20 January 2018, Saturday, 14:26

To walk into Peace Square


September… It’s a gloomy month for Belarus.

On September 16, 1999 the former Vice Speaker of the Belarusian Parliament, chairman of the Central Election Committee Viktar Hanchar, and a businessman and public leader Anatoly Krasouski, were abducted and assassinated.

On September 3, 2010 the founder of charter97.org website Aleh Byabenin was found hanged.

Today I recall my first meeting with the wives of the abducted and murdered people of Belarus. It was in 2001. I was to write an article for a special edition of “Nasha Svaboda” newspaper (in a few months the newspaper was closed by the authorities). I made calls and fixed meetings with Iryna Krasouskaya, Svyatlana Zavadskaya, Liudmila Karpenka, talked on the phone with the family of Yury Zakharanka, which had to move to Germany by that time because of constant threats and pressure.

I was just a young journalist, and I was afraid to go to those meetings. I didn’t know how to interview a person stricken with grief. All questions seemed false, inappropriate, cruel.

I visited every of these women at home. But I didn’t interview them. I had to listen to them, that’s all. All they needed was sympathy and understanding.

There was lots of pain and tears in these monologues. They differed in just one thing. Relatives of Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski, Zmitser Zavadski had a little hope left, a dream, that once a door would open and their husband, father, son enter and say: “Forgive me for being absent for such a long time. I am back.” Those who were able to bury the bodies of their loved ones, had nothing left to hope for.

15 years have passed since the time of kidnapping of Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Anatoly Krasouski. 14 years have passed since disappearance of Zmitser Zavadski. 4 years since Aleh Byabenin’s death.

There is no hope any more. After so many years it is clear that the abducted had been murdered, though we do not know where their graves are. Some tried to start a life anew, but the pain is still there.

But we should turn back. We should return to those horrible years, and realize that nothing is over, everything continues. So I quote the words of the women, which had been uttered by them in 2001, after the disappearances of their loved ones:

Iryna Krasouskaya: “The way I live could be understood only by a person in the same situation. How to explain it, when you don’t want to live, you do not care about anybody or anything, you cannot eat or drink, you cannot cry any more, get out of bed in the morning, and you do not want stir out of the house. How to explain that often you do not understand what you are asked about, and don’t remember what had been said by you. Any picture or thing causes pain, which is felt almost physically. I do not know whether it is life, it’s rather a miserable existence.

Svyatlana Zavadskaya: “I am ready to be busy with anything, just to stop thinking, stop thinking. I go to sleep as late as possible, but even in sleep thoughts about him are haunting me. Since he went missing, I have fever all the time. Maybe it’s because of the emotional stress. But I fear to consult a doctor. What if it’s something serious? What will happen to my son then?

Every morning I find Zmitser’s photographs from under the pillow of Yury. He says that he wants his father sleep with him. Keeping it secret from me, he kisses the portrait of Zmitser before leaving for school. Zmitser was everything for him.”

Liudmila Karpenka: “Sometimes it seems to me that I was to die, not Henadz. It seems to me that he could have done more for them, not me…

It is so scary for me to stay in the empty flat alone, as here I can only cry, looking at my husband’s things. I suspect that my phone is wiretapped. Many old acquaintances are afraid even to cross the door of my house. And when people come, they ask me to leave the house, they fear the flat is bugged.”

Alena Zakharanka: “Mother has become very nervous, she is crying even in her sleep: two years of being kept in suspense begin to tell. It’s hard to explain how unbearable, agonizingly painful it was to be unaware of where our father is. It is an awful thing to be envious of, but Liudmila Karpenka can at least come to the grave of her husband, lay flowers… My dreams are giving me no peace. I am wakened by my own shout, and even in my sleep I am asking: “Daddy, where are you?” I am exhausted by waiting. I do not have a desire to fight for life.”

Have you noticed how often these women told about their dreams? When the situation is unbearable, one hopes to find consolation at least in sleep. But it doesn’t work, one is searching, shouting and crying there as well.

I remember one dream about my colleague Aleh Byabenin. More than three months passed after his death, and I was already in the KGB prison. And I saw him in my dream. I was in a queue in a shop, and Aleh came up to me – he was beaten up, with appalling wounds. He could not speak, he stretched a hand to me, and there were words on his hand, and they were written in ink: “I am a journalist. Help me!”

In 2001 Iryna Krasouskaya confessed that she does not like to give interviews in general. But she did it for people to realize, that something terrible is happening in our life, before they were affected by that in the same way as she.

“One should not close one’s eyes to what is happening,” she said. “Like them, I never thought that such things could happen to me. Everyone could become the next…”

And there were the next.

And there will be the next ones, unless we would not stop them.

I keep thinking, what was giving strength to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires to take to the streets in white scarfs (in fact, these were napkins) during the cruel rule of Jorge Videla. About 30,000 persons were arrested or abducted over the period of the junta rule in Argentine.

Azucena Villaflor was the first to come. The reprisal for her was cruel. But people kept gathering in the Plaza de Mayo, until Videla’s regime collapsed.

We are not living in the 1970ies now. The West is not indifferent to our problems, as it happened to Latin American regimes. We gathered and marched on the squares. There were 50,000 of us there 4 years ago. It means, the same number, and even much higher, can gather there again.

We have to defend ourselves and our loved ones. We have no choice.

Natalya Radzina, Editor-in-chief of charter97.org website