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THE EUROPEAN DESAPARECIDOS: Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is a Belarusian teacher who transformed into the leader of her country’s revolt. In the wake of the contested August 9 election, which Alexander Lukashenko claimed to win with 80 percent of the vote, Tikhanovskaya has launched an appeal: Dozens of people arrested while protesting have vanished, and the EU should not forget them, she told POLITICO’s David Herszenhorn and Jacopo Barigazzi in an interview.
Where are they? “After the demonstrations, we still don’t know where about 70 people are,” Tikhanovskaya said, speaking by videoconference. “It shouldn’t be in a European country in the 21st century that people are miss[ing] and authorities don’t do anything just to find them.” She added: “A lot of people in Belarus now are political prisoners. They just are in jail without any court, and they are in there only for their, I don’t know, for their wish to talk about what’s going on in Belarus, about their desire to live in a free country.”
A leader, not a president: Tikhanovskaya restated her commitment to leading the country only to new, free elections, with no plans to serve long-term as president. She said the release of political prisoners, including her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, as well as the replacement of the country’s entire central election commission remained top preconditions for a new vote. “I understand that people voted for me,” she said. “But they voted for me not as president, they voted for me as a person who will lead the country to new elections.”
EU should be ready to mediate: In Belarus “we have no right to say, we have no right to stand, we have no right to elect the president we really want, all our human rights, our fundamental rights are broken. I know that you are democratic countries and you know how important it is to have our rights,” Tikhanovskaya said. But throughout the interview, she sought to portray the protests as a domestic political issue without a larger geopolitical narrative. “It’s our internal affair and we ask for respect of our sovereignty … but in case we need any kind of help in these negotiations, in case we need mediators, we ask to just be ready to help us.”
Who’s afraid of Moscow? Tikhanovskaya said she is aware that Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin is willing to provide military or other law enforcement assistance to the authoritarian leader of Belarus. But she said she’s convinced the Russians “don’t have any reason to help in such a way, because our demonstrations are absolutely and principally peaceful.”
Make sure you read the full interview here.
THE LATEST: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia imposed travel bans on Lukashenko and dozens of other Belarusian officials on Monday. Meanwhile, Belarus opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova and the team of jailed opposition figure Viktor Babariko said on Monday they were forming a new political party called “Together,” Reuters reports.