3 February 2023, Friday, 0:22
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Nobel Box

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Nobel Box

However, Bialiatski is unique even without the award.

Tomorrow is Human Rights Day. Tomorrow, Ales Bialiatski will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Tomorrow, millions of people around the world will remember Belarus. I do not know whether Bialiatski, lying on his bunk in jail the night before the ceremony, will dream tomorrow of approaching the microphone in a well-made jacket, making a good and serious speech, bowing to members of the Norwegian royal family, shaking hands on all sides of the world, posing before photographers and raising his glass at the banquet. Or, on the contrary, lying awake, he will prepare for the trial and remember the mistakes, inconsistencies and gross falsifications of his own criminal case, formulate answers to the judge's questions and come up with witty lines that break the accusation.

I do not know - no one knows - what Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski will be thinking in his cell in the detention center the night before the ceremony. By the way, this cell and the upcoming trial show his absolute uniqueness in comparison with all other laureates. It has happened that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to convicts. The German anti-fascist journalist Karl von Osiecki, for example, was in a concentration camp when he was awarded the prize in 1935. Nelson Mandela became a laureate three years after his release (after serving 27 years). Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest without any trial. Myanmar law provided for isolating a person without a court order for up to 15 years. But there have never been any trials of Nobel laureates already awarded. Andrei Sakharov was sent into exile, but even the Soviet government did not have the courage to hold a political trial over a Nobel laureate (and he was exiled not to the Siberian wilderness but to a major city). Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel laureate in literature, was not sent to the Gulag for his Archipelago. The writer received the prize in 1970, The Gulag Archipelago was published in 1974. Despite the fact that the KGB had a whole department to develop Solzhenitsyn, despite the fact that his fate was decided by the Politburo with the whole staff. Still no, they did not dare. They deported him from the Soviet Union, but they didn't imprison him in Lefortovo or send him to a mental clinic like the other dissidents. So Ales Bialiatski is the first and hopefully the last Nobel laureate to be judged after receiving the Nobel Prize.

However, Ales is unique even without the award. My first "conscious" memory of him comes from 1996. Of course, I also saw Bialiatski at the founding congress of the "Martyrolog of Belarus" and the Belarusian Popular Front in the Red Church, then still the House of Cinema, at the end of the 1980s. But Zyanon Pazniak was the real star at that meeting. Could we students have paid any attention to the young research assistant when the legendary warrior Zyanon was standing on the stage? Of course not. But in the spring of 1996 - I think it was Charnobylski Shlyah - I already remembered this research worker well. The skinny young man was walking around the gathering with a box and collecting money to help the mother of the poet Slavomir Adamovich, who was in jail for his poem "Kill the President". Later Ales told how he had come to the newly created Belarusian Helsinki Committee and wondered whether human rights defenders helped the poet's distressed mother who was jailed for poetry. He was told, "No, we can't help specific people; we have global and systemic objectives. We have to change the situation as a whole, not to feed the hungry". And then Ales Bialiatski decided to become the kind of human rights activist who would think about an individual, about starving, humiliated, unjustly arrested people, deprived of strength in struggle against the state machine, and who needs help. (Viasna rendered this help to thousands of political prisoners for years afterwards.) This is how the story of human rights defender Bialiatski began - with a box, where Belarusians put their "rabbits" and "squirrels" to help the mother of a stranger.

Tomorrow, Natallia Pinchuk, Ales Bialiatski's wife, will give a speech in Oslo instead of her husband. Tomorrow, hundreds of telegrams are sure to fly to the detention center. Tomorrow, Ales's portrait will be the main participant in the ceremony. The rest of us who are still at large must do at least one small thing in honor of Human Rights Day and in gratitude for Bialiatski: send him a telegram, write a letter to any political prisoner (unfortunately, we all know the addresses of penal colonies and detention centers by heart), buy a New Year gift for the children of the repressed, help a recently released person who has found himself in a vacuum. In short, put a coin in the same box of Bialiatski with which everything began.

Iryna Khalip, specially for Charter97.org