Fact Check: Latvian Government Did NOT Demand That Belarusian Opposition Change Its Symbol


  • Автор: Lead Stories Staff
Fact Check: Latvian Government Did NOT Demand That Belarusian Opposition Change Its Symbol Denied

Did the Latvian government demand that the exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya change Belarus's opposition symbol, the white-red-white flag, "due to its collaborationist past" and in relation to the recent "scandalous resignation" of the mayor of Riga, Mārtiņš Staķis, who supported the Belarusian opposition? No, that's not true: In correspondence with Lead Stories, the press secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diāna Eglīte, has denied that Latvia ever presented such a request.

On July 9, 2023, the claim appeared in a video posted on the TikTok account @sotnik_tiktok (archived here).

The graphic overlay on the video, in Russian, says:

The Latvian government demands that the Belarusian opposition change the white-red-white flag, due to its collaborationist past. The reason for this was a scandalous investigation into the resignation of former mayor of Riga, Mārtiņš Staķis, who in 2021 replaced the national flag of Belarus with a white-red-white 'cloth' in the center of Riga.

(The text has been translated into English from Russian by Lead Stories staff).

Below is how the post appeared on TikTok at the time of writing:

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.54.19.png

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Tue July 11 10:55:23 2023 UTC)

On July 13, 2023, in correspondence with Lead Stories, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Secretary, Diana Eglīte, wrote:

This claim is silly and absolutely unfounded. Latvia has never put forward any demand to Belarusian civil activists and opposition leaders. After the brutal and unfair repression by Lukashenko's regime of peaceful protesters in Belarus in 2020, Latvia was one of the first countries that actively supported the Belarusian civil society and its leaders and keeps doing that to this day.

Additionally, Lead Stories found no evidence that the Latvian government demanded that the Belarusian opposition symbol be changed on the Latvian government or Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official websites or on Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's Twitter page, official website, or social media accounts.

A search for the phrases "Latvian government Belarusian opposition change the white-red-white flag" or "Latvian government Tikhanovskaya change the white-red-white flag" conducted on July 10, 2023, using Google News' index of thousands of credible news sites, did not reveal any factual reports on these claims.

On May 24, 2021, the former mayor of Riga, Mārtiņš Staķis, along with the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and the current Latvian President, Edgars Rinkēvičs, replaced the official red-green flag of Belarus, displayed in the center of the Latvian capital along with the flags of the other countries participating in the World Ice Hockey Championship, with the historic white-red-white flag, considered the symbol of the opposition in Belarus.

They were acting in response to Belarus' forced landing of a Ryanair passenger jet on May 23, 2023, carried out in order to detain dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was on board. Latvian officials' actions resulted in the reciprocal expulsion of ambassadors and in Belarus opening a criminal case against the Latvian officials.

During the 2020 Belarus anti-government protests, the Belarusian state propaganda made extensive efforts to undermine the historic significance of the white-red-white flag, now used as a symbol against Lukashenko, by labeling it as "the flag of collaborators." In May 2021, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus tried to link the white-red-white flag with Nazi symbolism, indicating it was used by Belarusian collaborators during World War II. In fact, the white and red Belarusian flag has served as a symbol of Belarus' national movement since the late 19th century and was the official national flag of Belarus from 1991 to 1995.

In 2020, Tikhanovskaya took on the role of opposition candidate following the detention of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a former blogger and presidential candidate who rallied mass protests against Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. She participated in the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus and is widely believed to have emerged as the winner. However, she was forced out of the country with her children. In December 2021, Tikhanovsky was sentenced to 18 years in prison on various charges, including the organization of riots. Tikhanovskaya told the BBC that her husband's sentence was a result of Lukashenko's "personal revenge." In March 2023, a Belarus court sentenced Tikhanovskaya to 15 years in jail in absentia. The charges levied against her included high treason and conspiracy to seize power.

In 2020 Lukashenko, who has been the president of Belarus since 1994, stubbornly resisted months of protests that followed the presidential election, which was widely thought to have been rigged. In response, he carried out mass arrests and imprisoned numerous opposition politicians and activists.

  Lead Stories Staff

Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, deceptive or inaccurate stories (or media) making the rounds on the internet.

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