17 June 2021, Thursday, 19:56
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Square of Changes in Belarus Is Huge

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Square of Changes in Belarus Is Huge
Boris Pasternak,

Actually, this is the whole country today.

Someday, a novel "The Square of Changes" will be written. Or an opera. Great composers loved such stories - heroic and tragic.

Thanks to Facebook - it constantly reminds me of what happened a year ago. And if you just flip through the pages, you will immediately see that, in the annals of the Belarusian protest, long plots began to appear by themselves - with energetic drama, vivid heroes, a real and very visual confrontation between good and evil. These plots seem to be coiled up so far, they are still waiting for their masters - writers, playwrights, directors. And then, of course, both readers and viewers - empathic, ready for hot feelings and cleansing tears.

I'll just remind you of the chain of events.

During the election campaign, a rally in support of Lukashenka was held in one of the city squares. The DJs, who were entrusted with the musical part of the event, played "Change!" instead of the anthem. Viktor Tsoi. And the two of them showed "Victoria" from the stage - a gesture that, by that time, had become a symbol of protest. They were imprisoned for 10 days.

But the artist Raman Bandarenka lived not far from this square. And DJs with their "Victoria" appeared on the wall of the ventilation booth in Raman's courtyard. The authorities covered up this mural ten times! But it was always revived. Finally, a police post was set up near this "black square." An excellent comment from Facebook: "Just think about it. There is no painting, but it is! And it works!" Dozens of stenciled "DJs of change" appeared throughout the city. And the yard with smeared graffiti began to be called nothing but the Square of Changes and was surrounded by white-red-white ribbons tied to the bars of a metal fence.

This is one of the inventions of the protest - to create white-red-white cloths not from a single piece of cloth but from many ribbons. Cutting these flags is a chore. The “cutters” sent by the authorities are, for the most part, fearful and ashamed. After all, hundreds of eyes and cameras look at their work from the windows and record it.

The elite forces - friends of the president's eldest son - came to clean up the Square of Changes from the ribbons. Among them was the head of the Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus Dzmitry Baskau. Baskau's visit to a strange yard played an important role - in a few months, under the pressure of the outraged public, the World Ice Hockey Championship will be postponed from Minsk.

Raman, seeing in his yard strangers in civilian clothes, tearing ribbons, wrote in the yard chat: "I'm going out." “Unknowns” (identified the next day on photo and video) beat him and took him away in a police car. The next day, he died in the hospital.

The Square of Changes has become a memorial to Raman Bandarenka.

I have been there. It is not so easy to find this place, it is in the depths of the block between Charviakova Street and Smorauski trakt. But this area is familiar to me - not far from the Center for Mother and Child, where both my daughter Zhenia and her eldest daughter Sasha were born.

The first and unexpected impression was that it was quite crowded - because of people, of course, but also flowers. This is still the Yard of Changes - it became a square due to the scale of events, and not its size. Flowers lay in armfuls on the playground, in vases and baskets. The stream of people moved around the ventilation booth. Each of its walls is like a separate memorial - with portraits of Raman, flags, lit icon lamps, posters. Red and white ribbons hung everywhere, the whole courtyard was bordered by them...

And outside the Square of Changes, meanwhile, a story with a medical examination was unfolding, which established the cause of Raman Bandarenka's death. The police declared him a victim in a drunken brawl, and this version was immediately announced by Lukashenka. But the doctor of the Emergency Hospital Artsiom Sarokin, to whom Bandarenka was admitted that evening, refuted the lie: "Zero ppm was in the blood of the murdered!" He told TUT.BY journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich about this. She published both an interview with Sarokin and a photo of a certificate with the result of the analysis.

Artsiom Sarokin was accused of "divulging medical secrets" (the secret, apparently, was that Bandarenka was sober) and sentenced to two years in prison with a suspended sentence. Katsiaryna Barysevich was found guilty of incitement to divulge medical secrets and sentenced to six months in prison.

The memorial lasted three days, until November 15. Its elimination has become one of the most brutal operations of the security forces. And, perhaps, the most hysterical. For the authorities, everything came together unbearably painfully: the explosion of popular indignation, and the involvement of people close to the president in the murder of Raman Bandarenka, and the exposed lie about Raman's alcohol in blood, and the international campaign to postpone the world ice hockey championship.

On Sunday morning, the area was cordoned off, public transport was stopped. Under the command of the head of the Minsk AMAP, the memorial was destroyed, hundreds of people were arrested and beaten. Archpriest Sergiy Lepin, press secretary of the Belarusian Orthodox Church, wrote on Facebook: “I don’t understand this mockery of the portraits of the murdered man, of the flowers in his memory? Why this satanic trampling of lamps and icons..." A few days later, Lepin was dismissed from office.

When the memorial was smashed, BELSAT correspondents Katsia Andreeva and Dasha Chultsova were reporting live from the window of a neighboring high-rise building. Thanks to them, the world saw that "satanic trampling." Correspondents were been identified for a long time, drones with cameras were flying along the facade of the house, the girls were hiding from them under the windowsills... But, in the end, the AMAP broke down the doors.

It was the stream of Katsiaryna and Darja that was declared the reason for stopping 13 buses, three trolleybuses, and three tram routes. The damage to Minsktrans was estimated at 11,562 rubles 14 kopecks. The journalists did not admit their guilt - they said that they were doing their job. The verdict of the court was two years in prison.

All this time, since September 15, in prison on Valadarskaha Street, Stsiapan Latypau, a man with the rare profession of an arborist, a tree doctor, was sitting awaiting trial. He was detained at the Square of Changes two months before the death of Raman Bandarenka. When people in balaclavas appeared once again to cover up the murals with the “DJs of change,” he obscured the picture and demanded that they introduce themselves. Stepan was beaten and dragged into a minibus without license plates. His apartment was opened, his equipment, car keys, documents, and money were confiscated. The head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus accused Latypau of "planning to spray pesticides from some high-rise on the combat formations of the AMAP and internal troops." On the air of the pro-government TV, they showed containers with some substances found in the apartment. These were, as it turned out later, chemicals for the fight against hogweed. The nonsense about spraying pesticides was removed from the indictment, leaving "actions that grossly violate public order" and "resistance to the police."

Finding himself after eight months of imprisonment in the courtroom, Stsiapan Latypau - limping, with a bandaged hand and bruises on his face - showed everyone in the hall “Victoria” and shouted from the cage: “Father! After meeting with you, the GUBOP came to me. They promised that if I do not admit my guilt, I will be in a "pressure cell," and criminal cases against my relatives and neighbors will be initiated. I have been in a "pressure cell" for 51 days. So get ready."

Then he jumped on the bench so that the guards would not reach him and stuck a ballpoint pen into his throat. The bloody Latypau was taken unconscious to the hospital.

A “pressure cell” in prison jargon is a cell in which criminals “pressure” political prisoners in order to obtain from them a confession of guilt and testimony against other people.

...The story of this Minsk courtyard, heroic and tragic, is still happening, and it is far from the finale. I wrote that the Square of Changes seemed a bit crowded to me - but this is an illusion. Because, in fact, the area of change in the country is enormous. Actually, this is the whole country today.

Boris Pasternak, Facebook