It is simply impossible not to win with such compatriots.
Yesterday was the last day of the therapy we all needed. Yes, the past year has been unbearably hard. Yes, many of us had to abandon our comfortable lives, already embedded in a matrix of dictatorship. Yes, the comfort zone turned out to be a simple cage, and that made things worse for many. Yes, depression and disbelief befell everyone - in the fall, winter, spring. But the last month and especially yesterday finally put us on our feet. It is simply impossible not to win with such compatriots.
Every day I remember Palina Sharenda-Panasiuk in court. Her "I don't rise in front of bandits", "you are not a court", "I challenge the whole system", "it is a citizen's honor and duty to fight a bandit" will yet make their way into the textbooks of the modern history of Belarus. Her contemptuous smile addressed not only to the judge and the prosecutor but to the whole system that Palina had challenged, will be remembered with a shudder. After the verdict the dictator will have nightmares about Palina's hand, waving a handmade "Go away!" banner.
I read the news about Natallia Hercshe, another Belarusian who ripped the balaclava off the bandit. She has been kept in the isolation ward in the Homel colony for a month and a half already. I am even more proud of my compatriot. If she is in the isolation ward, it means she rebels, refuses to tolerate injustice and defends her rights. The Swiss are very lucky that this courageous woman, full of dignity and pride, is also their compatriot.
Every day I recall a short video after the verdict to the activists of European Belarus and Pavel Seviarynets. I see Pavel, who has just been sentenced to seven years of a reinforced regime, answering loudly and clearly, as if on stage, chanting "we believe, we can, we win!" I see Jauhen Afnahel, Pavel Yukhnevich, Andrei Voinich, Maksim Viniarski, Dzmitry Kazlou raising their clenched fists - they are all on the front line and do not surrender.
I reread the letter of Maksim Viniarski, which he sent to the sister the other day. He writes that he's been registered as a person not only prone to extremism but also suicide and accompanies it with an ironic "don't count on it". He remembers the prosecutor intimidating them in court: "Every word you say is being recorded!" And Max responds, "Every word you say is written on the same tablets." He warns the moribund authorities that he is going to have a long life, not only to punish those who jailed him but also to build a new Belarus, which has a lot of work for each of us.
I remember Viktar Babaryka a year ago. He stated there was no dictatorship in Belarus and believed in fair elections under Lukashenka, and I compare him with today's Babaryka. I could not understand the former one, just as I could not understand anyone who claimed there was no dictatorship in Belarus. But this new Babaryka, sitting in the dock and warning about the Romanian variant of the change of power, is amazing. He pleaded not guilty, though there were certainly opportunities to bargain and negotiate. Babaryka feels relaxed and can smile when the prosecutor demands 15 years in prison. He just knows he's right.
And yesterday, we all saw how they put Mikalai Statkevich in a cage in the detention centre in Homel. A closed hearing, absence of relatives and friends, more than a year in the cell, intolerable conditions, spiced up with abnormal heat - and what do we see? With a straight back and head held high, Mikalai steps into the cage and says, "Long Live Belarus!" Meanwhile, there are only guards and propagandists in the hall (the propagandists, by the way, foolishly released that video). The phrase "Long Live Belarus!", uttered by Statkevich in space, is the last magic pill, the last therapy, which completely heals. Neither past nor future prison sentences, nor dangers and risks can change Statkevich. He behaves equally adamant both in prison and at large. With his principles and convictions, he may find himself in the mainstream at different times in history, or he represents the minority. It will not change him either. But thanks to such people our country changes.
I keep remembering those days of June, coloured with the courage of our heroes. They are the Belarusians we all cherish. They healed us while being behind bars. They helped us not surrender to despondency. With the force of their own spirits, they broke down the bars and stood with us in line. It is an honour to stand next to them. To be their compatriots is pride. To receive letters from them is joy. To see them free is victory.
Iryna Khalip, especially for Charter97.org