EDITORIAL | Belarusian sprinter challenges dictator and his flaws at Tokyo Olympics
One of the most dramatic moments of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s refusal to board a plane at Haneda International Airport for fear of reprisals from her own government. Instead of returning home to Belarus, she defected to Poland after that country issued her a humanitarian visa.
The Tsimanouskaya affair was decidedly unusual. Russian media reported that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered the forced return of the 24-year-old sprinter.
Observers believe the authoritarian Lukashenko, who ruled Belarus with an iron fist for a quarter of a century, wanted to use the Olympics as an opportunity to improve national prestige, but was outraged when the performance of the Belarusian team did not live up to expectations. The defection must be seen in the context of the intolerably oppressive regime of the Belarusian regime.
It is appalling that Lukanchenko’s dictatorial behavior has reached the point where an athlete representing her country is so terrified that she refuses to return home. The international community must not waver in its vigilant watch over the continued suppression of human rights by the Lukashenko regime.
Tsimanouskaya was originally scheduled to compete in the women’s 200-meter sprint on August 2. However, without her consent, her coaches instead entered her in the women’s 1,600-meter relay, an event in which she had no previous experience.
It was after Tsimanouskaya criticized this decision on his Instagram account that the order came to the Belarusian team to repatriate her by force for daring to criticize the authorities.
This set the stage for drama in Haneda. Fearing that her life would be in danger and that she would be immediately thrown in prison if she returned to Belarus, Tsimanouskaya requested the protection of the Japanese authorities there.
One cannot imagine such a situation in a country sharing respect for the universal values of freedom and democracy.
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken accused the Belarusian regime of seeking to commit “another act of transnational repression”. He added that such actions “constitute an affront to basic human rights and cannot be tolerated”. The EU also condemned the behavior of the Lukashenko regime as “brutal repression”.
The International Olympic Committee later announced that the two coaches who drove Tsimanouskaya to Haneda Airport had been stripped of their Tokyo Olympics accreditation.
Lukashenko is a former member of the Soviet army who has ruled Belarus as his personal stronghold since coming to power in 1994. His regime has crushed freedom of speech to the point that mere criticism of the government is punished as treason. In addition, there is an ongoing crackdown on dissidents.
After Lukashenko was elected to a sixth term as president last August, Belarusians have taken to the streets to protest electoral irregularities and directly criticize Lukashenko. However, these large-scale protests were violently suppressed, resulting in several deaths.
The Lukashenko dictatorship was encouraged by the political and economic assistance provided by Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the mass protests against the Lukashenko regime, Putin clearly expressed his full support for Lukashenko.
While working with Western countries to increase pressure on the Lukashenko regime, Japan should also pressure Russia to exercise restraint over Belarus.
(Read the Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun