28 February 2024, Wednesday, 9:03
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The Heart Of A Dog

The Heart Of A Dog

About political prisoners and their pets.

Yesterday it was impossible to tear yourself away from social media: the world, as always on the last day of autumn, celebrated the coziest holiday — World Pet Day. Friends and strangers posted photos of their pets on their feed, and the emotion made it impossible to close Facebook and finally start working.

Cats and dogs, fluffy and smooth-haired, small and large — and all equally happy with life in the arms of a person. The one who loves, feeds, strokes, takes out for a walk and always in a stupid cartoon voice says something like “who is such a good doggy out here?” In a world which is lying in ruins, such photographs and the accompanying stories of finding each other undoubtedly help to maintain balance and not fall into the abyss of hopelessness. Here is a well-fed fat cat, here is an elegant hunting dog, here is a kitten picked up from a trash heap, looking like a little devil. And then I recalled Eryk.

You probably remember him too — this is the dog of human rights activist Nasta Loika, whom she took from a dog shelter in Hatava. By the way, they were introduced by Marfa Rabkova, who was a volunteer not only at Viasna, but also at that shelter. Eryk had a difficult character due to his experiences, and did not trust people. But fragile Nasta was not afraid to take on a large dog with a wounded psyche. They protected each other and resisted difficulties together — until Nasta was taken away from home by evil, aggressive people. During the search, she locked Eryk in the bathroom, and he growled and threw himself at the door, so the law-enforcers got scared and blocked the door with a chair.

And then Nasta wrote Eryk a farewell letter from the pre-trial detention center. He was about to turn seven years old, and she, as she explained in this letter, would be in captivity for seven or eight years, so they definitely would not meet again. A professional human rights activist, she accurately predicted her own verdict. And she said goodbye to her beloved dog, wishing him to live the remaining years calmly and joyfully. “After all, I have already put up a martyr’s cross on my life,” Nasta wrote bitterly. In my opinion, the whole of Belarus cried over this letter, just as Nasta herself cried on the day of her arrest, when she was taken out of the apartment, but Eryk remained.

I also remember Basia the malamute, Maksim Viniarski’s dog. And Basia’s mother Shtiya, Yauhen Afnahel’s dog. Basia and Shtiya are not just a nordic breed, they are real opposition dogs: they managed to survive many searches and disappearances of their owners for 15 days before they disappeared for years. Basia was also detained together with Maksim, and one day she did a wee right on the floor of the Central District Department of Internal Affairs as a sign of protest. By the way, Basia was born during the search: in 2017, after the “parasite” protests, the police once again came to Afnahel’s house. And while the law-enforcers were scouring the house in search of at least something (they themselves did not know what to look for), Shtiya gave birth to Basia. And it was so natural for Yauhen to give the puppy to Maksim Viniarski, a friend and colleague. Three years later, they, Maksim and Yauhen, ended up in a pre-trial detention center together, then in the dock — and went to different colonies with prison sentences of five and seven years.

Until recently, three cats and a dog have lived in the house of Mikalai Statkevich and Maryna Adamovich, and now there are already five cats and a dog. The penultimate cat jumped into Maryna's car, and the last cat simply came to their house and settled there without asking permission. They are like the Timurites who knew where military families lived and ran there to carry water and chop wood. The same here — the cats seem to know that this is where the wife of a political prisoner lives, and they run to her to warm her up, make her happy, purr, lie like a warm collar on her shoulders, fill time and space with their presence. So that this space and time become less desperately horrifying for Maryna, who has been living for ten months without a single news about her husband.

I'm not writing about these cats and dogs to celebrate World Pet Day. It’s just, the pets orphaned in the absence of their owners, and their holiday is another reason to recall political prisoners. Actually, any day — holiday or weekday, weekend or work, summer or winter — is an occasion to recall political prisoners. More precisely, to remember.

Iryna Khalip, specially for Charter97.org

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