Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, a 2015 Nobel laureate, granted an interview to Belsat TV journalist Alina Koushyk in the run-up of the award ceremony in Stockholm.
‘My Nobel prize is dedicated to those who disappeared in the darkness’
I am grateful to Belsat TV, that, in contrast to our state-run television, has shown solidarity with the world’s attention locked on us, with me as an author, with the people I wrote about. That’s how we should live our lives. You give an example of how people should treat each other. I do not take this prize as a personal award: it is dedicated to many generations of people who disappeared in the darkness without a trace. It is impossible not to bow to them. Our [Belarusian] government does not even know what ‘to love its people’ means.
Belsat: Our government is far from thinking in such terms…
I agree with you – they fail to think in strategical and historical terms. They just have goals: today we must survive, tomorrow we must win the election, etc. That is the thing that distinguished great leaders from placeholders.
Nevertheless, those in power are resilient in Belarus…
There are such form of autocracy in the former Soviet Union: Belarusian, Kazakh, and now Russian. In the 1990s we were so naïve when thinking that we became free. But it was a mistake. Freedom is a long way to go.
Do you think that we became closer to freedom on this way?
Of course. Firstly, we realized that one cannot gain freedom immediately. We realized that it takes a lot of doing. It became clear that no one should despair – neither our opposition which sometimes falls into disenchantment with the Belarusian people nor the Belarusians who are out of conceit with the opposition. One should know that it is impossible to become free at once. Varlam Shalamov, who spent 17 years in prison, said that ‘a prison camp spoils both torturer and sacrifice’. All of us are ill and injured after the [Soviet] era.It will take us time to become free.
“We cannot jump out of our past”
What can the present-day Belarusian society be diagnosed with?
In my opinion, it can be diagnosed with the ‘impossibility to jump out of the past’. We are still tightly bound to it … I would not name the climate of fear [in Belarus], would not say that everyone is afraid of Lukashenka and his minions. Of course, it is true because people lose their jobs, their children are expelled from universities. But I think that most people have a fear of life: their present-day life is not similar to that of their parents, to the way they used to live. And they do not want to change something for the sake of their children and themselves. The only thing they dare to is to send children abroad.
Aren’t you afraid the authorities will start exerting pressure on you and you will have to leave the country?
I have just returned from abroad. I could stay there but I did not want to, I wanted to live at home. This is my country. Why should I leave? Let them leave. Where is their wealth? Let them go to the place where they keep their assets, where their bank is.