22 April 2021, Thursday, 15:10
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Katsiaryna Snytsina: I Am Sure That Belarus Will Be Free in 2021

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Katsiaryna Snytsina: I Am Sure That Belarus Will Be Free in 2021
Katsiaryna Snytsina
Photo: Instagram

The main thing is not to stop and “play until victory,” the famous Belarusian basketball player says.

The captain of the Belarusian national basketball team, bronze medalist of the European Championship, participant of the Olympic Games Katsiaryna Snytsina told in an interview with the website Charter97.org Studio X97 why she leaves the national team, about the contract with which the Ministry of Sports tried to silence it, about the athletes who support and condemn the regime, as well as the future of Belarus. Host - Yauhen Klimakin.

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- Katsiaryna, please tell us the whole story. You got another contract in March, right?

- In February. On March 31st my current contract ended. A month before the end of the contract, we must either sign or not sign a new one. And in February this procedure began, that is, my employer sent me a new contract. I read it. I got to point 2.25: I have to coordinate every interview with the employer. Everything else, in principle, suited me and I signed a contract on each page, but I crossed out this point. I wrote “disagree” on the side and sent it away. To which I received the answer that crossing out is unacceptable. That is, a contract is sent: whether you sign it or not. It turns out that I did not sign it.

- But do you understand what interviews? They probably wanted not to comment on the political life in Belarus, right?

- Yes, I understand that, of course, and this applies practically only to the political situation in the country, so that athletes cannot say anything, do not want to say something. And if they said something, they would bear some responsibility for it.

- I, frankly, Katsiaryna, in this situation was surprised by another fact that you were generally sent this agreement, given all your Instagram activity, that you did not speak for pro-government leaders during the elections, that you harshly criticized the regime and the repressions that began writing about politically motivated killings.

- I am the captain of the national team, the main player. At these games in February, I was one of the best in terms of scoring. With a pure heart, I say that I helped my team to reach the European Championship. Here, probably, it played some role after all. I was surprised too by the call to the national team, but that's how it happened.

- If I may ask, have you lost a lot from the fact that the contract was not renewed? Is it thousands of rubles, tens of thousands of rubles? So that we have some understanding.

- It's 1400, I think.

- Per month?

- Yes, somewhere like that, probably I had a salary of 450 dollars. That's it, I will be a parasite.

- Well, it's the national team, so many years of playing to represent your state at the most important sporting events. Was it a tough decision or not?

- I had some kind of weight on my shoulders. Because all these deaths, repressions, and so on are in my country, and, at the same time, I am part of the national team that represents the country in the international arena, while my people are suffering. Due to this, I had a very big dissonance in my head, in my heart.

I made this decision with a calm heart - I feel good now. In fact, these are not just our words, slogans: champions and athletes are with the people. This is indeed the case. Making this decision to leave the national team, at the same time, I understood that I was in some huge, incredible, another team of the people of Belarus. In general, I did not have a second of regret.

- Nobody forced you to comment on your Instagram, write what the regime is doing, and disagree with it. You knew you were going to lose something, didn't you?

- Of course, I understood. At first, there was such a feeling: “No, Snytsina, why should you speak out? You never spoke about politics." The events before August 9, all these campaigns, the unification of headquarters - I missed this all summer. I had my family drama, I did not delve into it at all, although I was in the country.

In early August, before the elections, I arrived in Turkey. And then I look, I follow Instagram, of course, and I remember these August 9-10-11. I looked at the phone and did not believe that this was happening on the streets of my city, but I understood that it was. That is, it cannot be some kind of large-scale performance on Instagram, it really is. I could not get through to my parents in Minsk, I could write to my friends. On the 9-10th, I had an urge to speak in support, but for two days, I had a feeling of "what am I getting myself into." Firstly, I missed everything, and secondly, I don’t understand politics.

But this is not where politics begins. I realized that this is not politics but simply genocide, this is terror against my people, this crime is happening on the streets of my city. And in fact, publishing the first post, I published it with the words: "Well, let's go!" Because I understood that if I start, then I will not stop talking, speaking out. And I understood, of course, that in our country, in principle, both people and the athletes themselves are accustomed to not going anywhere: “We go in for sports, we are athletes, and so on.” It was in 2020 that I realized that I am not only an athlete but also a citizen of the Republic of Belarus. I actually felt it. At 35, but better late than never.

- When you watched the protests in Belarus on the Internettelegram, from Turkey, where you play, work, are there now, what was the predominant feeling: pain or pride?

- It was very painful to look at the explosions, to look at the blood of people. When (I even have goosebumps now) people in T-shirts and shorts take to the streets of their cities in the summer in the evening and are shot at - it was very scary. Then there was such a wave of all these rallies on Sundays. Even sitting here in Turkey, I received such a boost of energy, it inspired me so much! Then the genocide continued. People who left Akrestsina Street after August 9-10 began to tell their stories. Again, it was an emotional pit. I support the August 2020 project, and I had to choose a story there, read it out so that people know what happened to their fellow citizens in August.

To choose, I had to read about 30 stories. Yauhen, I was crying, I could not stop. In general, then I gave up, jabbed my finger, and chose some story:

"... We heard how the guys were taken out of the cells, heard how they were beaten, how they were screaming, and then, when we were taken out to the formation, I saw blood on the walls ..."

And during this search of a story, I realized that this whole terror, this animal treatment of Belarusians, was committed by the Belarusians themselves. This is probably one of the most terrible things for me because no one came from other countries to terrorize, kill, and torture us. This was done by the Belarusians themselves. For me, this is one of the most terrifying things that I have realized.

- But in fact, the Lukashenka regime did not become like this today or in 2020. Political assassinations, repressions, persecutions last for many, many years. How long have you personally become dissatisfied with this situation?

- I lived quietly in my house. And even at the beginning of the summer of 2020, or rather, at the end of my last season, I decided that I would not stay in Belarus after my basketball career. I still could not decide to stay in Turkey or some European country, but there was the realization that I did not want to live in Belarus. I followed this feeling. All my life I have been in Minsk, I live in the Zavadski district, I adore this area, but I don’t see happy people here. When I was in school, I was scared to come back late at night, I am still scared sometimes. I didn’t know what to do in Belarus, I didn’t want to stay here because, for me personally, it was some kind of depression. And some unhappy people around me.

I have been playing in Turkey for 7 years now. Whether a country is richer or not - it doesn't matter to me. But people here in Turkey are much happier than Belarusians in Belarus. And this difference was very strong for me. I told my family that I don’t want to live here after basketball.

But this summer (again, a very significant summer for me, as well as for many), I realized that I do not want to be for permanent residence anywhere except Belarus. Before, there was a feeling that nothing could be changed here anyway. But events have shown that a lot of people want to live in this country and want to change it for the better. And I just want to join them. I don't know how, but I want to make life in my country better than it is now. And I want to be an active participant in this civil society.

- Earlier, you said in an interview that you have never gone to the polls before. Why?

- I never thought that my voice would change anything. Everything is different now. And if there is an opportunity, somewhere I will actively take part, I will vote - whether this is the presidential election or something local - I will not just pass by and will be a part of it. Because now I realized and think that my voice can change something. Because there are millions of us.

- Is it possible to be out of politics now? Over a fight, as some say?

- I don’t think so. Only if you have locked yourself and are sitting in some kind of darkroom. And even then people can break in. You know, when the covid began, no one around me was sick. None of my acquaintances were sick. And it seemed to me that it was out there somewhere. I was already in Turkey when covid started, and it seemed to me that this would not affect me. But now almost all my acquaintances, friends, acquaintances of acquaintances have been ill or are ill. The same is "outside of politics." Or maybe this will not affect you now, but most likely your circle has already been affected, the circle of your circle has definitely been affected. And eventually, it will affect you.

- How did your colleagues react to your departure from the national team?

- They didn't. I wrote to the chat of the national team: “Hello everyone! I want to tell you this personally so that you do not find out from social networks. I made a decision not to participate anymore, not to be in the national team.” I wrote: "Long live Belarus!" and left the chat. I don’t know what was going on in the chat, but during this day, several girls sent me messages and words of support. And there were also several people from the coaching staff. And that's all, in principle. There are probably 30-35 people in that chat. 8-9 people sent messages. Well, okay. Better than nothing.

- Was it an ugly feeling?

- Not ugly. Why should they say something to me if they don't even say anything about the situation in the country? Maybe they already associate me with some kind of problems, and, roughly speaking, prefer to...

- …avoid.

- Yes. There are athletes from the Free Association, they say that it is directly felt when you come to training, to the arena, where other athletes are, that they are looking at you and are afraid to approach you because if they are seen with you, they may have problems. People are even afraid of that.

- You even wrote quite strong words about the fact that the people who remain are working for the propaganda of the regime.

- For me, this is so because sport is the propaganda of the regime in our country. Even in the summer, the official Instagram page of the Basketball Federation wrote a post in support of the current president. This was before the elections. That is, they have trampled under this post all the players, all basketball players, everyone who is associated with basketball. And it turns out they wrote this post in support of Lukashenka on our behalf. Not that they didn't consult but didn't even think that some of the athletes might be against it. Isn't it propaganda? I don't want to be a part of this!

- In one of the interviews you were asked: "Katsiaryna, when will everything change?" You said 2021. Do you still think so?

- I'm sure. I see a lot of negative and some kind of decadent moods in people, but this does not concern me. I have a goal, I see, I know what I want. I imagine a free Belarus, and if now something is not going according to plan, if something is not going as we planned, there is nothing wrong with that. The main thing is the result. And I am sure that the victory will be ours. And the fact that it is difficult for someone now, that it is not yet clear what to do, and so on... I think that those who understand what to do and those who still believe in victory are much more numerous and we are obliged, we should support those who have a little bit of a decadent mood and who begin to doubt. Because I have no doubt at all.

- You sold your bronze medal of the 2007 European Championship at an auction. For $ 10,000, huh?

- Yes, 10,100.

- Who bought it? What's the story behind this?

- It was acquired by the Khokim, I don’t remember the last name now. He is a German citizen. In 1994 or 1996, he came to Minsk, studied at our Polytechnic, and also helped build a camp for Chernobyl children somewhere near Minsk. He has a family, two children. He comes to Minsk almost every year, returns to Belarus to his friends, to show his children Belarus. Because he really fell in love with our country, made friends with Belarusians. And when he saw that there was an auction, that the basketball player had put up this medal, he decided to support the Belarusian athletes and the repressed in this way and bought this medal.

Such stories inspire; people abroad, foreigners are in solidarity with us, they do not stand aside and help the way their hearts tell them. Khokim said: "I had a very big request to help." And with the help of this auction, with the help of the Sports Solidarity Fund, he expressed his help to us in this way.

- What did you spend that $ 10,000 on?

- They are distributed by the Sports Solidarity Foundation. We have several athletes who are preparing for the Olympics on scholarships, several athletes who have gone to the training camp to prepare for the Olympics.

- You are actively involved in the activities of the Free Association of Athletes, right? What are you doing there? How are things now?

- We have such a division: the Fund and the SAS (Sports Association of Athletes). We turn out to be like the face of sports - the face of protests. We participate in various initiatives, even through social networks we support other initiatives. At the beginning of the protests, we recorded a video of how we see the situation and explained why it is wrong, why it is wrong to kill people, Belarusians. We are informational support so that people know that athletes are with the people.

- 113 athletes lost their jobs for political reasons, 5 criminal cases, about 50 people were detained. Can you tell a story that touched you personally?

- Of course. This is the story of Lena Leuchanka. She was arrested at the airport on September 30th. It seems to me that I left the training, I open my phone, and there was information everywhere that Lena was arrested. I write to my people and ask: "What are we doing?" A few days before she was arrested, we talked with her on the phone, and she said: “Look, I don't have a hunch, but if I get arrested, you should call everyone, you should write to everyone. To everyone who knows me. We need to raise an international wave." Still, Alena Leuchanka is known in the world, in Europe. She is a basketball star. I do not take into account how she performed even in the national team, how she performed in different championships of different countries, in the Double NBA, she is known in the world.

Therefore, this was my mission. On the first night, I just went to Lena's Instagram, saw who she was following, and just sent a message to all these people according to the list that “Lena Leuchanka has been arrested. She was arrested by the state for political reasons, and we need to spread this information." She even had Beyoncé among followers, I even wrote to her. But she hasn't answered something yet (laughs).

- She will come with a concert to free Belarus.

- Yes. And then a few days later, the lawyer finally managed to talk to Lena, and to the lawyer's question: “Lena, what can we do?”, Lena’s words were: “Tell everyone about it, raise the information wave.” Which we actually did. That is, there were articles in The Washington Post, there were articles in The Guardian, we wrote everywhere we could. Lena was on the agenda. And I had such a slight hysterics, in the sense of what else can we do? It was not clear whether we had already done enough, or whether something else needed to be done, something else to come up with.

I remember that I didn’t sleep for three nights at that time, that was such a mental state. Of course, feelings, emotions, and anger are the whole mix. And there was a lot of adrenaline, there were still games at this moment. I came to the game and sat on the phone, sending out something there. I go to play - I played for twenty minutes; during the break, I return to the locker room, pick up the phone - check it, there is still some news. I go to the shower, cry, then go out to play the second half. And the statistics were normal. It was basketball, I think, that helped me somehow survive this situation; in the sense, that I was distracted for at least 40 minutes of the game.

- What is patriotism for you?

- That's a good question. I'll take a break, like Sviatlana Heorhieuna. For me, perhaps, now patriotism is to be with my people, to be with people who choose freedom. To be a patriot of your country is probably for me now to be an active participant in all rallies, all changes that are taking place in the country.

Now, as a patriot, I only want freedom for my own country from the regime, I want people to stop being afraid to go out because there are armed detachments walking around and hunting. We are fighting for the freedom of our country. Being a patriot is fighting for the freedom of your country.

- What does it mean to be a Belarusian? You have played in China, Poland, and Turkey now. How does a Belarusian differ from others?

- I have many friends on different national teams. And at some point, we were jealous of the Serbian team because you communicate with them, and everything is united for them: "Serbia is one country, we are one team, we are one nation." And I understood that we, even in our national team, do not have this, some kind of union of such internal pride that we are Belarusians. Of course, there was pride in the sense that we are Belarusians, we are cool in basketball, but as a nation, that we are Belarusians, we are cool, I never felt that.

But everything is changing. To be a Belarusian for me is now to be a part of a nation that wants to be free, which in the end will be free. As it turned out, we are super creative, we are super active, we are super happy people. It is clear that when people died in Belarus, it is difficult to remain happy. But if you look at any march, you will see thousands, thousands of happy people. What I have never seen before, in my entire life, probably, in such quantity. And being a Belarusian means being a part of this huge, grandiose bundle of happiness, energy, support, solidarity. This is what it means for me to be a Belarusian now.

- You remembered the deaths. Surely, I think, Katsiaryna, you heard after the death of Raman Bandarenka, in social networks, when a conversation between two Dzmitry, Shakuta and Baskau, people connected with sports surfaced. Were you disgusted by the fact that people from supposedly your sphere were involved in this?

- I was not disgusted that they are athletes. But I remember how I listened to this recording and wanted to turn it off, but I understood that I couldn't, I had to listen to it because I had to know what kind of conversation it was, and so on. Well, yes, there was a feeling of disgust, of course, just towards these people. I have read so many stories about what happened to people in August. And when they said that the guards, the police, the AMAP, the GUBOPiK did not consider us to be people, they treated the arrested as if the arrested were not humans. I just had the same feeling from this conversation that these are not humans. Well, humans cannot calmly discuss something, knowing that perhaps they were involved in the murder. Indeed, this is the correct word. I was disgusted when I listened to this record.

- It's no secret that sport has always been such a favorite toy for Lukashenka. Do you think that now the regime has some kind of bitterness that thousands of athletes said: “No, we do not agree!”?

- I hope that they feel it. As they say: “We raised you with the left breast, spent budget money on you, almost saved you from some other life there.” I’m so curious all the time, why do you say that? It seems to me, and I can say that I also raised you, some officials, and so on because providing me as an athlete, as a young athlete who grows, grows, and grows - you are doing the work for which you get paid too. It turns out that you say that they pay me a salary and you raised me. But, excuse me, you also get paid a salary - so I raised you? This is the logic.

So I hope they feel hurt. For so long, they confidently thought that the athletes were mute, that they, no matter what terror occurred in the country, would be on the side of the state. I don’t know, I, of course, don’t hope that they are offended now that they realized that it’s not as simple as they thought it would be.

But, you see, this is a contract. We have a contract, and they pay me a salary. And I give my time, my physical health, my emotional health. I give 100 percent. That is, it is a mutual agreement. And whenever there is something like “the state raised you, nursed you,” I am very interested in these words. This is not even mentioning that all the money that, roughly speaking, they pay me under the contract is the money of the taxpayers, the people. It was not some man in the ministry who pulled out of his pocket and paid me his own money.

- You have a tattoo on your arm. It says "Impossible is possible." Right?

- That's right.

- Can you show it?

- Yes. Here on two hands, it turns out: "The impossible is possible."

- What can be done to make victory possible, to make freedom possible?

- Yauhen, to push, work on it, resist, do something. The most important thing for me is not to stop. Because when a person stops, when movement stops, life also stops. And not to stop is the most important thing. You know, I have probably never had a period on Instagram for ten years so that I post something every day. That is, now this is practically another job of mine: to be involved, to be an active participant, to share information with my audience that concerns both me and the sports society, broadcast in this regard, participate in various initiatives, help the repressed, and so on. ... For me, it means not stopping. These are small pieces of what the "impossible is possible" is made of.

Maybe now it seems to me or someone else that what he is doing is nonsense, it is a drop in the ocean. But there will be a wave from these drops. This is already a wave. You can't stop. And if you do not stop, if you play to the end, to win, the impossible will become possible.

- Long live Belarus!

- Long live Belarus!