Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was a stay-at-home mother of two in Minsk, said Christina Lamb in The Sunday Times (U.K.). Now she is the public face of the campaign to topple Alexander Lukashenko—the Belarusian tyrant known as Europe’s last dictator.
“All this was accidental,” says Tikhanovskaya, 38. “I didn’t have any intention to run this revolution.” She took on the mantle when her husband, Sergei, an opposition blogger who was running in last August’s elections, was locked up ahead of the vote. Lukashenko, 66, mocked Tikhanovskaya’s decision to take Sergei’s place, saying she belonged in the kitchen.
But Tikhanovskaya’s message resonated, and when Lukashenko claimed victory in the rigged election, 200,000 people poured into the streets to protest. Had he underestimated her?
“He underestimated all Belarusian people. It wasn’t offensive to me when he said ‘she’s in the kitchen,’ because I was usually a woman preparing food for children. But I was one of millions. When he mocked me, he mocked everyone.” Tikhanovskaya was forced to flee abroad after the vote and is now living in Lithuania with her children; Sergei remains in jail. She is keeping up the fight from exile but doesn’t see a long-term future for herself in politics. “I am the leader of a revolution by fate, but I’m too kindhearted for this role. I just want to take care of everyone.”