Tsikhanouskaya and the State of Affairs in Belarus

Belarusian Civil Society Association and Actors Branded “Extremist”

1 February 2023

Viktoryia Kolchyna

Marcin Król Fellow

Kyiv seems to be playing a strategic game to avoid further involvement of the Belarusian army in the Russian invasion, but it is costing diplomatic relations with their ideological counterpart, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya.

The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs has officially declared the coordinating board and the office of the democratic opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya as extremist. Currently, the list of so-called “extremist formations”, which is regularly updated by the Belarusian authorities, includes 114 civil organizations. 

A year before, in the wake of the brutal crackdown that followed 2020’ fraudulent presidential election, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, now in exile, was charged with terrorism. Along with her colleagues, who fled the country, she is on a “terrorist wanted” list. 

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been pressing Poland and Lithuania for their extradition to face life sentences on Belarusian soil. Infuriated by refusal, the Belarusian KGB notoriously “took hostages” targeting the Union of Poles and Belarusian’ Polish minorities, which numbers some 300,000. This is not to mention the arrest of Andrzej Poczobut, a well-known journalist from Polish “Gazeta Wyborcza”, who is facing up to 12 years’ imprisonment in Belarus.      

So far, Belarus has adopted the death penalty for “attempted” terrorism. In the situation when the country is drifting to becoming a neo-totalitarian state, along with Russia, any disloyal person in  Belarus can be subjected to “terrorism” and “extremist” charges.

Tsikhanouskaya, Persona Non Grata

Backed by Putin, Lukashenka continues to smash civil society with a reign of terror unlike anything seen in the country since Stalin. 

So far, an estimated 37,000 have been detained since 2020, with 33 journalists are currently behind bars. Official investigative Committee of Belarus records indicates at least 5,000 cases of torture of unloyal Belarusians in detention centres

Nevertheless, Belarusian authorities, presenting themselves as defenders of national interests, have created a commission to work with those “unloyal” Belarusians who fled the country after the protests in 2020 and wish to return. They draw up visionary schemes of the Belarusian dictator, who promises “pardons” and  demands an individual approach to those who escaped the regime once. 

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However, evidence of massive repressions strongly suggests against any bright shiny future returning soon. As of January 2023, there are 1443 political prisoners in Belarus, including Nobel laureate 2022 Ales Bialiatsky, the repressions against civil society have been spiralling, and no one is safe from the KGB’s reach.

While a battalion of Belarusian volunteers – the Kalinousky regiment – is fighting for Ukraine, the official Kyiv keeps is that the exiled-Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya should be consistently blocked from participating in joint EU diplomatic events. 

Although Tsikhanouskaya wanted to meet with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his office has yet to recognise the Belarusian opposition leader in exile. Some experts suggest it looks like an “agreement” between the official Kyiv and Lukashenka to restrain the volume of Minsk’ participation in a war. Some may assume an alliance with Tsikhanouskaya’s office may compromise this unofficial “bargain”.  

Meanwhile, a mutual recognition visa agreement between Russia and Belarus enters into force on 1 February. 

It will provide the opportunity for foreign citizens with temporary and standard residence permits or a document for attending international sports events in one of the two countries as well as granting holders the right to enter, leave, stay and transit through the territory of the other state.     


Viktoryia Kolchyna

Marcin Król Fellow

Viktoryia Kolchyna is a journalist and contributing author that has covered Human Rights topics for multiple networks including Belsat TV and Al Jazeera English. She worked on documentaries that won several awards, including NYF TV & Film Awards, Silver World Medal Film People & Power- Russia: The Orthodox Connection( 2019) and Nomination for Rory Peck Award from Al Jazeera People & Power- Armenia: Mining out the leopard (2019).

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