Exiled Belarus opposition leader begins four-day Finland visit

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is on a three-country European trip to meet politicians, diplomats, and to highlight ongoing human rights abuses in her homeland.

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File picture of Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (L) and Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Vilnius / Credit: Pekka Haavisto Twitter

The exiled opposition leader of Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is beginning a four day visit to Finland on Monday.

During her trip she will meet for talks with President Sauli Niinistö, Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

It’s not the first time that Tsikhanouskaya has met with Haavisto, the pair previously held talks in Vilnius where she has been living since she fled Belarus in the aftermath of presidential elections in August 2020, which were widely condemned at home and internationally as rigged.

Opposition to the regime of incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets of towns and cities across Belarus, in largely peaceful protests which included strike action.

“You know that you might not make it back home, but you still find the strength”

However police reprisals, mass detentions and well-documented human rights abuses have taken their toll on protesters in recent weeks.

“It’s dangerous for people to leave their homes for fear of physical reprisals” Tsikhanouskaya told broadcaster DW in an interview last week.

“But them being driven away from the street, beaten with batons, threatened, it did not break them down internally […] their anger hasn’t gone away” she told the German outlet.

Many protesters have now switched their attention to a so-called “digital revolution” with activists coordinating their efforts through social media channels and instant messaging apps.

Although the mass rallies have come to an end, Tsikhanouskaya says that “nobody is forcing people to go to the streets, they do it themselves.”

“But I always support those who do go out even though they understand what could be the price of overcoming fear. You know that you might not make it back home, but you still find the strength.”

After Finland, Tsikhanouskaya will travel to Portugal and Switzerland for meetings with politicians, the United Nations, and to highlight the human rights situation in her home country.

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