Belarusian opposition leader: UK must continue to lead fight against tyranny

The UK “must continue to lead the global fight against tyranny and oppression”, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told the Labour Party conference.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya ran against authoritarian leader – and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin – Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus’ 2020 election before being pressured to leave the country.

Speaking from the main stage at Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Ms Tsikhanouskaya praised the UK’s role in supporting Ukraine, saying it has “become an example and inspiration to many others”.

Sir Keir Starmer and the Belarussian opposition leader
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer congratulates Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya after her speech during the Labour Party Conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She said: “The UK must continue to lead the global fight against tyranny and oppression. People all over the world look to you for your strength. We are together on the front line in the fight for democracy.

“Our fates are intertwined. A threat to democracy in one country is a threat to the whole world. Without victory in Ukraine a free Belarus is impossible, and without a free Belarus there can be no lasting peace in Europe,” she said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and other senior figures from the party were in the hall to hear Ms Tsikhanouskaya speak.

She received standing ovations when she took to the stage and at the end of her speech when she shook hands with Sir Keir.

Belarus, a close ally of Russia, was used as a launch point for the invasion of its southern neighbour by Mr Putin’s forces.

In August last year, Ms Tsikhanouskaya visited Downing Street, where then-prime minister Boris Johnson said the UK is “on the side” of the pro-democracy Belarusian opposition leader.

“I did not come here to lecture you, I came here to thank you, because Britain understands our fight,”  Ms Tsikhanouskaya said, as she outlined the UK’s stance on Belarus.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya also told the conference in Liverpool about a journalist who she said was imprisoned for treason. She said the journalist is a fan of Liverpool Football Club, and that every day he sings the club’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“In his letters from prison he puts these lines from Liverpool’s anthem: walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you will never walk alone, you will never walk alone,” she said, to applause from the crowd.

She added: “And you never, on our path to freedom and democracy, we never walked alone. You can’t even imagine how much support we have received from all over the world.

“After events in Belarus in 2020 and in Ukraine in February 2022 the world woke up to what tyranny really means, and understood why it has to be defeated. The world understands that human rights and the defence of freedom is not a local issue, and that true democracies must stand together to defend each other.”

Ms Tsikhanouskaya tweeted a picture of her meeting the Labour leader, saying: “In my meeting with @UKLabour Leader @Keir_Starmer, I thanked him for the invitation to speak at today’s #LabourConference2022. I am glad that Belarus & Ukraine are so high on the agenda here. The fight for democracy is not a local issue anymore, it is a duty for all of us.”