Ms. Tsikhanouskaya arrived in Riga at the invitation of Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs and the Latvian Parliament.
The visit began with raising the national Belarusian white-red-white flag over the Town Hall in Riga with Mayor Mārtiņš Staķis.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya met with the Mayor and his team, as well as with deputies of the City Council. They negotiated and agreed to hold a number of cultural events, exhibitions, and literary readings devoted to Belarus. The national leader of Belarus suggested creating a cultural space in Riga where the Belarusian diaspora could gather to hold cultural events. They discussed internships for young Belarusians in the City Council and in the offices of deputies to study local governance.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited a Ukrainian center, where humanitarian aid for refugees is distributed, to meet Ukrainians who only recently moved to Latvia. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya was shown how Latvia receives and helps refugees from Ukraine. Among the refugees were many Belarusians forced to flee Ukraine because of the war.
After that, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya held talks with Edgars Rinkēvičs at the Foreign Ministry. They talked about the proposed potash deal, suggesting to transfer Ukrainian grain through Belarus in exchange for lifting sanctions on Belarusian potash, and how to prevent it. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya stressed that “sanctions must not be lifted until political prisoners are free and repressions are stopped. Otherwise, that would lead to even greater impunity for the regime.” The leader of democratic Belarus urged Latvia to continue supporting independent media, educational programs for journalists and investigative reporters, as well as rehabilitation programs, which worked in 2020 for those wounded at the protests. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya suggested extending the programs for former political prisoners, who are now being released from prisons after serving their sentences.
Then, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya visited the Latvian Parliament. Speaker of the Saeima Ināra Mūrniece informed her about the creation of the Friends of Belarus parliamentary group. Such groups already exist in two dozen parliaments around the world. The Latvian group includes 20 MPs, accounting for 20% of all deputies in the Latvian parliament, with the number of these deputies growing. The Friends of Belarus group will promote assistance to Belarusians in Latvia. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya and Latvian MPs agreed to cooperate in the field of legislation and consultations on reform projects in Belarus. The Latvian Parliament is ready to provide such consulting support.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya went on to visit the office of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš and discuss the next EU Council meeting, which will be held in two weeks. The Belarusian leader urged the Prime Minister to keep Belarus on the EU agenda, as Belarusians need to feel the support and know that they are not forgotten. She suggested that during the EU Summit the Prime Minister cou raise the issue of the format of current and future relations between Belarus and the EU.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya also visited the Museum of the Occupation, devoted to the Soviet period in the history of Latvia. One of the guides was one of the founders and leaders of the Popular Front of Latvia, who talked about Latvians’ struggle for their independence. He assured Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya that Belarusians will, beyond any doubt, inevitably win.
At the end of the day, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya met with Belarusians of Latvia and spoke at the concert of the Belarusian Free Choir.
On the occasion of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s visit, national Belarusian flags were hung around Riga, and many media, TV channels and radio devoted the first pages and minutes of airtime to her visit.
On June 9, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya met with the President of Latvia Egils Levits.
The leader of democratic Belarus thanked the President for participating in rallies of solidarity with Belarus and for Latvia’s non-recognition of Lukashenka’s regime and support of democratic forces in all international arenas.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya explained why it is important to continue issuing visas to the repressed Belarusians, despite the war and the acts of the regime. “The regime pursues a policy of self-isolation, but Belarusians cannot be isolated. Thousands of Belarusians, dozens of enterprises and organizations have found refuge in Latvia. And I heard many words of gratitude from them for how warmly Latvia welcomes Belarusians”, the national leader of Belarus said.
At the meeting, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya spoke about the case of three Belarusian partisans who face imprisonment. She noted that repressed Belarusians should be able to count on compensation and rehabilitation. “When the war began, many Belarusians started doing everything to stop it. Despite the repressions, our partisans tried to pull over Russian trains, many Belarusians passed information about the movement of troops to the Belarusian Hajun Project. Many were persecuted. More than 1,700 people have been detained since February”, the Belarusian leader stressed.
The transit of grain through Belarus was also discussed. Ms. Tsikhanouskaya called a possible deal to lift sanctions in exchange for transit unacceptable. She noted: “This deal would undo much of what has been done by the European Union over the past year and a half. Sanctions must not be suspended until political prisoners are released, repressions stopped and negotiations started on new fair elections”.
They also discussed the creation of a Belarusian center or a Belarusian House in Latvia, which could become the center of the Belarusian diaspora and receive an official or semi-official status. Such a center or “house” would allow to strengthen the Belarusian-Latvian cultural ties, as well as maintain contact with the Latvian authorities on an ongoing basis.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya invited the President to consider launching a scholarship program in diplomacy and public administration for those Belarusians who will work in the government of a free Belarus. The President said he would discuss the proposals with the government.