22 June 2024, Saturday, 3:58
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Freedom Day Even In Captivity

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Freedom Day Even In Captivity
Iryna Khalip

Silence in Belarus is a mirage, an illusion, a fata morgana.

They've started with taking away our cities and streets. They filled them with prison trucks and “astronauts” [riot policemen - Ed.], blew up stun grenades, sprayed tear gas and smoke, and filled them with ice-cold water from water cannons.

Then they took away our front yards, sending riot police to disperse peaceful neighbourly tea parties. They covered up graffiti, took the musicians who came to these tea parties to Akrestsina, and killed those who were saying that "I'm coming out."

Then they penetrated our blocks of flats, opened to like-minded people, and entered our homes. They found out at which apartments with burning candles on the windowsills or just white-red-white flags were installed. They broke down the doors of these apartments and took the owners to jail. They scoured the city in search of forbidden colour combinations and attacked the balconies with red and white T-shirts, including children's ones, quietly drying.

After that, they took up our books. Any mention of Svetlana Aleksievich was removed from textbooks, as well as about Varlam Shalamov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (let the Gulag in the center of Europe be a surprise for the Belarusians). They declared the children's poems by Brodsky to be extremist, and publishing houses that were publishing Belarusian literature and bookstores that were selling it were closed. Literature was replaced by Charhinets, book fairs are held with presentations of books by Mukavozchyk and by Charginets, of course, too: the last one published the first two parts of his autobiographical novel The Difficult Roads of Life. One wants to deprive him of even his school certificate only for the title. Still, they are trying to convince us that this is the literature that we deserve. It seems that Azaronak will start publishing books soon. Also, probably multi-volume editions.

They are trying to steal our memory now. They black out any mention of the BPR (the Belarusian People's Republic), and they are trying to convince our children that the white-red-white flag was invented by Hitler, and not at all by Klawdziy Duzh-Dushewski. They write in history books about the flag of the policemen, as if there had never been March 25, 1918. Parents of schoolchildren are required not to let their children out of the house on Saturday, March 25. Are they afraid that children will find out about the holiday? They are afraid that they will start studying real history and reading books.

Actually, they are afraid of everything. They shudder in horror at the thought that Nina Bahinskaia will suddenly go out on her famous walk with the flag that day. That a white-red sticker or a candle will appear in some windows. That we all remember how they brought water cannons and police trucks to the streets that day. That we will start calling each other to invite for a walk. That there will suddenly be a lot of us on the streets again. That we will raise our flags, kilometres of which they cut into pieces. That "Long Live Belarus!" resound with hundreds of thousands of voices.

They were taking everything from us to prevent this: flags, streets, houses, books and memory. They were sending us to prison for decades and killing us. They were torturing and intimidating us. They were beating us with all their might. They were rewriting our history again and again and replacing books with manuals. They were shutting us up with their boots. They even seem to believe that they've managed to shut us up and to crush us. Many of us also sometimes think so, but this is an illusion, a mirage, a fata morgana. March 25 is Freedom Day. Do they really think that we do not remember this and that tomorrow we will not celebrate our common holiday?

They buried us, but they didn't know we were seeds" is a maxim that has become very popular lately. Nobody knows its origin. Some people say it's a Mexican proverb. Let it be Mexican. But it is definitely about us, the Belarusians.

Iryna Khalip, especially for Charter97.org

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