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Belarusian opposition leader on her nation's contested election and call for democracy

Fireside chat: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Rosalía Arteaga
Fireside chat: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Rosalía Arteaga 15:41

Months after Belarus' authoritarian leader declared victory in the nation's presidential race, demonstrators are still taking to the streets to protest what they say was a rigged election. Democratic opposition leader and presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against long-time President Alexander Lukashenko, said Monday that she won't stop fighting for freedom in Belarus, a nation that's often referred to as "Europe's last dictatorship."

"I have to admit that it's rather difficult to be a leader of democratic Belarus, and it's much more difficult because you are a woman," Tsikhanouskaya told former President of Ecuador Rosalía Arteaga at the 2020 Reykjavík Global Forum – Women Leaders summit, which is being streamed on CBSN. "But sometimes women are put in such circumstances that they have no choice."

Arteaga told Tsikhanouskaya that people admire her for her courage — but Tsikhanouskaya said she hasn't always felt so capable. 

"I always thought that I'm a weak woman," she said. "I couldn't even imagine that I would be able one day to take from myself so much courage to become a leader of the whole protesting movement. I never had such ambitions. I was sure I never had such strength .... So of course it was my personal courage and the fact that just from the beginning of this movement I was surrounded by people who believed in me … it gave me much more strength."

"One person can't do everything, especially in the dictatorship we lived for 26 years," Tsikhanouskaya added. "But when one person sees that there are people around him, they are inspiring him, so he understands he can do more."

The presidential candidate acknowledged during the interview that help from international allies is also crucial for changing the country. 

"When we are struggling against dictatorship, international support is extremely important for our movement," she said. "If not for other countries' help, if not for other countries' support, we would feel much, much weaker."

Tsikhanouskaya said she had to overcome many obstacles during her campaign against Lukashenko, including threats to put her in jail, where her husband sits, and threats to send her children to an orphanage. She credited friends for coming to her aid and taking her children out of the country for their safety so she could continue her fight. 

"What I know and what Belarusian people know is that Belarus has changed forever, and we will not be able to come back to that state of the slaves we used to live for 26 years," she said. "And now people are fighting for their future, for the future of their children. We want to build a new democratic Belarus where people are safe, where people are free, where peoples' rights are respected."

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