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the extraordinary trajectory of the Belarusian opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa

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NARRATIVE – The activist had applied for the 2020 presidential election “for love”, after the arrest of her husband. She is tried in absentia from this Tuesday for “high treason” and “conspiracy”.

A destiny is not a punishment“wrote Camus. That of Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa is however similar to a long way of the cross. When this child of the Soviet Union was born one fine day in September 1982, there was no indication that she would later become the muse of a country dragging its communist heritage like a ball and chain. Born of modest parents, in a medium-sized town in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus, a few tens of kilometers from the Ukrainian border, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa led a banal and uneventful childhood and youth.

However, she is from this Tuesday, January 17, tried in absentia for multiple charges, including those of “high treason”, “conspiracy to seize power unconstitutionally” and “creation and conduct of an extremist organization” . The price to pay for having dared to take the reins of the opposition during the last presidential election, in 2020.

Her life changes when she meets Sergei in the early 2000s. She is a student at the Mozyr Pedagogical University and is destined to become a translator and English teacher, he is the owner of a nightclub. It’s the “thunderbolt“, she will say later. After their marriage, Sergei starts on YouTube. He quickly became famous for his videos denouncing the fabulous salaries of Belarusian politicians, at a time when President Alexander Lukashenko has held power with an iron fist since 1994.

A life of sacrifice

In 2020, the loud-mouthed YouTuber decides to go further. Without illusions, he ran in the presidential election against the man he audaciously nicknamed the “cockroach“. For several weeks, he criss-crosses Belarus to ask inconvenient questions. But three months before the election, Sergei Tikhanovski sees his candidacy refused. He was arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison for “organization of mass unrest” and “incitement to hatred in society“, among other reasons. “Lukashenko saw him as a threat“, explained recently to the Figaro Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Since then, she has not seen her husband again.

By love“, the young woman then decides to present herself in her place and to continue her fight. To everyone’s surprise, his candidacy was accepted. Power probably considered her less dangerous than her husband. “I give up my quiet life for (Sergei), for all of us“, she will justify herself later, during one of her last campaign meetings, in Minsk, in front of more than 60,000 people. “I’m tired of having to put up with everything, I’m tired of being silent, I’m tired of being afraid. I didn’t want to become a politician. But fate decreed that I had to be on the front line in the face of arbitrariness and injustice.“.

I hope those who gloat about calling me a “housewife” and saying that I refuse to work realize what they are talking about.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya at Svobodnye Novosti Plus newspaper

At that time, the young woman ceased her professional activity to take care of her two children, aged 12 and 7 today. She devotes herself in particular to her eldest son, who is deaf, and has been scouring rehabilitation clinics for several years to help him overcome his handicap. “I hope those who gloat about calling me a ‘housewife’ and saying I refuse to work realize what they’re talking about.“, she confided, during the campaign, to the newspaper Svobodnye Novosti Morein response to those, including Lukashenko himself, who mock her status as a stay-at-home mom.

There “fear in the stomach»

But quickly, the autocrat no longer smiles at the vision of this “poor little thingas he calls her. Because her program may be vague, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa quickly wins the support of Belarusians. Thanks to a few popular ideas first, such as the release of political prisoners, the development of a constitutional referendum or the organization of new free elections. But also thanks to her charisma and her personality: the population understands that this woman of the people risks her life in wanting to defend them.

In fact, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya leads her campaign in terror. She later confessed to having received numerous messages threatening to throw her in prison or to send her children to an orphanage. “I woke up every morning with the fear in my stomach of a search by the police. During this period, I lost contact with the outside“, she will tell the Czech channel Current Time. She ends up sending her two children to Lithuania, for safety.

To continue the fight for her husband

Unsurprisingly, on August 9, 2020, the miracle did not take place: Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected with 80.2% of the vote. Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa won only 9.9% of the vote. The candidate had already predicted “shameless fraudsand therefore claims victory:Power must think about how to cede power to us. I consider myself a winner“. In danger after this defeat, she quickly fled her native country and joined her children in Lithuania, where she now lives in exile. But her fight continues behind her: the days following the election, a vast movement of demonstrations throws hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.

Before the presidential election, the opponent explained to anyone who wanted to listen that in the event of defeat, she would return to her “kitchen to cook steaks“. But his fate decided otherwise. Having become muse in spite of herself of arevolutionunfinished, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa now travels the world to mobilize against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. But also, as she will say in 2021, to defend her husband, “this man whom I love and who has become a chef for millions of Belarusians“.

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