17 January 2018, Wednesday, 14:00

“We want to give Belarusians a hope”


Belarus will be free, because there are people ready to sacrifice a lot for it.

Film director Aleh Dashkevich presented The Chronicle of Judgment Time, a series about Belarusian political prisoners, in the Belarusian House in Warsaw. The film shows tens of Belarusian prisoners of conscience, who were arrested before, during and after the 2010 presidential election.

Each story is devoted to a particular person and the ordeals he or she had to go through for a dream of a free, democratic and independent Belarus.

The first episode tells the stories of Ales Bialiatski, the head of Viasna human rights centre; Andrei Sannikov, a presidential candidate in the 2010 election and leader of the civil campaign European Belarus; Mikalai Statkevich, a political prisoner and presidential candidate; former political prisoners Zmitser and Anastasia Dashkevich; coordinator of European Belarus Zmitser Bandarenka; activist of the Conservative Christian Party BPF Siarhei Kavalenka; co-head of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party Pavel Seviarynets and charter97.org editor-in-chief Natallia Radzina.

Aleh Dashkevich said why he had shot The Chronicle of Judgment Time:

“Our films were a reaction to the events of December 2010 in Belarus. The country fell into a hole, and we wanted to give people a hope. It was important for everyone: for those behind the bars, because people remember them, and for society that was at a loss and didn't know what to do. We wanted to show there is a way out.

We need to record time and record history. Several years have passed, but I know the events of 2010 will always be in our memory. We didn't give just bare information in our films, we tried to show the events through the prism of a particular person.

Society should be based on something. There is no society without a foundation. It is very important that people should do what they declare. Unfortunately, we've seen a lot of inconsistency in the country's contemporary history: politicians were making statements, people believed them, but it turned out later that they were not able to back up their words with deeds. The belief was killed.

In December 2010, the foundation, on which society can build something, was laid. Principles are very important, especially in our situation. This is a struggle for the spirit. If there's no spirit, there will be darkness. If there is spirit, there will be truth. The truth was laid in the foundation by the people who didn't betray their principles.

Everyone asks themselves sooner or later: Why do I live? If a person understands why, if he has strength, he becomes the example for those who need a guide. All standards – social, cultural, ethical, aesthetic – are broken in Belarus. There are no moral restrictions, everything is permitted. But there should be moral restrictions. People should answer for their words. Heroes of the film are the ground and the foundation of the nation.”

Ales Bialiatski, a recently released political prisoner, addressed the audience via Skype. He was one of the initiators of the project, but it happened so that he became its first hero.

“We have seen a lot for the last few years. We went through ordeals in December 2010 and later. Nevertheless, we managed not to give up our civic position. My only wish is to see everyone free. The virus of fear remains in society as long as at least one political prisoner is in jail. We are being held in jail, because it is a tool for the authorities to keep society in fear,” Bialiatski said about The Chronicle of Judgment Time.

Natallia Radzina, the editor-in-chief of charter97.org, asked Ales Bialiatski if the Lukashenka regime could count on better relations with the West if all political prisoners were released as prisoners of conscience had been bargaining chips for the dictator for the last 20 years.

“The release of the political prisoners is the first step. Seven persons, who are currently in jails, should be released immediately. All civil and political freedoms, all opportunities are 'cemented'. People cannot exercise them. Everything – the media, assemblies, elections – doesn't work. Everything has become graved under sand and mud in the last 20 years. The release of the political prisoner will not solve the situation, but it is clear that significant for the regime issues, first of all economic ones, cannot be discussed without the release,” the head of Viasna human rights centre said.

The human rights defender also spoke about the upcoming “presidential election”, which is due to be held in 2015.

“I think the campaign won't be significant. We cannot hope that we are able to change the political situation in the country or at least count the votes objectively with the current procedures. We need to take it into consideration and look for parallel and other ways of working with Belarusian society, not putting much hope on the electoral campaign,” Bialiatski said.

The human rights defender noted many Belarusians had to leave the country in 2010 due to criminal prosecution or pressure from the secret services:

“Returning to Belarus is one of the ways to ease the tension between democratic society and the authorities. If the authorities agreed on changes and a package of measures to improve the situation, the issue of Belarusian emigration would be solved as it happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union: many returned after political pressure disappeared and restrictions were removed. There are some problems in Belarus, there is a real danger for civic and political activists and members of their families.”

Former political prisoner Zmitser Bandarenka, who spent 16 months in prison after December 19, 2010, congratulated Ales Bialiatski on the release:

“I though in prison that the main thing was not to turn into an inmate and to remain a free person. It was possible to achieve in certain situations. I am free now, but I automatically continue holding my hands behind my back, because it helps me think. It seems to me you should remember after the release that you was a prisoner.

I have a task for you, Ales. It happened so that you represent Belarus as a human rights defender (you even looks like Gandhi). You must speak on behalf of all of us: those who are in prison or not, and for those who already left us. We give you some time to have a rest, but then you will be our voice.”

Ales Bialiatski answered he would do his best:

“Of course, I will do everything I can. I understand the responsibility. It's a big question how to draw interest of the European community to the problems of Belarus. All attention is focused on our southern neighbour. It is fair to a certain extent, because the events in Ukraine will impact the future of Belarus. But we continue our common struggle.”