, for ten months the Belarusians have not surrendered and are moving forward.
Some sadly joke that if Kafka had lived in our time, he would have stopped writing, because he still could not have come up with anything more absurd than the courts in Belarus. When the laws are no longer in force in the country, it is supposedly normal that people are imprisoned for half a month for the colour of their pants and nails. Solidarity becomes a crime. And the witnesses in the courts are masked policemen speaking through Zoom.
Writers will have to comprehend for a long time how this became possible, but this is reality, not literature, and now lawlessness in Belarus has irreversible victims. Just a week ago, 18-year-old orphan Dmitry Stakhovsky committed suicide, unable to withstand the endless pressure of investigators, who opened a criminal case against him for participating in peaceful marches. And last Monday, political prisoner Stepan Latypov tried to commit suicide in court after he was threatened with torture of his relatives. Earlier, self-immolations took place in front of the police building in Smolevichi and in front of the Government House on the main square of Minsk.
I remembered all these people in front of the monument to Jan Palach, who was also forced to choose an extreme form of protest and committed suicide in the centre of Prague. How to resist despair when people are losing hope? How can other similar tragedies be prevented? What can each of us do for this? These are the questions that now arise before the Belarusians, and the answers to them must be found immediately.
This is all the more urgent, since in recent weeks the crisis in Belarus has turned from an internal problem into a challenge for the whole of Europe and the international community. When the Lukashenka regime lifted a fighter into the air to land the Athens-Vilnius plane and detain journalist Raman Protasevich, he did nothing extraordinary for himself - this is the same thing that is done all the time against the Belarusians. But this time they were not going to shoot at peaceful demonstrators, but at more than a hundred foreign citizens, including children. All this for the arrest of a young man who received a Václav Havel scholarship in 2017 for his journalistic activities. Meanwhile, what the regime in Belarus considers journalism is confessions on a video camera obtained after torture. It has a name - terrorism and now the whole world understands the terrorist nature of Lukashenka's dictatorship. If civilized countries do not consider it acceptable that a nine-million-strong country in the centre of Europe is controlled by terrorists, they have many tools to stop them. Combined with internal pressure on the regime, which Belarusians do not stop for a day, external pressure can radically change the situation and prevent new victims.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I immediately think of two things that should resonate in the historical memory of the Czech people. The first is a document prepared by the Soviet government in 1968, which claimed that the Czech leaders themselves "invited" the Warsaw Pact forces to enter Czechoslovakia. Today the Lukashenka regime also claims that the pilot of the Ryanair plane asked to land in Minsk.
And second, the return of Western leaders from Munich in 1938, when they announced a “historic treaty,” when Czechoslovakia was actually sacrificed to the dictatorship. Today I fear that the freedom and democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people would not be sacrificed for the sake of “appeasing” the dictator. I am afraid they were not sacrificed in order to "leave the channels for dialogue open."
That is why I call on the Czech Republic to take a consistent position against the illegitimate regime of Lukashenka, not to recognize his power and to consider all his decisions and agreements illegal.
I urge to recognize as criminal organizations, including the KGB, OMON and GUBOPiK, which carry out terror against the population. I urge the Czech Republic to initiate proceedings against criminals within the framework of universal jurisdiction. I call for the creation of an International Tribunal to investigate past and post-2020 crimes of the Lukashenka dictatorship.
I urge to organize a high-level international conference on Belarus overcoming the crisis. I remind you that the only possible way out of the crisis in Belarus can be free elections under international supervision.
I call on the Czech Republic to strengthen its support for the projects of the Belarusian civil society - journalists, students and doctors, as this is extremely valuable now. It is very important to support local communities, strike committees and initiatives that have emerged since August 2020. Pay special attention to the safety of activists and journalists. It is very important to support traditional and new media such as Euroradio, Belsat, Radio Svoboda; YouTube bloggers, telegram channels and print samizdat projects.
I call for the expansion of programs to support the wounded, families of the repressed and students. New Belarus will need highly qualified personnel, and Czech universities may increase the number of scholarships for Belarusian youth. Support art, music and publishing projects that promote Czech-Belarusian understanding.
I call on the Czech Republic and the European Union to adopt the fourth package of economic sanctions and initiate the fifth. The list should include regime aides, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and businessmen. I call on the Czech Republic and the European Union to stop trading in oil products and fertilizers with an illegitimate regime. I call for the termination of investments and loans to Belarusian state-owned companies and banks, which, in fact, are the source of income for the dictatorial regime.
The Czech Republic has a long tradition of supporting Belarusians fighting for freedom - from the 1920s to the 1920s. During a recent meeting with the widow of President Havel, Dagmar Havlova, I had the opportunity to thank for the solidarity and remind that President Havel wrote the last letter of his life to Belarusian political prisoners. The Belarusian editorial office of Radio Svoboda is still working in Prague, and Czech doctors from MEDEVAC saved many of those who were crippled during the worst days of August. I sincerely thank all Czechs of goodwill from Brno to Plzen, from Liberec to Budejovice, all our assistants in every municipality, theatre, university, who help Belarusians in their struggle. The day before yesterday I saw hundreds of Belarusians and Czechs on Old Town Square,
I have already mentioned the name of the beautiful Czech capital - Prague. It seems to me symbolic, because in Belarusian the word "Prague" means a deep desire, a need. Now this word is especially relevant for our people, who are experiencing a real thirst for justice, thirst for truth, thirst for freedom. The pursuit of justice was the leitmotif of the life of Czech democracy defenders Vaclav Havel and Jan Sokol.
“Thanks to advances in human rights, dictators can no longer do what they want. They have to hide even more carefully what they have done and are doing. And that the most successful of them are beginning to reckon with the fact that one day they will be held accountable. But even the most advanced can no longer be sure that it is they who will “write history”.
This is a quote from an essay by Jan Sokol, whom the Czech Republic recently lost.
We cannot allow dictators to write history. Because history - and the future - belongs to us people with real lust. Thirst for freedom.
Irena Michálková, 09.06.2021