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We Are Waiting Without Believing

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We Are Waiting Without Believing
IRYNA KHALIP
PHOTO: NASHA NIVA

Abomination on display.

I remember very well the same day, July 3, only 13 years ago, in 2011. Then the number of political prisoners was measured in tens, not thousands, as now. But then, in exactly the same way, the relatives of political prisoners hoped that their loved ones would be released.

Lukashenka is always in a good mood on July 3 — a marshal's uniform, stands, green cars driving past the stands, soldiers marching in step. TV sets, refrigerators and toilets are proudly displayed on gun carriages to the delight of the stands, which is supposed to demonstrate the abundance and prosperity of the country. It's time for complacency. Especially since the day before Lukashenka also said that he did not need political prisoners, and let everyone get on a plane and fly away wherever they want.

So, everyone waited. We, relatives of political prisoners, called and wrote letters, carefully asked each other if there was any news, and really hoped that news would come soon. I understood that nothing good could be expected from Lukashenka, and I tried my best not to hope for my husband's return. I didn't cook or wash the floors on purpose — let it be an ordinary day. And still I couldn't bring myself to strangle my own feeble hope.

And the wife of one of the political prisoners at the time got up at the stove in the morning of July 3. She cooked all day, set a sumptuous table of her husband's favorite dishes, and also took the time to go around a bunch of liquor stores to buy her husband's favorite brand of whiskey. By the evening she was sitting at a beautifully decorated table set with delicacies. She wrote to other wives that the day was not over yet, and everything could still happen, and in general, they might have already been released, they just couldn't call because they didn't have phones. At midnight, July 4 arrived, the carriage turned into a pumpkin, and the hostess of this wonderful table opened the whiskey bottle. Then she didn’t get in touch with anyone for three days. Lukashenka didn’t release anyone.

13 years have passed, and the only thing that has changed is the number of political prisoners. And when Lukashenka again said that he would release some, now not tens or hundreds, but thousands of Belarusians gasped: really? Those who were far from life in 2011, or too young, or even went to kindergarten, immediately believed that political prisoners would start getting out. I’ll be honest: at some point, even with my dramatic experience, I bought it. Novaya Gazeta asked me to write a text about who might be released in connection with Lukashenka’s words. I wrote it and asked to publish it immediately. But it was already evening, they told me, why are we rushing, let’s do it tomorrow. “No, let's hurry,” I insisted, “what if they start releasing them right now”. My colleagues said, “We don't recognize you. You always explain to everyone that Lukashenka's words are white noise, that he always lies, that you can't pay any attention to his statements.” I confess, at some point I really bought it. Do you know why? Because there were no emotional speeches about “zmagars who are of no use to anyone in prison”. There were no general expressions in the spirit of “let them go to hell”. For the first time, something concrete was heard: seriously ill people, mainly with cancer. Even veterans of the resistance bought it.

And when it became known that Ryhor Kastusyou had been released from the colony, it seemed that here it was, it had begun. Now Kuchynski and Berasniou, Lutskina and Zueva, Burlo and Voynich, Hundar and Derbysh would be released. But nothing happened.

Those in need of immediate medical care remained in prisons and colonies. Everyone, except Kastusyou. The fact that he returned home is great. But all the other cancer patients remained there, behind bars.

And now Lukashenka's twisted logic is clear. He declares that he will release the seriously ill. He emphasizes cancer. He releases Ryhor Kastusyou. And “turns off the tap”.He releases several more people who do not suffer from any serious illnesses. And the relatives of the sick have been biting their pillows for three days, choking with tears. “But he promised.”

He will continue to promise, many times, and at different times of the day and year. And every time, thousands of Belarusians will wait for a call, just as Maryna Adamovich has been waiting for a call from Mikalai Statkevich for many years. At the door or on the phone. But nothing happens.

It would have been better if he had kept quiet and not promised. It would have been better if he had said “get the hell out of here, zmagars”. It would be better if he never mentioned them at all. But not like that. Not this abomination for show. We, veterans, are used to it. And what about the relatives of new political prisoners?

So, we are waiting without believing.

Iryna Khalip, exclusively for Charter97.org

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