Photos from the Maidan in Kyiv were a déjà-vu.
I saw that in Minsk, also in December, but three years earlier, in 2010. The year the dictatorship celebrated its 16th anniversary, dozens of thousands of Belarusians went to the streets to demand changes, despite years of repressions and elimination of all rights and democratic freedoms.
Indeed, we were less than a million, only 50 thousand, but each and every one of us who came to the Square on December 19, 2010, was a hero, because we went there ready for the worst, fully aware of consequences. For all of us this day will be a landmark, personal Red Square-1968, a crucial event in our biographies, a line separating “before” and “after”.
We all came to the Square hoping not to be there alone. Do you remember the famous play by Yevgeny Vishnevsky “What Could I Do Alone?” The act was staged at the students’ theater of Moscow State University in the 1960s during the “thaw”. At first, one person comes out to the stage and asks the audience “What can I do alone?”, then another one comes out and asks the same question, then another one… The number of people on the stage is growing, and suddenly they notice that even though they are many they are still asking the same question.
Then, in December 2010, we saw we were not alone. We became friends, we became one family. There was the spirit of unity, we thought we could smell (and even taste) changes, there was no fear, only hope. And I am convinced that people of Kyiv are feeling the same today at the Euromaidan. Maybe each of them will have their own life afterwards, but today they have one life for them all.
But suddenly darkness fell over the city. Peaceful citizens craving freedom were executed by butchers with faces covered under helmets and masks. The same terrorists in balaclava tortured people in jails the way their predecessors from NKVD did in 1937.
In the KGB prison, we were isolated from the outer world and told just one thing: that everyone forgot about us, that everyone thought of us as of criminals. After my provisional release and prohibition to live in Minsk, before the trial, I understood that it was a lie: first of all, we had support of people of Belarus and hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
There were lots of statements, resolutions, extraordinary parliamentary sessions, even a threat of economic sanctions. Several people were released after this threat. Some of them were placed under a home arrest; some were banned from leaving the country – until the trial, unable to have a normal life. But most of the prisoners, including Lukashenka’s strongest peers who posed a real threat to his power, remained behind the bars.
Nevertheless, the West saw the transfer of some hostages from one prison to another as an attempt to meet its demands. The threat of actual economic sanctions disappeared. But most importantly, the decisiveness to support Belarusians’ aspiration to freedom disappeared, too. This decisiveness was stated in the article Lukashenka is a Loser by Foreign Ministers of Poland, Sweden, Germany and Czech, who claimed that the Belarusian dictator had lost the presidential elections.
But then, looking at the empty streets of the hollow occupied Minsk, Western authorities once again decide to work with the person whom they had publicly called a usurper. Political prisoners have many long years in jail ahead of them, their cries unheard behind the thick walls. Realpolitik has its own rules, people’s memory is short.
People forget the deed of thousands of Belarusians and trample their faith and hope. As for Lukashenka, he is still cleansing the country from any sign of political activity, gradually turning Belarus into a concentration camp, just like his idol Hitler. For that, he gets a prize – the World Championship in ice hockey. I think we all remember the Olympics 1936, planned by Western strategists as a tool to turn Hitler’s Germany towards a civilized path.
It’s not the point however. Today there is a risk that our neighbors, Ukrainians, will be betrayed. The entire world is watching their struggle. There is one million Ukrainians out there, but even so many people are no threat to the regime if the West doesn’t show any support.
“The main difference between Lukashenka and Yanukovich is that the first is a dictator while the latter was elected by his people,” Western politicians say and emphasize how “pointless” it is to demand that the Ukrainian president resigns. Who will sign the association agreement, they wonder?
And here we have it again: working with usurpers. People have been assaulted at the Maidan, offices of opposition parties and media have been attacked, censorship has been introduced on TV, free-thinkers have been arrested. After all that Yanukovich has lost his legitimacy.
An order to assault and arrest the people at the Maidan can come tonight, or maybe tomorrow. Just like in Belarus, the opposition leaders can be sentenced to 5-6 years in prison for “organization of mass disorders.” What can the West use as a counterweight? Statements, extraordinary parliamentary sessions, threats of sanctions that will never become real?
Maybe it’s time to stop dealing with loser-dictators and to start listening to the people who crave freedom and call for solidarity?
I know that the Square will happen again in Minsk, and millions will come this time. Just like they did in Kyiv and Moscow. We will keep coming until we have our victory.
Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of charter97.org