Belarusian opposition leader, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya is this year's winner of the international Four Freedoms Award. The prize is awarded to people who have devoted themselves to the democratic ideals that former American President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood for. The intention is that Tsikhanouskaya will receive the prize on 21 April 2022 in Middelburg, the capital of the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands.
In the Belarusian presidential elections of 2020, held on 9 August 2020, Tsikhanouskaya was the main competitor of the current Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 20 July 1994. Her husband, Sergei Tsikhanouskaya, had wanted to run for president, but he was arrested before he could run. In December 2021, he was sentenced to 18 years in jail. His wife Tsikhanouskaya – a political novice at the time of his arrest – then took over his role.
According to the official results, Lukashenko won the 2021 elections significantly, but the opposition and international observers soon spoke of large-scale electoral fraud. Many Belarusians also believed that fraud had been committed and took to the streets, where they were confronted by security forces who tried to beat down the protest with their hands. Tsikhanouskaya fled her country and now resides in Lithuania.
The Four Freedoms Award is named after Roosevelt's historic Four Freedoms speech from 1941, delivered 11 months before the surprise Japanese attack on U.S. forces in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii and the Philippines that caused the United States to declare war on Japan, 8 December 1941. In this speech, he said that everyone is entitled to four fundamental freedoms rights: freedom of speech and expression; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. Because Roosevelt's family originally came from the province of Zeeland, the annual award is handed out in alternate years in New York City by the Roosevelt Institute to Americans and in Middelburg (The Netherlands), by the Roosevelt Stichting to non-Americans.
Presentation of the Four Freedoms Awards is a tradition begun by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in New York in 1950. Roosevelt’s ancestors came from the Zeeland village of Oud-Vossemeer (The Netherlands).
The Roosevelt Foundation, calls Tsikhanouskaya "a true leader of the democratic movement who gives the people of Belarus a voice and hope for a better future in which the rule of law and basic human rights are respected". The award is also meant as an appreciation for them. "Their commitment and courage are an example for others who live under difficult circumstances in countries where human rights and democratic values are violated", the statement said.
Past winners of the international Four Freedoms Award include South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, Nelson Mandela, South African Anglican bishop and theologian, Desmond Tutu, former chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel and children's rights activist for female education and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai.