Belarusian opposition activist Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya today met Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw during her first trip abroad since fleeing Belarus for exile in Lithuania.

At their meeting, Morawiecki handed Tsikhanouskaya, who contested August’s presidential election in Belarus that has led to weeks of protests and unrest, the keys to a building in Warsaw that, a government source says, can act as a headquarters for the Belarusian opposition.

The pair also visited the existing Belarus House in the Polish capital, which was established in 2010 to unite opposition efforts and acts as an “independent embassy of Belarus”.

The visit comes shortly after both embattled Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko and the Kremlin have accused Poland of seeking to interfere in Belarus’ internal affairs following Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.

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“I thank Poland for welcoming me and all the people who have been forced to leave Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya said, quoted by TVN24.

Last month she stood against Lukashenko, after replacing her husband Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who had been imprisoned. She received 10% of the official votes compared to Lukashenko’s 80%, amid widespread evidence of electoral fraud.

“These are difficult times, but on the other hand happy ones, because what is happening shows that the Belarusian nation has woken up and begun to fight for its rights,” she continued. “For us, Lukashenko no longer has legitimacy; we cannot accept him as a leader; we are not willing to entrust our country to him.”

However, for the Belarusian people to succeed, they need the support of all countries and “especially Poland”, said Tsikhanouskaya, quoted by Onet.

“I am certain that after a new election we will maintain good relations with the Polish government and they will support us morally and financially…I hope our relations will flourish,” she said.

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Morawiecki noted that Poland had been leading efforts to forge a European Union response to the situation in Belarus, including calling for the special European Council meeting at which he set out a plan for the country.

“The entire European Union supports the Belarusian nation in its right to express its will, to life in freedom, in democracy,” he said, quoted by TVN 24. “We will shortly be presenting an economic plan for the Belarusian nation, for the Belarusian state, which aims to show that Europe is open to Belarus.”

Morawiecki then handed to Tsikhanouskaya the keys to a villa in Warsaw that will serve as the new headquarters of the Belarus House.

“We know that the struggle for freedom and sovereignty must have somewhere to take place, to make sure it is successful” he said. “All the people who want to conduct this struggle in a coordinated way will have the support of the EU and all political forces in Poland.”

The Polish government has coordinated with and received support from opposition parties regarding its response to the crisis in Belarus.

“De facto this creates an alternative structure for the Belarusian government in Poland,” according to a government insider quoted by Wirtualna Polska. “The idea and project is 101% Morawiecki’s initiative.”

Speaking on TVN24, journalist Michał Broniatowski said it was good news that Poland was “finally starting to be a player” in the Belarus situation, noting that this was Tsikhanouskaya’s first trip abroad from exile and that the international community would be listening.

Yesterday, the head of Morawiecki’s office said that the Polish government is seeking to push the EU to take a tougher line against Russian intervention in Belarus.

“We are trying to activate other European countries to take actions that will not allow Russia to cross the red line of…intervention,” Michał Dworczyk told Radio Wrocław. “Putin and Russian politicians say that Belarus is their sphere of influence…[but] we do not accept that.”

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During today’s events, Morawiecki and Tsikhanouskaya also visited the University of Warsaw, where she gave a lecture and spoke to Belarusian students.

“Now there is no way back. That path was closed after the government used violence on protesters, when they were locked up and tortured,” she told the audience.

“Women were standing on the front line…We had to find the strength because our husbands were suddenly put in jail. Our role is much bigger than we have become accustomed to. We can be leaders!”

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Tsikhanouskaya also compared the struggle to the situation and the inspiration of the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago. Today she will also meet Piotr Duda, the head of the current Solidarity trade union, before tomorrow participating in the Economic Forum 2020 in Karpacz as well as meeting with Borys Budka, leader of the opposition party Civic Platform (PO).

Main image credit: Krystian Maj/KPRM/PremierRP/Twitter

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