25 March 2018, Sunday, 6:12

The Iron People Of Belarus


Who are they, the heroes of the year 2017?

There is a tradition to summarize the results of the year when it ends. Frankly speaking, for the twenty years of work this obligation has become a bit tiresome for me. However, there are things that need to be said.

Recently, we were discussing the situation in Belarus with a Polish journalist. He compared it with the situation in Poland in the 1980s, not long before the Round Table, when the opposition sharply reduced its activities due to repression, and the people did their best to survive: "Apart from the fearless Solidarity activists, who continued their work in the underground, despite the mass arrests, printed newspapers, leaflets; there were also many people, even among the intelligentsia, who gave up and decided to adapt."

Yes, it is similar indeed. Many of the people I know, who used to take an active part in the resistance to dictatorship some 5-10 years ago, came out to protest, helped political prisoners, wrote brave reports, and did small but important deeds, now choose to adapt.

It is pointless to criticize them. They usually respond with a template "It's easy for you to be brave from abroad". Let us omit the circumstances under which we found ourselves abroad and how "easy" life is here for us. It's not what we are talking about right now.

I want to say a few words about the heroes of the year 2017. Of course, all those who dared to openly protest against the stupid initiatives of the government this year, are heroes. The participants of the Outraged Belarusians' Marches have made it to the history already, the same as those who took on to the square in 2006 and 2010, the participants of the Freedom Day actions and the Chernobyl Way rallies, and the Kurapaty defenders.

However,there are people whom I like to call by names today. Because they do not surrender, despite all the losses, they do not try to dig in and settle down in the hope that better times will come by themselves. They are the leader of the Belarusian National Congress Mikalai Statkevich, who spent more than 8 years in prison, but continues to stubbornly come out to the Square. Poet Uladzimir Niakliaeu, who gave up peaceful life and became a political prisoner and the leader of protests. Movie director Volha Nikalaichyk, who took up active human rights activities. This is one of the leaders of the civil campaign "European Belarus" and the movement "Zubr" Yauhen Afnahel, who after several years of emigration returned to Belarus and continued the struggle. Activist Maxim Viniarski, who participated in protests in Belarus, Russia, was at two Maidans in Ukraine and today is the record holder for the number of served administrative arrests (he repeatedly served 10-15 days of detention and thus accumulated more than a year in prison for the past 10 years). This is the Minsk taxi driver Leanid Kulakou, whose car was seized by the authorities, just for his opposition views. This is the former entrepreneur from Brest Natallia Papkova, who lost her business because of the participation in the Outraged Belarusians' Marches, but continued public activities. This is Maryna Adamovich, who may lose her house due to the political activity of Mikalai Statkevich, but continues to support her husband in everything. This is Pavel Seviarynets, who, like a true Christian, has not betrayed his principles for decades.

I cannot list everyone. These people are the same as us. However, they are special in something. These people are said to be made of iron.

Good luck in the New Year, the iron people of Belarus.

Natallia Radzina, Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org

In the photo: upper row - Andrei Sharenda, Siarhei Verameyenka, Maxim Viniarski, Natallia Papkova, Yauhen Afnahel, Pavel Seviarynets, lower row - Volha Nikalaichyk, Maryna Adamovich, Mikalai Statkevich, Uladzimir Niakliaeu, Leanid Kulakou, Viachaslau Siuchyk