26 February 2021, Friday, 4:11
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

Svetlana Alexievich: We Must Show Our Number Is Growing

Svetlana Alexievich: We Must Show Our Number Is Growing
Svetlana Alexievich

How the protests will win in Belarus.

Writer, Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich talked to Voice of America about the protest movement in Belarus.

- You have already talked about "the geopolitical influence of one big country". Can we say that Russia is completely on Lukashenka's side and will remain on that side?

- I do not think that Russia is on Lukashenka's side. It is on its side. The popular movement took Russia by surprise; it was not ready for that. It doesn't like Lukashenka's current behaviour when the streets of our cities resemble battlefields. Russia will be looking for another option... I hope that we will not become a province of Russia, but remain an independent state.

- A very interesting study of protesters in Belarus was conducted by sociologist Oksana Shelest. One of the conclusions of her research is that the Belarusian protest is predominantly Russian-speaking. Isn't it surprising?

- In our country, the majority of people speak Russian. However, it is an amazing phenomenon: people speak Russian, but their consciousness is Belarusian. They want to live in a separate country, have their flag, their history. I saw many people on the march who speak Russian but they are wrapped in a white-red-white flag.

- Why do you think this flag became popular so quickly? For many decades, it has been a symbol of mainly national-democratic opposition, a small part of society. There were few such flags during the first election campaigns of Tsikhanouskaya. Now the protest is white-red-white. Why?

- We think about how we will live on our own, how to save Belarus, how to be Belarus. I remember how I came to the window; there was a column with a huge, multi-meter flag under the windows. It was as if we had a subconscious memory about Belarus, about ourselves, about our language, about our symbols. It immediately came to the surface. Any resistance needs a symbol. Since it was our symbol, it immediately took such a place in our lives. If we have our own country, this flag will be a state symbol.

- The adherents of Lukashenka dream to return to the "idyll" that existed before this August. Their opponents, not only active ones, say there will be no return, even if the revolution fails. Won't it happen? People of my parents' generation, your generation, remembered the thaw of the 1950-60s. Then, it seemed that the past would never come back. Do you remember how the thaw ended? The triumph of the reaction is a unique phenomenon in history. Can it happen in Belarus now?

- Well, it's no use to remember the thaw. We also had the 90s. We longed for changes then; there was such a leap in our heads. Though, it was rather at higher ranks of society. While its bottom remained idle. Naturally, there is a setback. However, any thaw, any step forward cannot completely "roll back". One cannot go back to the past.

People do not want to live the way they lived before 1990. They will never live like that. People want to travel the world. A human being wants children to study where they want. Young people, when they hear about that life before 1990, don't believe it was like that. But it was.

It leaves a mark and brings consequences. If there had not been a Khrushchev thaw, there would not have been Perestroika in the 90s. If there hadn't been the 90s, the events in Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia and now our country would have not happened. The changes come slowly and sometimes painfully, as we have them now.

The other day, Roma Bandarenka was buried.

One of my books has a story of a witness to the Armenian-Azerbaijani war in the early 1990s. He told how an Armenian family was killed in Karabakh. A girl, the youngest daughter, hid on a tree. It was in the evening, one shot at her, but missed and she survived. The teacher who lived nearby said: "I don't know if it was worth wishing this new life for this girl, my pupil, to be shot at". People who longed for a new life shot at her. These are hard questions to answer. Nevertheless, the way to freedom is thorny.

In August, 200-300 thousand people took part in demonstrations in Belarus; women carried flowers and gave them even to these masked creatures. Then their superior took these flowers and threw them at Lenin monument. Then it seemed we would have a revolution without blood. I still support the bloodless option. I believe if we rise in arms, the cost of our victory will be higher. It is the space where the dictatorship feels best. We must exercise a different option to win. We must show that our number is growing.