‘People are being tortured in our prisons, as they used to be in concentration camps.’ What is Svetlana Alexievich’s new book about?

The Belarusian writer, a Nobel laureate, told in an interview to the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that her new work is dedicated to the Belarusian protests. Here are some statements of Svetlana Alexievich about the possibility of returning to Belarus, the events of August 2020, and her new book.

Svetlana Alexievich. Photo: facebook.com

‘If I returned, the fate of Navalny would be waiting for me’

– I can’t return to my homeland now, while Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his people rule there. If I returned, the fate of Alexei Navalny would be waiting for me. I will spend the expectation of a new meeting with Minsk in writing a book about how it happened that people said ‘enough’, and how the neighbour turned against the neighbour. About the fact that people are being tortured in our prisons today, as they used to be in concentration camps. I wanted to write a book about love and old age. But this plan will have to be postponed, now the most important thing is that our revolution ends in victory as soon as possible.

‘I would like to live in this country’

– I am often asked – why did people sleep for 26 years and suddenly woke up? I think there were a lot of reasons that were piling up inside of us; we had to mature. When there were protests against Lukashenka in 2010, and mostly young people came out, they were quickly dispersed. But in the next ten years came a new generation that knows the modern world, travels, enjoys social networks. They see and know more than us. These young people today are very well educated, they know how to live in non-authoritarian states.

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Civil society institutions working in Belarus also played a huge role in the change process. I created the club “Svetlana Alexievich welcomes”, and during the meetings we talked not only about politics, but also about what we can do for each other.

This work with people, as well as the awareness of the evil we face every day, led to the fact that people understood – it is enough, it is impossible to remain silent. It was as if they had suddenly regained their dignity and decided to resist. They went out on the streets consciously, they had joy and beauty. I remember saying to my friend then: I would like to live in this country.

‘We believed Lukashenka, let ourselves be deceived, this is our fault’

– And then the reaction of the authorities began, a brutality that is difficult to describe. I looked out the window and saw crowds of people, and in front of them – columns of soldiers. I was sent photos of those who were hospitalized. I was powerless against this violence, although all my life I have been dealing with such stories, but I could not realize that my compatriots were doing it.

I could not find a place for myself, because it was clear that the Stalinist machine was still working and feeling good. In the villages, in different regions of the country there are representatives of the KGB, people report about each other, teachers condemn their students.

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It became clear that the regime had long been working to divide people, to split them.

Even Varlam Shalamov said that a person who suddenly left the camp, who a minute ago was completely dependent on the authorities, could not be free. He knows nothing about freedom, does not know how fragile it is. We thought in the 90s that we were free, but it was an illusion. We did not know how to manage freedom and gave it very easily – into the hands of communists, people who escaped lustration. They believed Lukashenka, because he, like us, came from the people. We allowed ourselves to be deceived. This is our fault.

Svetlana Alexievich. Photo: Gazeta Wyborcza

Freedom is a very long road. And we too quickly forgot about the hell of communism, and it suddenly appeared years later on the streets of my country’s cities in its most aggressive form.

‘I am afraid that a new wafe of protests may end in tragedy’

– It is very significant that the revolution in Belarus was led by women. I think that thanks to this we managed not to end up with an even bigger tragedy. Maybe if men came in the place of women, they would win, but at what cost?

It seemed to us then that Lukashenka would understand that dialogue would be possible. Unfortunately, he decided not to stop at anything. It suddenly occurred to me that in Minsk it was possible to repeat Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, that he was ready to crush, to run these young people over, so that not to give up power.

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And we chose a completely different way of fighting, resistance without violence. Belarusian women dressed in white and held flowers. Against the backdrop of the tragedy that began last August, it was actually beautiful.

Many criticize the supporters of the resistance without violence, because, they say, otherwise, perhaps, it was possible to end with Lukashenka quickly. But I do not want blood to be shed, the most valuable thing for me is the life of a person, of each person. So it seems to me that we need to work on new resistance strategies; the traditional ones are not yielding results. I read with horror the calls on the Internet for an armed struggle against the regime, and that some are convinced that blood should not be feared. I am afraid that if a new wave of protests came now, it could end in a huge tragedy.

On the book about Belarusian protests: ‘I cannot hold back tears’

– I do not know when we will win. What generation will gain freedom? But I know that people will again find a way to react to how much Lukashenka has humiliated us all in recent months, re-deployed this Stalinist machine of hatred known to us from the past. We will be out of this injury for a long time.

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In Berlin, I am currently working on a book about the Belarusian revolution, and probably none of the previous ones cost me so much. I can’t hold back tears when I listen to young people’s stories, their last words during trials. They are so young, but already so brave. Although they know perfectly well that they will go to prison for a few years, they do not give up anything, stay true, stick to their own beliefs.

I recently described the story of two women older than me who walked through the woods towards Lithuania for a whole week. They had to flee Belarus because they were activists from a small area near Minsk and their lives were in danger. They assured me that they did not regret anything, that they agreed with the price they had to pay for their activities.

Or the young girl who wrote “Long Live Belarus” on the asphalt and received two years in prison for it? How not to cry over it?

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