Staunton, February 21 – In an interview with Le Temps, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says that at present, the Belarusian opposition has “lost the streets” and cannot withstand the force being used by the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka but will recover its position in the spring (letemps.ch/monde/svetlana-tikhanovskaia-loukachenko-ne-laissera-derriere-lui-ruines).
“I must acknowledge that we have lost the streets,” the Belarusian opposition leader says. “We do not have any chance to struggle with the force being used by the regime against the protesters. They have arms and force and at present it seems that we have lost. I know that Belarusians are tired and afraid.”
Today, Tsikhanouskaya says, “the opposition is preparing itself for the future struggle. We are working to connect various opposition initiatives which have arisen” so that we will be able to subject the regime “to constant pressure” even though for the present people are not going into the streets sometime this spring.
Asked to compare the movement in Belarus with the one in Russia led by Aleksey Navalny, the Belarusian leader says that they are fundamentally different. “In Russia, these are meetings against corruption … In our country, we want free elections.” Russia has not reached the same “point of nonreturn.”
In fact, she points out, “in Russia demonstrations are taking place but in Belarus, there is a revolution.” Revolutions, especially those in pursuit of democracy, take longer but also have deeper roots.
Despite Tsikhanouskaya’s brave words, many analysts have concluded that the suspension of mass protests, even though some continue both inside Belarus and outside, means a victory of Lukashenka and will give him greater freedom of action in his negotiations with Vladimir Putin.
Andrey Rezchikov of Moscow’s Vzglyad newspaper surveys the views of some Moscow analysts (vz.ru/world/2021/2/21/1084031.html). Minsk political scientist says Tsikhanouskaya’s failure to achieve change with large protests means that she is unlikely to do so now that they have ebbed, whatever she predicts about the future.
He does not exclude the protests may resume, but they almost certainly will do so under new leadership. For the time being, the Belarusian protest movement is going into the underground. There are many smaller groups there who will organize small protests until some larger unity emerges.
Vladimir Zharikhin of the Institute of CIS Countries says that Tichanouskaya has “not passed the test of the streets” and thus is losing her role as leader of the opposition. But Kirill Koktysh of MGIMO says that the demonstrations have failed and are unlikely to be renewed anytime soon under some new leader.
As a result, Lukashenka is likely to be in a position to act more freely for some time to come than he has in recent months.