Svetlana Tikhanovskaya couldn’t imagine a few years ago, when she was working as an English teacher, that she would end up heading Belarus’s political dissent in exile after being threatened by the Belarusian KGB. It all happened in 2020, after her husband was imprisoned when he was going to run for the presidency, in hands of Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Supported by the rest of the opposition parties, she run as a candidate for a presidential election that claims that Lukashenko robbed.
She has been a refugee in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, for more than a year. Lithuania now pays for its support for the Belarusian democratic movement, suffering – along with Poland – an avalanche of migrants orchestrated by Lukashenko himself.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, (Mikashevichy, 1982) answers to EL MUNDO in her modern office, located in a Vilnius business center.
Foreign journalists and a delegation from the White House swarm the corridors. There are many women and you can hear Polish, Russian and English speaking. She has not seen her husband for a year and a half and her face reflects fatigue. But when I ask her point-blank if she is the legitimate president of Belarus, she answers in English without blinking: «Yeah.»
- I imagine you know that the Russian media continually portray you as someone who has ‘surrendered’ to the EU and the US.
- «We do not have anti-Russian sentiments in Belarus. We have a very deep relationship and we do not want to close it. If you ask people on the street, no one is going to tell you “we want to enter the EU, turn to the West”. But… the propaganda works hard to present us as if we are pro Western, but we are pro Belarusians, we want to change our country, be neutral. I believe that in the 21st century it is possible to get along with Russia and other countries. Democratic changes: these are the changes we want. I am sure that we will be able to maintain a good relationship with Russia, even improve it, make it more transparent for the people. We do not want to fight with the Russians: we study the Russian language at school, we also want to study ours but it is nothing against them».