Belarus’ opposition leader and human rights activist Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has won the Woman in Power Award for showing extraordinary leadership in Europe, after she championed the fight for restoring democracy in Belarus from the regime of long-time ruler Aleksander Lukashenko.
“I encourage all of you to keep focusing on Belarus and support us in our fight for freedom. I am very thankful to all of you for this award. It belongs to every brave woman in Belarus who fights for freedom and dignity,” Tikhanovskaya said in a video statement following the announcement.
The awards, organised by the European Movement International (EMI) and the European Women’s Lobby are handed out annually to honour women striving to advance the European project in their professional or private capacity. They cover four categories, including Woman in Power, Woman in Action, Woman in Business and Woman in Youth Activism, and are decided by a jury of nine, that includes the Hungarian opposition MEP and Vice-President of Renew Europe group, Katalin Cseh and Europe’s first Public Prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi.
“Tikhanovskaya stood up to a ruthless dictator after he tore into her family and relentlessly leads a movement of Belarusian freedom fighter in the face of unspeakable terror. You truly are our hero, Sviatlana,” Cseh tweeted after the announcement of the results.
In October, the democratic opposition in Belarus, represented by the Coordination Council also won the European Parliament’s 2020 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The initiative of brave women and political and civil society figures comprises of, among others, Tsikhanovskaya, the main opposition candidate, Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, musician and political activist Maria Kalesnikava and political activists Olga Kovalkova and Veronika Tsepkalo.
“The fight for women’s rights is not one that women must pursue alone. It is our collective responsibility to strive for a society where everyone is equal and to stand up for the European ideals we espouse,” said Petros Fassoulas, the Secretary General of European Movement International.
He added that the Women of Europe Awards is the organisation’s “way of showcasing the role women play in politics, business and society at large, and to celebrate their contribution towards European unity and cooperation.”
Among the other nominees for the category were, the Green MEP Terry Reintke, an activist for LGBT+ rights and women’s rights, and Khamshajiny Gunaratnam, Deputy Mayor of Oslo. Opening the award ceremony, EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli praised Ursula von der Leyen’s goal for a Union of Equality, stating, that it reflects a union “where women are acknowledging and treated as equal and benefits all of society.”
“Women of Europe in education, in science, in healthcare and entrepreneurship, in democratic processes and elections, you all deserve recognition,” the Commissioner added.
After Belarus’ Central Election Commission (CEC) announced on August 9 that incumbent president Lukashenko had won more than 80% of the vote, while his main rival, Tikhanovskaya, had allegedly gathered 9.9%, she fled to Lithuania, citing safety concerns. The figures released by CEC and amid accusations that thousands were not allowed to vote, and that exit polls and official results from CEC have been rigged, led to violent clashes in the capital, Minsk, with videos circulating on the web showing police forces cracking down on demonstrators.
Thereafter, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have been taking to the streets, asking for Lukashenko to step down, for fair elections and for the release of political prisoners in the country. Hundreds have been arbitrarily arrested and dozens killed by the country’s security forces, prompting an outcry by the European Union, which decided to slap the strongman Lukashenko and his allies, with economic sanctions.