Freedom Day caused mixed feelings.
Several months ago when the preparation works for a great holiday started, it seemed to me that the centenary of the Belarusian People's Republic (BPR) would be decent. I had a feeling of euphoria and joy. It seemed that even the authorities would not dare to spoil the day.
After the blocking of Charter-97 in January, I realized that a vile and disgusting operation of special services was launched. When we were blocked, thousands of our readers, Belarusian and international human rights organizations, deputies of the European Parliament and politicians from around the world rendered their support. World press wrote about us, but the solidarity of Belarusian independent journalists ran dry several days later. Instead, the discredit campaign was launched on social networks, and Belarusian diplomats called by Western Foreign Ministries stated that the authorities of Belarus had blocked the "extremist site". Special agents in foreign opposition delegation also whispered it to European politicians.
Then the hate campaign was launched against those opposition activists and leaders who offered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of BPR not only with with a rally and a concert, but also with a traditional festive march. Leaders of the Belarusian National Congress (BNC) managed to gather an organizing committee on celebration of Freedom Day and it adopted the scenario. They even managed to invite official authorities to celebrate the great date.
But the joint opposition is even worth than a nuclear war for the regime. The authorities immediately fobbed off their scenario - the concert only with appointed organizers. Some so-called independent media used social networks to throw dirt, unfair accusations and reproaches in heroes who spent years in prisons for fight of freedom of Belarus (Mikalai Statkevich spent 8 years in prison). I hope those who emotionally participated in this vile campaign will find some strength to apologize.
The mass concert and rally were also not a part of the KGB's plan. It was not allowed for people from universities, schools, public institutions, plants to participate in festive events not only on Yakub Kolas Square, but near the Opera House where the concert should have started. Many musicians refused to participate in the concert for various reasons.
And what is the result of March 25? Heroes, patriots, sincere and brave people are caged like animals. A few days before the concert, port Uladzimir Nyaklyayew was captured right on the street, the house of Jauhen Afnahel was taken by storm, Volha Mikalaichyk was sieged by two days and later arrested near Yakub Kolas Square. Maksim Vinyarski, Leanid Kulakou, Vyachyslau Siuchyk found themselves behind bars. Mikalai Statkevich was arrested near his house early in the morning of March 25. Poet Slavamir Adamovich was taken off the train like a wanted criminal. In the regions mass arrests of opposition activists started on March 24 and continued on Freedom Day - hundreds of people could not reach the capital at authorized events !
About 100 people were arrested only for daring to appear on Yakub Kolas Square on March 25. The Internet is full with photo proves of women and old people pushed into paddy wagons.
Journalists had no chance to reach the capital. Volha Chaichyts and her husband Andrei Kozel were stopped every 500 metres by the traffic police on their way to the capital; traffic police officers had their car numbers written on hands. In the end, Andrei was sent to the psychoneurological dispensary. Lyubou Lunyeva, Stanislau Ivashkevich, Ihar Illyash were captured when they filmed lawlessness on Yakub Kolas Square. Halina Abakunchyk was detained when she was walking with people with national flags along Nemiha. Mobile operators blocked mobile phones of journalists under the order of the authorities. Viasna civil rights defenders were also detained. The world was shocked with "independence selfies" made in paddy wagons.
And here comes the climax. About two hundred people were arrested, and a gala concert was held behind fences and under the supervision of the riot police near the Opera House. Speakers solemnly read out their pre-written speeches, musicians sing their songs, several thousand people listen. Many national flags are waving. A nice picture.
But there was no joy. There is a feeling of a staged performance where people play their role.
And it is even more dissapointing that the people arrested the day before were hardly mentioned. I do not like to draw prison parallels, but here I agree with Zmitser Bandarenka, who said: "Today's concert reminds me the one in a correctional facility, when all are made come together, and the most dangerous offenders are put in the penalty ward".
However, all the same, despite all the meanness, this Freedom Day has given me hope. My parents went to the center of Kobryn for the first time in their life in honor of the BPR's 100th anniversary. Together with them thousands of people took part in the event across the country and all over the world. We will survive.
P.S. The sensational release of leaders and opposition activists on the evening of March 25 proves that the Belarusian regime is very weak. It is obvious that Belarusian prisoners of conscience were released under international pressure. It means the pressure on the regime works. It's a pity that not Belarusians are those who put this pressure.
Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter97.org