They are the faces of the Belarusian democracy movement: Maria Kalesnikava, Veronica Tsepkalo and Svetlana Tichanovskaya are honored in Aachen for their courage in the fight against the ruler Lukashenko. Federal Foreign Minister Baerbock pays them deep respect - and appeals to Europe.
The Belarusian activists Maria Kalesnikava, Svetlana Tichanowskaja and Veronica Tsepkalo were awarded the International Charlemagne Prize in Aachen this year for their services to European unity. The Board of Directors of the Charlemagne Prize Society thus honored "the three leading figures of the Belarusian democratic movement".
In her laudatory speech, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock described the award winners as "the most courageous women in Europe". 40-year-old Kalesnikava is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence for protesting against the regime of ruler Alexander Lukashenko, while 39-year-old Tichanovskaya and 45-year-old Tsepkalo are in exile.
Tichanowskaja and Tsepkalo were present at the award ceremony in Aachen, and Kalesnikova's sister accepted the award. "You are a role model for millions of women around the world," said Baerbock. "Your courage cannot be locked away. The idea of freedom cannot be driven into exile. That is the message of this year's Charlemagne Prize," said the minister.
"And it is a reminder to us: Because warm words are not enough." The governments in Belarus, which is an ally of Russia, but also in Moscow, "acted with inhuman cynicism against everything that makes us who we are in Europe, everything you three are fighting for: peace, freedom, democracy and human rights," said Baerbock. "We stand by your side. We listen to you. And we haven't forgotten you," emphasized the minister, adding: "In the future we will have to look even more critically and act even more decisively when our values and our freedom are attacked."
In the second half of 2020, Belarus was rocked by mass protests against Lukashenko and his controversial re-election, which the president, with Russian backing, had crushed. Thousands of people have been arrested for protesting against the regime.
"And it is above all three courageous women who, despite the persecution and repression, gave and give a face to these voices," wrote the Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors. They received the prize "in recognition of their courageous and encouraging commitment against brutal state tyranny, torture, oppression and the violation of elementary human rights by an authoritarian regime".