An interview with the most famous taxi driver in the country.
Almost every person who is halfway interested in the political life of the country knows the activist of the European Belarus civil campaign Leanid Kulakou. Charter97.org decided to get its readers more familiar with the person who found strength and courage to say "That's enough!" Leanid Kulakou might gave someone a lift when he worked as a taxi driver.
- Please, introduce yourself.
- I was born in Minsk. For a while I lived in a boarding school, because my mother was often ill and spent much time in hospitals. Later our neighbors took care of me. That time I went to an ordinary school.
By the way, Volodya Kleshch was my classmate (one of the most notorious Belarusian code-bound criminal, gone missing in 1997). His mother visited both of us. Unfortunately, Vova drifted into crime. He used to call me "too fair guy". My nickname was Mr. Right. I used to say "Vova, things you're doing are bad." We became friends. He constantly stood for me.
After school I served in the navy in Severomorsk (Murmansk region, Russia). Then I returned in Minsk. I did not want to stay in Russia. I worked as an agent at MAZ and MTZ. When the Soviet Union collapsed, all warehouses were filled with equipment. Unfortunately, Lukashenka ruined dealing in Belarus.
When dollar increased in price in the late 90s the company turned bankrupt and I started working as taxi driver in Kozlevichi (Adam Kozlevich one of the key characters of The Golden Calf written by Ilf and Petrov). I offered my acquaintance to name it "Wildebeest" like it was in the book. Kozlevich drove that car. The name of the firm has remained.
- You used to work as a taxi driver. Taxi driver like to talk to their passengers. What do your former colleagues think about the situation in the country?
- Three years ago I almost had fights with my colleagues. Many of them argued furiously that it was a good authority. But I kept saying that it was about to end. Our state can't earn money, it is donored by Russia. It's wrong, we should take care of ourselves. I enumerated countries which ensured a good quality of life without having any resources.
Many people cried that we would not survive without Russia. Only 30% supported me three-four years ago. Now almost everyone is against this power! Within a year or two their opinion has dramatically changed.
- What did passengers say?
- I liked talking to passengers. Then almost 70% of them accepted my point of view. I my car I had two flags - white-red-white and the Ukraininan one. Passengers saw them. Some people preferred other taxi. I asked why and they said: "We are in a hurry, what if the police stop us. We will be late." But there were only few of them.
. After all, we were standing in a row. My colleagues wondered why passengers preffered my taxi. They said: "As soon as you put a white-red-white flag on your dashboard, we will sit in your car." Taxi drivers approached and said: "Lenya, give us a flag! I will give it back!" (laughs).
- If one googles "activist Leanid Kulakou", there are thousands of news, most of them are about your arrests, fines and releases. Did you know how much time you spent behind bars?
- Frankly speaking, I lost count. I'm still lagging behind Maksim Vinyarski. (laughs)
I do not feel shame for my arrests. I can say without any hesitation: "Yes, I was tried, and I can tell you reasons why. . I always say in court: "You try neither an alcoholic nor a hooligan, but a dissentient. And you know perfectly that I'm innocent."
I remember Judge Khoma in the Tsentralny District Court. He asked: "Is there a request?", "Yes", I say. "What kind of?" "You know, if a person was liable many times under the same article, he is found especially dangerous. I'd like you to recognize me as especially dangerous political persistent offender." He laughs.
Then I say that I have no money to cover fines and ask them to arrest me. And they say that they will think it over. And the verdict is 50 basic units. I wondered why they did not take into account my request about arrest. The judge replies that I did nothing wrong to be arrestsed. But what is the reason for the fine then?
It looks like a show to me. I like trolling these "judges". Once I said: "Long Live Belarus!". He looked and me and said: "Thank you!" I wonder what for. . For the fact that I was on the Square or for "Long Live Belarus"? He did not say a word. . At the end of the hearing I said: "Long Live Belarus!". He repeats: "Thank you!".
In 2016 I was tried 20 times. In 2017 it happened about 10 times. I usually say to "judges": "See you soon!" (laughs).
- Why did you started to actively participate in political protests, rallies, performances?
- Since early 2000s I have come up with the situation in the country. Lukashenka's words do not meet his actions. All judges support officials, TV sets show propaganda, the police go rogue. I got tired of it.
In 2006 I only knew the word "opposition". I did not know anything about parties and movements. I had no computer then. I did not know about the existence of alternative websites. In 2008 I learned about "Charter-97". I have started reading it every day. News feed is constantly updated, and I wanted to see all the news. I look through other sites, but always come back to the Charter.
- What about access to the site now? Do you bypass the blocking?
- I have poor knowledge of computers. I asked Maksim Vinyarski to help me. Now everything's fine.
I can't live without reading it. It's like a jolt of fresh air. I suffer from asthma and sometimes I can't breathe. And the Charter gives me some.
- Were there curious moments connected with your activity?
- After events of the year 2010 I was summoned to the police station. I was given a list with 70 questions. One of them was: Do you belong to any political organization? I say: - Yes, I do. The policeman specifies: - Which one?
- To a sympathizing one. I belong to opposition.
- Such party does not exist.
- Well, then it will.
Then I had poor knowledge of all our opposition parties. Some people say that if one holds a white-red-white flag in hands, then it means BPF. I do not have anything in common with the BPF.
- This stereotype comes from the 90s: if you speak Belarusian or unfurl the white-red-white flag, you belong to the BPF.
- And I have to explain that these are ordinary people who love their country, their land and obey their traditions. After all, there are a lot of parties and movements. Fortunately, many people made it clear.
- I know that forecasts are not reliable, but when do you think the Lukashenka theater will run dry?
Now many people are dissatisfied with the regime. They pronounce a curse upon this power.
You know, a year ago my neighboring old ladies said they lived a lush life. They did not support me, and now they apologize to me: "Leanid, we were wrong. This devil deceived us..."
These old ladies spend their miserable pensions on food. It's good that they do not smoke.
- What is your advice for Belarusians who want changes?
- One needs to overcome one's fear to win the battle. If all Belarusians do it, everything will be fine then. I am not afraid of anything. And I wish the same for all Belarusians.
By the way, Decree No.1 will stir people into political action. When people have to pay in full for housing and communal services, then they start doing something. You'll see the decree will promote mass protests. The current decree is even worse than Decree No. 3, it will touch upon everyone. People will take the streets.