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Natallia Hersche

30.09.2021 – MARC LETTAU

Prison no. 4, Gomel, Belarus – this is where 51-year-old Natallia Hersche from St Gallen has been incarcerated since being convicted of “violent resistance against a law enforcement officer” over an incident that happened during a women’s demonstration in Minsk at the end of 2020. Hersche was detained but reportedly “resisted arrest”. She ripped off a police officer’s balaclava, causing “slight damage to the garment in the area of the eye slit”. Many who have protested against the Belarus president, Alexander Lukaschenko, have been deprived of freedom. But why did Hersche leave her comfortable neighbourhood near Lake Constance to demonstrate in Minsk? Switzerland played a big part in her decision. Her adopted home is a democracy that guarantees the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. The Swiss-Belarus dual citizen wishes the same were true of her country of birth, making her “a symbol of our revolution” in the eyes of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The Swiss ambassador in Minsk, Claude Altermatt, is doing all he can to help Hersche. However, the Swiss diplomat has to tread carefully. When Switzerland opened its embassy in Belarus as recently as 2020, one of its stated goals was to deepen economic ties with the country, which Lukaschenko rules with an iron fist. In contrast, Hersche is in no mood to compromise. She could have asked Lukaschenko for a pardon in April, but didn’t. “I will never plea to this regime for anything,” she says. Who knows what price she is paying for her tenacity.

More on Swiss-Belarus relations | Swissinfo