For over a year now, Brest has been the centre of environmental protests.
Every Sunday hundreds of those who disagree with the construction of the Brest battery plant go to the central square of the city. According to the latest data, the first consignment of products at the battery factory is planned to be produced this month.
Are Brest citizens determined to continue fighting? What does give them strength? These and other questions Charter97.org addressed to Aliaksandr Kabanau, an active participant in protests, a blogger from Biaroza, winner of the National Prize for Human Rights Protection in two nominations in 2018.
- In February Brest faced mass marches in the city. Why was it decided to change the format of the protest?
- The fact is that such marches were discussed about a year ago. At that time some people hoped that there would be discussions, meetings with officials, submission of documents and the issue would be solved somehow.
When it did not happen, people realized they needed to take more drastic measures. One of them was marches around the city. This is not only a silent protest against the plant, but also, first of all, against ignorance of the authorities!
The chairman of Brest Regional Executive Committee Anatoli Lis was asked to meet, but no reaction followed. We have submitted a lot of applications for rallies and pickets, but we were refused.
Only once the rally "Brest vs. lead" was authorized. It took place on 29 April and gathered about 2.000 people.
It gave an impetus to more active protest. Moreover, citizens have the right to walk around the city, including its center.
- The first consignment of products at the battery plant is planned for this month. How do residents of Brest feel about it and what are they going to do?
- First of all, I'd like to note that people clearly realize that such an enterprise will cause a bad luck. The data we have found and published prove that the plant is dangerous.
Second, I'll address the authorities. If you start the plant, it does not mean that people will accept it. You can be sure that no one will surrender - the resistance will continue and the result is not known yet.
Third, there is an important message to those who made the decision about the construction of the plant. There is a great probability of problems to appear. You were addressed, warned, explained, and you did not take any measures. Roughly speaking, perpetrators of likely consequences have already been identified.
Now we're thinking about next steps, how to monitor the plant. I'd like to note that many people living in the area are going to leave. The situation, in fact, is disappointing.
- There is information that rallies will be held not only on Sundays, but also on weekdays. Is it true?
- Yes, we applied for actions and rallies against the construction of the battery plant. They were expectedly rejected.
We wanted to do it on weekdays, because on Sundays the city is supposed to host events. "Everything is planned down" - the local authorities argue for their refusals, so we decided to take a different path and file an application for weekdays.
Nevertheless, we have shown the public how the laws work in Belarus. The reality contradicts papers. This is a closed topic for the authorities. Apparently, Minsk has ordered to stop any activity related to the battery plant. As you could see, peaceful actions are still held on Sundays.
- The other day, it became known that a criminal case was opened against you. Please tell us more about this.
- I didn't commit any crime. There are indirect aspects that indicate that the initiation of the case is connected with my social activity.
The first point is that the police officer who lives in my entrance filed a complaint. We have had conflict situations with him before.
The second point is that it filed almost two years after certain events I will tell you about. During these two years, none of the tenants have filed any complaints against me.
Here's the thing. Two years ago, the tenants of the house I live in asked me for certain services. I was elected chairman of the tenants' association. It was about the construction of basements.
I was asked to prepare all the documents so that we could build basements. This is a new house. It has no basements and residents wanted to have them.
Since it is too expensive to build them through the housing and utility sector, we decided to build them on our own to save money.
In general, it was decided to pay me 2 rubles a month from one apartment. That is, it was about 120 rubles. I worked for four months, got the result - we were allowed to build our own basements. That's all.
Two years later, a neighbor-policeman writes a statement that I borrowed about 10 rubles ($5) and did not report on how I spent them. Investigators from Brest come to me in Biaroza, people are interviewed en masse.
You can imagine what happened here. From morning till evening the police were here. It was just 10 rubles.
I didn't know what was going on at first. I just saw that the police were constantly hanging around the house for 3-4 people. As a result, I was summoned to the ROVD and explained that I had been subjected to a complaint.
You know, I had no emotions. What was a problem? I took 440 rubles for four months of work and there is no crime! The investigation decided that I had no right to take the money and, in their opinion, I "damaged" the homeowners' association.
The neighbors I talked to have no claims to me. Everybody knows that I received this money. I am charged under Article 211, para 1 of the Criminal Code "embezzlement".
Everything's clear to me here. I am detained every Sunday for fictitious reasons. I don't remember Sundays, when I spent them not at the police department.
One Sunday I was summoned to the Investigative Committee. I met with an investigator, and then the police were on my doorstep again. They come to me to search and so on. It's an attempt to put pressure.
But they beat the air. I am not afraid of them and will not give up so easily. I feel good, my conscience is unclouded. I stress that I have not committed crimes and I look people in the eye openly. These policemen and investigators are always on the phone. I think they are talking to KGB officers, asking how and what to do.
That's what law enforcement officers do, this is what budget money is spent on.
- You communicate a lot with people, what moods are in the city? What do Brest citizens talk about?
- People don't believe the authorities, and they already know that. People who stand against the battery plant have their eyes wide open.Many people used to be satisfied with everything, they lived their lives.
Imagine, there were cases, at the very beginning of protests, when some invited the state media to voice their position, to tell what was happening and were extremely surprised when the pro-government journalists did not come. They were shocked.
Although I told them at once "Guys, forget it, only independent media can write about you". Again, people have their eyes wide open. Many are shocked with pressure put on me.
Many are dissatisfied with both salaries and vacancy challenges. I'd like Belarusians to be more confident. To understand that we can change the situation in the country. We need to be active, to key into problems, to fight for our future and to take part in decisions (major ones), but not like this, "it's still enough for me, and I do not care".
When the plant begins to operate, some people intend to leave, sell property.
You know, they calculated the profit from the plant, which goes into the pocket of the owner, and did not take into account many people who live in the area. They work, pay taxes, and now they face the challenge - to save their families and leave.
It's not known how many of these people will leave the country. Among them there are IT specialists and senior engineers. I do not understand why the authorities do not think about it.
The protest will continue in Brest. Perhaps, some other protests will join it. Let's say, against the decree on "parasites". After all, it's known that in March parasites should receive increased utility bills.
Everything may happen. I remember events of 2017 - mass protests against the decree on "parasites". At that time, almost everyone said nothing would happen in Brest. The border is nearby, smugglers live well, but Brest finally rose.
People are dissatisfied, so anything may happen. It's unpredictable.
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