Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Wednesday compared the situation in her country to the 1968 Soviet-led crackdown on the “Prague Spring” democratic reform drive in the former Czechoslovakia.
Belarus has seen unprecedented mass protests suppressed by the police following last year’s disputed presidential vote in which strongman Alexander Lukashenko claimed a sixth consecutive term.
Tikhanovskaya, who ran against him and who claims she won the vote, fled abroad after state authorities arrested hundreds of people taking part in mass protests and sentenced many to lengthy jail terms.
“Belarusians are experiencing and shaping historic events now. We see more things happening in a single day than we usually do in a decade,” Tikhanovskaya told the Czech senate.
“I think the Czech nation knows the feeling well from its history, from 1968,” Tikhanovskaya added during her Prague visit.
In August 1968, Soviet-led armies crushed a democratic movement known as the Prague Spring, which had been an attempt to loosen the communist influence wielded by Moscow.
Tikhanovskaya, who now lives in Lithuania, also drew a link between 1968 and the recent forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Minsk and the subsequent arrest of Belarusian journalist and activist Roman Protasevich.
“A document drafted by the Soviet government claimed that Czech leaders had themselves invited Warsaw Pact soldiers to enter Czechoslovakia,” said Tikhanovskaya.
“Lukashenko’s regime is saying today the Ryanair pilot himself demanded a landing in Minsk.”
She also mentioned Prague-born writer Franz Kafka, known for his surrealist novels.
“Belarusians bitterly joke that if Kafka lived in our times, he would stop writing because he could not come up with anything more absurd than Belarusian courts,” she said.
“When laws cease to work in a country, you may get imprisoned for a month and a half for the colour of your trousers or nails, and solidarity may become a crime.”
Also in Prague, Tikhanovskaya met with the Czech president and prime minister as well as exiled Belarusians.