An interview with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Belarus’s leader in exile

SVETLANA TIKHANOVSKAYA, a former teacher and a mother of two, did not choose to make history. But history has chosen her for a starring role. Despite her lack of political experience, she has come to personify the struggle to transform Belarus from docile former Soviet republic to free and truly independent nation. The leaders of rich democracies greet her as president-elect. Her own people derive comfort from her simple, calm words. Alexander Lukashenko, the gun-toting dictator who has ruled Belarus for the past 26 years, fears her enough to have forced her out of the country after she (probably) won a presidential election in August.

That was not meant to happen. All the main challengers, including Ms Tikhanovskaya’s husband, were in jail. Opinion polls were banned. The media and the security apparatus were firmly under the strongman’s control. Mr Lukashenko let a tongue-tied housewife with no taste for power register her candidacy, some say, just to demonstrate the futility of opposition.

But on August 9th, fed up with being treated like cattle, the people of Belarus voted for Ms Tikhanovskaya, whose only pledge was to release political prisoners and hold free and fair elections within six months. When Mr Lukashenko declared himself the winner, with 80% of the votes, they thronged into the streets. The dictator sent…

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