After two rounds of voting, the German civic initiative AnStifter awarded Belarusian political prisoner Maryia Kalesnikava with the 2021 Stuttgart Peace Prize.
Prior to the protest events in 2020, Maryia had lived in Stuttgart for about 12 years. There she worked, among other things, as a project manager of the Artemp festival. Then she returned to Belarus and joined the campaign office of presidential wannabe Viktar Babaryka.
“Kalesnikava has become a key figure in the protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka who has been ruling Belarus for 26 years as an authoritarian leader,” the statement reads.
The Stuttgart Peace Prize (Stuttgarter Friedenspreis) is an annual award given by the German NGO Die AnStifter to people or projects ‘involved in a special way for peace, justice and world solidarity’.
This year, the awarding ceremony is to take place in Stuttgart’s Theaterhaus on December, 19.
In mid May, the Belarusian Investigative Committee ruled that Maryia Kalesnikava would be tried for ‘calling for actions aimed at harming the national security (Art. 361-3 of the Criminal Code); conspiracy to seize state power in an unconstitutional way (Article 357-1); establishing and ruling an extremist group (Article 361-1).
If found guilty under these articles, Kalesnikava may face up to 12 years in prison.
On September 7, Maryia Kalesnikava was kidnapped near the National Art Museum in Minsk. Unidentified people drove her away in an unknown direction. As it turned out later, the politician spent half a day in the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption; then she was taken to the State Security Committee (KGB), where the chekists demanded she voluntarily depart from Belarus. According to her, several KGB officers voiced threats to take her life.
“They warned that if I did not voluntarily leave the territory of the Republic of Belarus, I would still be withdrawn – ‘alive or ‘in pieces’,” Maryia said.
On September 8, Coordination Council spokesman Anton Radnyankou and secretary Ivan Krautsou who were forced out of Belarus gave a press conference in Kyiv. They told how the KGB failed to push Kalesnikava out the country. In the neutral zone, she destroyed her passport, jumped out of the car and returned to the Belarusian border.
In December, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched criminal proceedings over conspiring, establishing ‘an extremist group’, being in control of it, financing its activities against members of the Coordination Council, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak, Pavel Latushka, Volha Kavalkova, Syarhei Dyleuski, and other Belarusian activists.