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Belarus to Europe?

Belarus to Europe?

... The President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited a school class
titled ‘Belarus is a European country’.
He talked about contemporary politics, and also answered
the children’s questions prepared in advance by the school administration.
The answers were prepared in advance
by the Administration of the President of Belarus.
A popular funny story in Belarus.

How can I, a Belarusian, tell you how the things are going on here? How to tell whether we are looking for changes? I will be brief: we are surrounded by a dark-brown sea, and even most devoted optimists are loosing their hopes that the sea is made of hot chocolate. Their hopes are melting just like one of the billboards puts it, ‘not in your hands, but in your mouth.’
Belarus is a special country with a special government which treats the citizens and their rights and freedoms in a very special way. Or, to be more precise, which neglects and violates them in a very special way. It is a government which ‘strongly recommends’ frequent travelers to come back to Belarus with not more than one set of clothing. If you happen to be a frequent traveler who does not get the point, you risk paying extra custom duties for an extra pair of socks. If you want to buy a tour to Europe from a Belarusian tour agency, you will have to acquire a special permission from your superior allowing you to travel around Europe during your vacations. By the way, most superiors do not give their permissions as a rule, just to be on the safe side.
Belarus is a country where the authorities can take away an expensive car from the foreign owner, and then give it to the so-called Presidential Administration, to let their lieutenants use it a little bit. Their logic is simple: why to pay for something when you can just take it? We are the superior power here on this territory, aren’t we? Not only foreigners are robbed by the authorities. Belarusian Government also take away goods from private entrepreneurs and then sell the goods through their special chain of ‘confiscated goods stores’. In those stores Belarusian Government are first in line to buy the most valuable, and for special prices. The rest is made available to the public. Other civilized countries destroy the confiscated goods, because the confiscation in most cases means that the goods are unsafe or lower than the permitted quality level. But if the goods are taken away and then sold, then it means they pose no danger. Then how shall we call the official who took the goods for free and then sold them for a price?
In Belarus there are still the so-called ‘subbotniks’, the days when you are supposed to work for free and the authorities get the profit. Only in Belarus the authorities explain their existence with ‘the requests of the workers themselves’. Can you find a factory worker in your country who would work for free and even ask their superiors about it? I am sure you will fail. As for Belarus, you can succeed, but you must look for them in the pages of the official newspapers, or in the official television. There they live and really thrive. Only in Belarus the radiation contamination disappears in just twenty years, and the lands are miraculously purified by themselves, so that now the authorities can report about this miracle and are going to grow vegetables and build settlements there. Only in Belarus the prices go up, the inflation increases, but the authorities gladly report about another ‘economic miracle’ and persuade the citizens that Western European countries are mighty envious. Only in Belarusian maternity houses the authorities established the official babies’ mortality rate, just like the accident mortality rate in the Army, and the cases within this rate are considered unimportant and are not investigated. If the rate surpasses the official level, yes, then some officials in the Army or in the Health Care are punished for this. But only if it surpasses the level. It is even called this way: ‘permissible mortality’. As if anguish of the mother who received the dead body of her son from the Army will be less when she learns that his death was ‘within permissible mortality level’! Only in Belarus the Isolation Section in a hospital can have only one restroom, both for men and women, with the door which cannot be locked! Just imagine a patient hurrying to the restroom in the morning, opening the restroom door, and seeing there another patient of the opposite sex who is trying to cover the body parts… I know this firsthand, I was a patient in such hospitals several times… Only in Belarus they can put you in the psychiatric ward or in jail for several years, just for demanding good roads near your house or timely repair of the entrances in the living blocks… Only in Belarus the municipal utilities bills can have an entry like «According to the instruction of the President we are authorized to make you pay for the installation of utilities counters in your apartment» - the organized group currently holding power in Belarus cannot even understand that a normal government cannot decide for the citizens whether they are to install the counters or not. Only in Belarus everything what happens around is so absurd that you loose the sense of reality.
Of course, the Shklov-Mogilev Organized Group which currently holds power in Belarus think that the risks for democratic activists are not so high, at least they are not so high as Belarusian Government would want them to be. Political activists do not get capital punishment and are not sent to Siberia for 25 years. But Belarusian enforcers do their best, and make it up with the growing number of political activists repressed. So for a normal person the risks are high enough:
1. Administrative liability—huge fines and up to 25 days in prison. Prison terms for political activities are getting longer and longer every year. Beginning from March 1st, Protected content , the authorities introduced amendments into the Administrative Code and increased the maximum prison term for administrative delinquencies from 15 days to 25 days. People can be sentenced to huge fines, just for ‘swearing in public’ (a standard accusation Belarusian enforcers recently use as a pretext to detain political activists before manifestations, for example). The maximum fine which can be imposed for democratic activities is equivalent to about Protected content .
2. Criminal liability. The Criminal Code was amended as well. Two ‘political’ articles were added. First, if you happen to become a member of an unregistered organization (it actually means ‘democratic organization’), you can get up to 3 years in jail. The second article is about ‘defamation of the Republic of Belarus and the Government’ (it actually includes any critics), for which you can get up to 5 years in jail. But the repressions do not stop here.
3. Deprivation of the right to earn money and feed the family. The administrations can stop renewing the employment contract with the activist. Again Belarus is unique: every employee is on an employment contract lasting Protected content . After this term is over, the administration may renew the contract or may say goodbye to the employee with no reasons given. The current authorities use the contract system to harass the employees who, for example, won’t take part in the election forgeries, or won’t vote in advance during the ‘Presidential elections’, or won’t agree to pay for the water counter installation. The authorities threaten not to renew the contract, or even compile the blacklists for people who are not to be employed for decent jobs.
4. Deprivation of the right to receive education. The students who are involved in political activities can be expelled under any formal circumstances. Besides, from this year on applicants can enter some majors (mass media, law, etc.) only with the permissions of the Ideology Department of the local Executive Committees.
5. Persecution of the relatives. For example, the children are expelled from universities or the relatives are threatened to be fired if the activist does not ‘calm down’.
Besides, the current authorities in Belarus devised more sophisticated methods of psychological pressure, persecution humiliation.
Belarusian Government power which currently governs Belarus is a power of destruction. The main hindering force which blocks any democratic processes is fear, human weaknesses. This is widely used by Belarusian regime and its enforcers, KGB in particular. KGB lieutenants prefer to act in the dark, they are afraid of openness and transparency, they exploit human vices. KGB shadows everyone. It is frightening and uncomfortable, it makes you feel like something slimy is creeping over your body. But what every Belarusian has to overcome is the fear in their own souls, to kill the ‘demon’ within. Only after we overcome our own weaknesses we can withstand Belarusian regime effectively. Then KGB enforcers will not be able to destroy our integrity when they threaten us, jail us, even kill us. The struggle for democracy in Belarus is in fact the struggle for basic human values, for the right to be a true human. Belarusian system of power tries to humiliate and break down people, to turn them into meek animals to be herded, which are preoccupied only with food search and sex drive. The struggle for democracy is more than struggle for political power. Democratic activists in Belarus are like missionaries going to cannibals. Not only the missionaries must explain cannibals that cannibalism is bad no matter how yummy human flesh may taste. The missionaries have to always remember that they themselves may become the cannibals’ dinner, because they themselves taste yummy. So why do missionaries still go to cannibals and preach? Why do Belarusian democrats go public, stand for the human rights, risk their freedom and life, why do they still work under everyday pressure of KGB and half a dozen more ‘monitoring bodies’? Because both missionaries and democrats believe in good and justice, they believe that it is not enough to be born a human, you have to earn and confirm this status every day. This belief in the higher values supports us in the struggle, even under close KGB surveillance, even when we are loosing hopes to see the triumph of the good and the fall of the evil. This belief in changes and democracy strengthens us when we see our friends handcuffed, when a dozen of Belarusian enforcers with sly grins surround you, even when you loose all your physical strength to continue fighting. And you stand up from your knees and go on working for the future of Belarus in which you believe.
More than once I had to deal with KGB and other Belarusian enforcers. I remember my first arrest very well, it is like the first love, it is impossible to forget. All minute details are still clear in my memory. It happened in Protected content , on the day when Aleksandr Lukashenko’s legal term of office was over. We distributed leaflets which told people that tomorrow Lukashenko ceases to be the President, and today is the last day of his legitimate power. Suddenly a group of enforcers appeared. They were quite a few, fifteen or something, all uniformed. I will never forget what I felt when they were escorting me with submachine guns, as if I was a dangerous special offender. Regular passers-by looked astonished and curious ‘what kind of horrible crime this girl could commit?’ That first arrest and the escorting was like going to Mount Calvary—through the whole city, encircled by enforcers with submachine guns. I walked straight, but deep inside I was terribly frightened. The very first time, you do not know what to expect, but you must not show your fear… Other girls were kidnapped another way: a police car stopped near them, the enforcers pointed their guns at the girls and ordered to get into the car. What can a twenty-year girl feel when she sees several real guns pointed at her? Then came the official part of the arrest in the police precinct. We are three girls, we are all about twenty, pig-tailed, it is a midsummer day and we try to smile… There are green trees behind the windows, the sun is shining through the leaves and through the steel bars on the windows. We still cannot believe it is all real, that we are in the police precinct, we are arrested and we can be jailed. The enforcers are young boys, and they are smiling too. Apparently we do not look like that ‘horrible opposition’ their chiefs brief them about every morning. The boys want to touch us because they want to see how different we are from regular 20-year old girls. And they do touch us, our breasts, our thighs. We are angry, we defend ourselves, and the boys are a kind of surprised: look, they are from opposition but they react just like normal girls! Unfortunately for us, a big cockroach is running across the bench. Usually cockroaches in Vitebsk are small and red, but that one was big and black. We let out a squeal and jumped away. The enforcers discovered a real fun: they grabbed the roach and began chasing us, they wanted to put it under our T-shirts and see our reactions… In their perceptions we did not differ much from that roach… At that time neither we nor our tormentors had a slightest idea about that an arrested person has some rights…
In Protected content enforcers changed their strategy. They were just routinely detaining me every day during the whole month, sometimes twice a day. I spent in the police precinct the three hours just as the law permits, and then they released me. There were no mobile phones in Belarus at that time, and I could not inform my relatives what happened with me. I never knew where I would get to in an hour or so. If I was walking my dog, then they used to arrest me with my dog, keeping us together behind the bars for the three hours. If I was doing shopping, they arrested me with a pack of milk in my hands. I was coming back home in the evening, having called my parents—they used to arrest me just before the entrance and keep me till the midnight or early morning, and my mother was already calling the local hospitals and morgues. It was psychologically difficult—you are coming home and thinking about warm shower and a cup of hot coffee, and suddenly six or seven uniformed and armed men snatch you and throw you into a car, then you have to spend three hours in a police precinct, cold and dim and smelling cigarettes. For those three hours you are doing nothing, you are just sitting and waiting for something, and this waiting is a torment. The big guys with submachine guns who snatched you and brought you here are now walking around and refuse to explain you why you are being detained, and seeing them around is a torment too. Your mother is waiting for you at home, she is worried. You are just 22, and you want flowers, love, and spring to come, so different from a perspective of a trial, a dozen of gloomy enforcers around you, who are having fun putting their guns to your dog’s head and threatening to shoot her. You protest against the bench you are sitting on, you do not want to see how the enforcers are beating your friends with thir huge walkie-talkies. You do not want to hear the judge sentencing you to 15 days in prison ‘so that you would have time to think about your behavior’, which means not interfering when enforcers are beating your friends. After Protected content am scared to death if my telephone rings at night. A night call is a sign of trouble, it means that they snatched another one of us, young and longing for changes and spring. It means another sleepless night in the police precinct or at its entrance, doubts whether they will release the detained or not, the barred windows. When I begin remembering it, I understand how many troubles this regime inflicted, it must not be forgotten, otherwise it will happen again…
Another hard time was after the election campaign of Protected content . Then KGB did not want to get very creative, they just openly followed me during one month. And they made it a very difficult month for me. Some people may think ‘Well, what’s the big deal, just the same car sits near your house and some gray people always follow you. They do not hurt you. Nothing serious!’ They are plain wrong. Psychologically it is very difficult. You are constantly feeling somebody staring at your back, and the eyes are evil and deathly. Have you ever seen the eyes of a KGB enforcer, deathly, cold, and empty? Like of a lizard or a dead man. You cannot really tell whether they are just threatening you and trying to break you down, or they really plan another political ‘disappearance’, and you are Number 1 in their list. They impose a constant feeling of danger, that someone evil is hiding nearby. My mother could not sleep at night, she used to come to the window and check hoping that THEY left. But they kept their positions… I felt like a deer chased. We wrote an official letter to the local police, asking who were those plain-clothed men who always follow me, and provided their license plate numbers. The police officials answered that there are no such license plates, they do not exist. Then we photographed the licenses and attached the pictures to another official request. The police officials answered very vaguely, but the KGB shadow disappeared after that. Probably one month is their limit, they cannot spend more resources on me. Or maybe they were just testing me and waiting for me to break down.
The search which happened in Protected content a lot within me and around me. Somebody was walking around my apartment, touching my favorite books with their slimy hands, searching my underwear, was reading my letters and watching my private pictures… To know this is unbearable. KGB destroys even that small sphere of privacy which a political activist can maintain in the current situation in Belarus. They break into your sphere of privacy not because your private life poses some threat to Belarusian regime, but because Belarusian officials want to control everything, they cannot bear the fact that some activities are out of their reach. They want to penetrate all your life, they crave to investigate everything including your kitchen trash. They consider the right to privacy the limitation of their right to break into anybody’s life. In Belarusian folklore there is a character called ‘niezhyts’, which can be translated somewhat like ‘a living dead’. According to the folk tales, when some persons sinned so much during their lives that now it is prohibited for them to enter the kingdom of dead. Niezhyts cannot die properly, they have to be around normal people, but they are dead inside. Niezhyts see normal people and envy them with all their guts, because people around are alive and niezhyts are not. KGB enforcers remind me of those niezhyts because they break into lives, crave to become alive by sucking somebody’s life. This obtrusive obsession to harass and victimize combined with the fear of openness is the main characteristic of KGB actions. It even has something to do with love and hate, because KGB enforcers are emotionally dependent on this harassment, they hate the people they harass but cannot stop the harassment. I can say in a certain sense they are even in love with their victims, because those victims give their lives some meaning. It is not all about the money Belarusian Government pays to KGB enforcers, there is something else. Maybe they envy us that we are free to choose and they can choose nothing, even their victims. They are soaked with immense fear, and they try to get rid of this fear by threatening others. But it gives only temporary relief, then the fear come back even stronger… They do not have their own lives, so they try to live somebody else’s life by shadowing, eavesdropping, watching through the keyhole …
As a rule, most of our classified information leaks through the so-called ‘secret agents’, or people whom KGB managed to recruit. There are two types of such ‘secret agents’: those who do it unwillingly because they are afraid of repressions, and those who sincerely believe that democratic activists are enemies who are against the best government in the world and are to be destroyed. Why agent and not technical devices like bugs or telephone line eavesdropping? The answer is very simple—agents are cheaper. Agents are generally not paid, but technical devices are expensive to acquire and maintain. ‘Unwilling’ agents are easy to identify, because they understand that they are betraying their friends and they feel fear and guilt. ‘Willing’ agents are more difficult to detect, because they consciously play spies and they believe they help catching spies, so they are programmed to deceive and betray, they have no moral principles and hence no remorse. Fortunately, most people are not actors, and any agent shows his or her true face sooner or later. KGB enforcers know this, and they try to disseminate rumors about total eavesdropping, reckoning that if people believe the information leaks only through the phones, then personal talk is safe, and the agents will get their pieces of information.
Of course for very special cases KGB can use sophisticated bugs and shadowing, but only against the people they consider really dangerous to the regime. Ordinary democratic activists do not pose big threats to justify material expenses. It is efficient enough to put nearby a ‘friend’ whom the democratic activists trust and who works for KGB.
How to withstand KGB movements? Just ignore them and block any possible advances of them. All a KGB enforcer craves is the victim’s attention, the enforcer gets nearly sexual pleasure or extra power from this. We can cut this power source by ignoring them, this is the only correct strategy…
It is very difficult for a politician to struggle for democracy and human rights in Belarus, but for a female politician the hardships double. Belarusian society teaches small girls to become a nurse, a cook, anyone but a leader. It actually discourages a girl to be a leader. The hardships double because women in Belarus do not believe in women’s solidarity.
The situation with women’s rights and gender equality leaves very much to be desired, even within democratic organizations. Ask any seasoned fighter for democracy what he thinks about women’s rights, and he will produce the amount of stupidity enough for the whole year. But it is only natural for the country where most people sincerely believe that three days a month a woman is not able to make adequate decisions and actually is not responsible, not able to think productively, because of the periods, that is why women cannot be adequate politicians. Democratic organizations are part of our society and they have the same prejudices and stereotypes. The general public does not even have a proper image of a female politician. You can ask anyone how a male politician should look like, and most probably you will get a more-or-less definite answer, on outer look as well as education, behavior, etc. However, if you ask the same about a female politician, most probably you will get an answer which is vague. Often it is not an answer at all, but opinions like ‘a woman’s place is not politics, but …’
I have a dream. I believe that it will come true and in Protected content Belarus will return to Europe and become a full member of the European Union. I believe that there will come the time when men and women will be equal in Belarusian society, and any discrimination will be gone. I believe that the law will rule in Belarus and the human rights will be observed. Aleksandr Lukashenko will go to prison and Russian authorities will finally put up with the fact that Belarus is not a part of Russia, but an independent state, strong and developed. I believe that our citizens deserve better life and they will get it. I believe in this future and I am ready to fight for it.

Olga Karatch
Belarus