“Bravest women in Europe”: Swetlana Tichanowskaja, Veronika Zepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova have been awarded the international Charlemagne Prize in Aachen. Foreign Minister Baerbock gave the laudation.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock honored the three recipients of this year’s International Charlemagne Prize from Belarus as “the bravest women in Europe”.

In her laudatory speech in Aachen, the Greens politician praised the commitment of opposition politicians Svetlana Tichanovskaya, Veronika Zepkalo and Maria Kolesnikova to freedom and democracy. Tichanowskaja and Zepkalo, both living in exile, received great applause at the award ceremony. Kolesnikova, who is imprisoned in her authoritarian home country, received the award from her sister Tatjana Chomitsch.

Baerbock was critical of the assessments made after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989/90 that there would now be an automatic development towards more freedom and democracy throughout Europe. The belief that cooperation with dictators like Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus is possible to a certain extent has “perhaps made us act too hesitantly towards the Belarusian regime”. Hopes that trade alone would bring about change have proved to be an illusion. “That was wrong.”

The minister accused the ruler in Minsk, who has been in power for more than a quarter of a century, of supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. “Lukashenko is taking action against his critics with frightening severity,” said Baerbock. “The Russian and Belarusian regimes are with inhuman cynicism against everything that defines us in Europe, everything you three are fighting for: peace, freedom, democracy and human rights.” It is clear to her that “in the future we will have to look even more critically and act even more decisively when our values ​​and our freedom are attacked”.