We Believe! We Can! We Will Overcome!
Extracts from the book
Translated by: Vadzim Sarokin and Jennifer Ede
“People started thinking that we had won!”
Oleg Metelitsa spent 35 days in jail – from February 16 to March 23. After his release, he was held for several days in his home in Belynichi (Mogilevski Region) under “guard”. So that O. Metelitsa could not be free for the upcoming events of March 19-25, police officials and special forces arranged the most unbelievable, blatant and crude provocation. Oleg Metelitsa tells us:
- September 8, 2001 I was “preemptively arrested” for 15 days in Mogilev before the presidential elections. Before the 2004 referendum they also looked for me, but I had left five days in advance. Then they arrested me two days after the events, when I returned home. I was sentenced to seven days, “post factum”. And another time in mid-January 2006, I went to Minsk because they had started looking for me. The phone calls, flyers, police, and KGB started in... They began to trouble my wife, parents, brother. In Minsk, it’s simpler to hide. Even in Mogilev you feel “in view”, but in Belynichi it is impossible to go undetected - you need to either never leave the apartment, or go in the forest. In this way, because of my “opposition-ness,” because I think differently, they don’t just give me jail time, but my entire family – my wife, two children, my parents. But now I definitely know that what happened from March 16-25 showed the entire world that Belarusians stood up for their honor and right to be a nation. We didn’t lose our heads.
-“On February 16, I understood that this regime had come to an end”
February 16, on the “Day of Solidarity”, we stood with candles on the prospect in Minsk. No one thought that we would be disbursed or arrested. I stood with a candle between the KGB building and the K. Kalinouski Square (formerly October), on the National Bank side. 10 minutes had passed since the beginning of the action. I was in a very good mood. It already was getting dark, the candles burned in our hands – a symbol of remembrance and warmth for those who think about Belarus, who suffer for truth. A bus pulled up. And I saw how people in black began to throw participants of the action onto the bus. No one expected it. You cannot possibly think of more peaceful actions. I stood calmly. Then, at that moment, I thought - this regime has come to an end; if the powers that be fear people with candles, this means they are in hysterics and panicking.
They threw us in the bus. A girl near me started to cry. This was the first time she’d participated in such action, and this kind of treatment had been a shock for her. I tried to calm her down. At the police precinct, it turned out there had been exactly 16 detainees. They started to take down our information. A police officer took my passport, read my last name, and immediately left. A car came five minutes later. People in civilian clothes took me away to the Partisansky police department. They wrote me up protocol (mild hooliganism) according to Acticle 15 of Administative Punishment Code. That same evening, I was taken to Okrestina (a detention facility). I met the people that I had “hooliganized” (in agreement with protocol) the following day in court. It was two police officers. They said that they spotted me outside of the circus building (over a kilometer away from the actual action), that I “stood at the bus stop, approached those passing, waved my hands, and gestured in the direction of October Square”. Police came up to me and asked me to present my documents. In response I “called them names”. My lawyer requested video footage of the area by which the action had passed. The request was denied. An interesting moment – when the judge returned having made his decision, a policeman from Partisansky police department and two escorts came into the room. The policeman said: “Now they’ll give him 15 days; those packets with him, take them and lead him out”... I heard it all. They gave me 15 days. They released all other participants.
They say that it’s easier to spend two months in jail than 15 days of administrative arrest. There was a guy from “Zubr” and three guys from the Young Front in the cell. I was tormented with remorse. We talked all the time about how the easiest thing to do at this time was to sit in jail. I understood that on the 19th, anything could happen. My term ended on March 3rd.
The guys from “Zubr” and the Young Front left... Although we didn’t think they would let them go before the elections. I watched how they were greeted through the window. The guys waved to me... I thought: “they will probably let me go too...”.
“Before, I lived across from the jail, but now I live across from my home...”
Three days remained. I was transferred to a jail with ordinary detainees. They all knew about the latest events. They talked about A. Kazulin’s and A. Milenkevich’s appearances on television. That half hour of truth allowed the people to see an alternative, to see other faces. People began to think things over. Society woke up. My cellmates said that in a half hour, their decision changed. He who wanted to see a more drastic alternative to Lukashenko spoke of A. Kazulin; he who was tired of baseness and boorishness was for A. Milenkevich. Yes, people started thinking of their future. And that means that we had already won. This encouraged me.
KGB came to me the next day. Two officers interrogated me right there, at Okrestina. I understood that they would not let me go.
The last day was the hardest. I waited all day. They should have released me at 8:10 p.m. I knew that if they would want to take me away somewhere, they would do it earlier, so as to not “shine” in front of people.
Around 2:00 p.m. the guard came: “take your things to the exit”. I went downstairs. Two people were waiting. One of them was the chief of the Belynichi police department, the second I didn’t know. They’d sent a car especially for me. The driver was also from Belynichi. They got a car especially for me. Took me to Belynichi. They did not allow me to call my wife, motivated by the fact that I was still “serving time”. They weren’t supposed to let me call. I said that if I am “serving time”, then they didn’t have the right to take me without a court order. That was at lunch. The sentence was ending at 8:10.
I was taken by the Belynichi to the local jail. They were waiting for a person from KGB, who oversees the Kruguarski, Shklovski, and Belynichi counties. He arrived. I was called upstairs and interrogated according to article 193: “Participation in non-registered organizations”. They threatened me, saying that they would bring in Belarusian Television. I said I wasn’t scared of BT and that, in fact, I had something to say to them. They suggested that “I consider the future of my children”. My daughter is 13 years old and my son is eight. Around 8:00 p.m. the interrogation ended. They tell me: “you’re free, go”. My house in Belynichi is right across from police station. Then everything worked out like in an anecdote – before, I lived across from a jail, and now I live across from my home.
The chief of the police department led me not through the main exit, but through the yard. The outer gates opened... I exited, and looked at the windows of my house. It was evening, the children were home... I hadn’t been there for so long, I missed it... I walked along the path toward the house from the gate of the police department. After about seven meters, the path intersected with a sidewalk. At that moment, I looked at the window and thought, right now I’ll walk these 200 meters and be home. Although I was thinking that something should happen, I did not think it would be done in such a blatant and insolent manner...
“What’s going on, comrades?”
I walked along the path toward the sidewalk. Two people moved toward me at the same time. I stepped to the side to let them by. We came up to each other – and all of a sudden... they fall! Right at my feet! I knelt down to help them. And I thought “perhaps they’re drunk?” Moreover I did not know these people at first sight. But they immediately began shouting “Police! Help!” I understood what was what, raised my head, and saw that there are two policemen at the entrance of my house. And they’re coming right for me. They had been waiting for these screams.
I did not wait for the policemen. I took my bags and went to the station. Walked in, sat down, and waited. I did not even think to run. The policemen and the “victims” came in together. “Hello, what happened? What’s going on? Tell us how it all was...” They say “he pushed us, called us alcoholics, and cursed us out”, - and they write declarations. They took me immediately to a special holding cell, undressed me, and so on.
I feel sorry for these people. Perhaps they didn’t understand what they were doing. You can ask a person when he understands, what is right and wrong, like, for example, policemen. But these people, it is possible that they don’t even know what is happening in the country.
First of all, no one at home knew where I was. They did not let me out in Minsk, no one says anything at Okrestina. Everyone is in shock. I am nowhere to be found. I say: “do I have the right to a phone call?” The response: “yes.” But they do not let me call. They drew up all the protocol, sections, and took us to the observation cell. Here I see my wife running to the station. I said that I needed a lawyer. We met. She announced her participation in the matter. I gave her my things. She came down to me in the isolation ward, we conversed.
Court was the following day. The judge was brought directly to me at the police department. In court I said everything I was thinking, argued, stood up and said that I did not recognize the court and that I despised them. Honestly, I thought that the judge would have a fit. But I had nothing to lose. I knew that they would not give me less than 15 days. The judge made a mistake, and instead of 15 days, gaves me 16 days arrest.
We wanted journalists, family and friends to be present in the courtroom. The judge said that “[I] was unshaven” and that [I] would be “uncomfortable” in front of people. No one was allowed in court. Everyone, including the policemen and secretaries, knew what was happening.
The witnesses of the transgression of the law were not found. Those two had not been in court. They took me downstairs and locked me in a cell. I was brought books, news. In Belynichi, my wife can act as my lawyer, in order to write appeals and so on. The 15 day sentence was ending on March 18.
“In Mogilev, the entire jail had voted for Milenkevich”
The chief came to the isolation ward the next day, late at night. He was called for a short time from home and ordered to take me to Mogilev. I think I was transferred because of distrust in the local police.
They brought me to Mogilev at night. There, the politicals are not kept together. I found out that my acquaintances, chairmen of branches of local politial parties, “Zubr” activists, the Young Front were in neighboring cells. Everyone very actively conversed in the cells. As a result, for the elections, the entire jail voted for Milenkevich.
March 18. I sit. I wait. I had to leave Okrestina at 8:10 p.m.; this time my time was at 8:15. Around 6:00 p.m., they called me: “leave your stuff in the cell”. They led me out and sat me in a car, and took me to the local police department. These people from the KGB interrogated me, and here, are drawing up protocol before my very eyes. Allegedly according to protocol I was released from jail in Mogilev. I left. After 500 meters I insulted two police officers. This time I succeeded in doing this in three minutes. At 8:18 p.m., they detained me again. They didn’t even try to play out some sort of scene. They showed me protocol. I wrote that I demanded a lawyer.
Court was on Monday, March 20; they sentenced me to five days. It was simply comical. I dealt with everything with humor. My wife came, my father, friends from Mogilev. I said that I have noticed that I have a second “I” that darts out to and fights with police, and then I was forced to take responsibility for him. They gave me five days. Almost every day I was taken into interrogation. They started to seriously pressure me.
“Freedom... under house arrest”
March 18, after the conversation at the station, I was thrown into a huge cell. I was alone there. I paced, rushed about, prayed. Imagined how people were gathering at the square. Asked the guard for the time. There was no information. I went to sleep. All of a sudden I heard a sound, like a clap of thunder, wind, snow. That which was on October Square in Minsk also happened in Mogilev – snow, blizzard, wind. Then, I didn’t understand what it was...
They started throwing people into the cell during the night. And everyone came in and said: “well, went and voted...” These were not even participants in the protest action... ordinary people. All resentful. The police whispered to us: “We are with you too! Long live Belarus! That’s enough! We are with you guys!” During the night they had thrown in about 25 people. The cell, where I had initially been alone, had filled up.
The conditions are horrible at the jail in Mogilev. It was forbidden to bring anything with you, not a toothbrush, nor polyethylene packets, nor pens. Every morning the detained were taken out and undressed, clothes thrown on the floor. “Face to the wall! Stand! Turn!” I said that I would not undress. They left me alone.
They threw in another guy. He started telling how he and his wife had gone and voted. And here he sat, cursing Lukashenko, remembering business contacts, contracts... I asked: “And who did you vote for?” He says: “For Lukashenko”. That amazed me. They are turning people into zombies. He says: “I don’t know why. I hate him. Probably because I was sober.” He answered me like that. I did not understand; thought it had been the opposite.
The five day term had ended. The KGB came twice on the last day. They told me: “We will not release you until the 25th”. I said: “Enough! I will not sit here anymore. I will announce a hunger strike in court. I will start to act.” At that moment, I had already served 35 days.
They released me. I was met by my wife, brother and father. I walked out, looking around from side to side... We sat in the car, and went to Belynchi. We notice that we have a “tail”. The cars changed, but we were followed until we got home. On the road, we were stopped around five times. We turned toward the house. The police were standing outside. Waiting.
We climb upstairs. They follow us to the door. They made sure that I walked into the house. The children and my mother were home. I had grown such a beard that my son didn’t even recognize me.
In Mogilev, KGB agents told me: “Oleg, you are going to sit home and you cannot even go out to the street. Do not even try. Even if the neighbors take out a refrigerator, they will check it.” There was a car around the clock; at night two kept watch over the entrance to my building. I could not even take out the garbage. I was guarded by the deputy chief of the Belynchi traffic police, deputy chief of the police department, all officers. I sat under house arrest.
March 25, the doorbell rings. I look – the chief of the local isolation ward. I opened up and we greeted each other. He says: “I’m sorry to disturb you; they called me from Mogilevski police department, and asked that I personally make sure that you are at home.” On that day, he came another three times. And that is regardless of the fact that they were keeping watch and listening, and so on.
Sunday, March 26 – they were still keeping watch. On Monday, I went out on the balcony and looked – there was no one. I got dressed, took the keys to the garage, left the house, walked past the police station, and turned right into the garage. The first time in many days. Freedom. I went to my parents, grandmother, picked up my wife from work...
“From the jail’s isolation ward, everyone left with an enormous love for their country”
I am a Christian. To me this means that I am held accountable for the land that God gave me. For this reason, I could not not act at this deciding time for our country. I participated in all stages of the preelection campaign, did all I could – gathered signatures, agitated. I was an observer on election day. I tried to convince people to vote with their reason; I said that people should think about what kind of country they live in and in what kind of country their children will live.
On the day of the election, I felt trepidation, like many thousands of others – how will this evening end; will I make it home today? How would I act in this or that situation? On the day I prayed for the protection of all people that nevertheless overcame their fear and would go with me to the square. And then started what is referred to as “the days of freedom”, “the time of fractures and victory”, victory over every fear and dispair.
We gathered on Victory Square the night of the 19th, in a group of 30-40 people. Some people, who even made it up to Victory Square, told me that they were scared and would not continue on. This called “wanting and rolling”. Those remaining, having divided into groups, went to meet the unknown...
We walked up and couldn’t believe our eyes. Everything was quiet, no SWAT team. No one was ready for this turn of events. I do not remember now why the events developed exactly that way.
I came every day. To work in the morning, to the square in the evening, from the square in the morning, again to work. Difficult? Yes! But it was all worth it. If it was needed, I would continue going to the square even now, to the territory of freedom, the territory of victory over fear, lies, injustice. But I only managed to to come three times... no, two. The third time I did not make it... literally three meters. At the stoplight, outside the metro entrance, the light turned red. I stopped. And that cost me 10 days at Okrestina... Although I do not regret any one of my actions.
What happened? I was walking with my friends. I had a telescopic rod with me. And while I waited for the green light, a person in black came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and says: “Let’s go.” Having assessed the situation, I understood that on that side, another two in black smiled at me “sweetly”. I asked:
-Let’s go. Let’s go. Are you a fisherman?
-Yes... a fisherman.
-Pity, they’re not biting today on the square. But I’ll show you the fishing hole.
They took me behind the Palace of the Republic, shoved me into the car where there happened to be SWAT officers having dinner, mean and tired like dogs. By that time, they had finished “chatting” with a girl of about 18 years old. I noticed that besides the word “c***”, the SWAT officers lacked enough lexicon for conversation. One kneed her in the stomach. She went down. They took her away.
Then they started in on me. They put me on my knees and started thinking about how to bully me. At that time I prayed and asked that God protect me. After all, God does not abandon his children. As soon as they had thought up something, well, truly humiliating (I will not go into details), the door opened and in walked a senior officer. Having seen me, he asked “what (profanity)... is this one doing here?” and sent me to the bus. I was taken to Okrestina. The next day we were taken to the court in the Soviet district and given 10 days. Two days we were tormented by hunger.
My cell was... simply super! The people were cool! Every morning and evening we sang the hymn “Magutny Bozha” (Almighty God), yelled “shame!” at that dog that barked over the radio. We thought and thought about what happened and what will be later. He who knew how, prayed for Belarus.
After being in jail, I came to the conclusion: “If you want to love Belarus – do time at Okrestina”. And it really is like that. Since then, I have not seen that kind of atmosphere of unity between completely different people, united in one faith in change and victory. Even the people taken by mistake (these were not few), left with an enormous love for their country and the desire to fight the wrong. With such enthusiasm they told everyone about what actually happened.
Around 25 people met me [when I got out]! It was so pleasant, I simply cannot say. They gave me white, red and white flowers, hugged me... My mother said that “she was proud of her son!” That was a big attestation to the fact that everything that I did, do and will do is needed and important. I know that it depends on the position of every given person; will Belarus be an outcast country or will we be able to proudly say “We are Belarusians!” To stand under our flag and sing the hymn “Magutny Bozha”.
I believe on the 19th of March, God started his work. And he’ll finish it when we turn to him and say: “God, we believe in you, protect and bless Belarus”. And so it will be.
“People do not even know what it means, to not be scared”
Christina Shatikova is the cousin of Dmitry Zavadsky, the ORT cameraman who was kidnapped and vanished without a trace. Christina lived in the tent city on October Square in Minsk from the very beginning to very end. She was arrested, went through court, but immediately after she was freed, organized meeting of other prisoners.
-You are the mother of two children, and came from Mogilev... What drew you to the Belarusian Majdan? After all, it is hard to explain to many people; many believe the official propoganda and think that bought adventurers gathered on the square.
-The very best people of Belarus gathered on the square. The first people to “jump without a parachute”. You know, such adrenaline, when you cannot make the first step... frightening. But they overstepped that devil, conquered fear. And not just fear of the president or the SWAT team, but the fear that lives in us since Soviet times. People got used to living in fear; they do not even know what it is not to be scared. And those who managed to conquer fear came onto the square. People who were scared, but conquered their fear.
-It was very cold and wet – how did you live there?
-We pitched the tents on March 20. There were 70 people then. There were no conditions – not tea, not braziers. People were not yet bringing food and warm clothes... But there it was like in the mountains, where there is that rare air... From that mood that lives inside. Everyone told us: “well that’s cold for you”. Actually with that mood that warmed from inside, we were not cold. We got sick later, when arrested. That was a “taste” of that kind of freedom, that kind of clean air, that simple wish of the people who are now in jail to return and live all over again. Because of that kind of positive mood, that kind of lift – we did not have a chance to suffer.
-But even so, everything was frightening. You know that people who stepped away from the “guarded circle” at night disappeared, were collected one by one and taken in an unknown direction.
-Yes, we knew, but there wasn’t fear. That was also a victory, when they detained people. Because if that power that exists now did not fear us, they would not detain us.
-And how did people start helping you?
-The first people who started bringing us food and warm things were those who wanted to stay the night in the tent city themselves. This was the first night; few knew of our existence. Actually, they knew that there were these “freaks” – after all, they had shown drunks on television speaking in our name. The next day they began to bring things. An old lady came first with a dish of hot stuffed cabbage and some scarves. And from that moment on, people began to come and bring things. But at first they only came and quarrelled amongst themselves. They said: “what the hell are they fighting for?” Others helped us. When we went to the store to “load up” the first night, we were asked: “where are all of these pirozhki going? (we had bought all that they had – 50)”. We were asked: “but why?” I said: “here we’re becoming a camp on the square.” A man that was standing near asked again: “and you will definitely stay?” I answered yes. He said: “I am going to work tomorrow and will bring you something”. And he came by.
-And provocation? Did you see how they planted drugs?
-Drugs, most likely, were planted on the last night, when the SWAT team began to beat people mercilessly and drive in with those auto-monsters that were specifically used to scare people. Provocations not only occurred the last night, but also on the first nights. One by one, two by two, drunks came up... Then a girl of loose morals and guys with vodka came up to us from government television and were positioned in front of us. They posed in the background of the tent city, and then stepped off to the side to give an interview. Then a journalist from “Soviet Belarus” got into the camp claiming he was a foreign journalist.
-How did you notice that he wasn’t one of yours?
-There was a lot of work, and there in the midst of the raid I collided with him, but he did not say anything, and went on further... silent. And he had been grabbed by the shoulder and thrown out of the circle. He immediately started using foul language and threatening. And for the people in the tent city, it was impossible to imagine that one could push someone and not excuse oneself. On the last day from the 23rd to the 24th, an hour and a half before the assault, Pavlichenko came. He stood on the other side of the project, there where the Officer’s House is, on the parapet of the metro. He stood there and at the same time, from all sides, drunken men started to come up who were being offensive and spitting... It was very dangerous. Those freaks could do absolutely anything.
“I have loved freedom since childhood”
In the midst of those arrested the on the night between the 23rd and 24th of March, was the musician and composer Tikhon Zolotov. In the cell where Tikhon sat, tablets of absorbent carbon were used to write the words to the hymn “Magutny Bozha”on a newspaper. They sang all together.
-Yes, it really happened like that. I myself was the one writing. The day after our detention, we spent the entire day being pushed through court. Before that they confiscated all warm clothes (hats, scarves, gloves). When we returned to Okrestina, we were forced to stand outside for around four hours. It was very cold (probably also because of the fact that we had not eaten that day). Some started singing (also, in the tent village, as soon as it would start getting cold, the guys would start singing something and were able to get a little warmer). One guy sang “Magutny Bozha”. I tried to sing with him, although I did not know the song. It was later when one of the guys from the “Zubr” party ended up in my cell and sang me the song. We did not have pencils. I was passed absorbent carbon, with which I was able to take down text in some sort of journal. We separated the melody into two voices, and I sang a duet with him.
-Did you ever think you would end up in jail?
-I have never done anything illegal, and since birth I have been, by nature, a Passifist. I always tried to solve all conflicts by the peaceful route; I have never violated anything – on the contrary, I always tried to help people. I did not think that I needed to violate laws by holding meetings. But I supported that action because of a sense of solidarity. Likely it was my soul’s scream, like many. Disagreement with the regime prompted my participation in the actions. It especially touched me this year.
-In what way?
-I am a musician. Not long ago, our group was invited to the benefit concert “Clean Age”. We thought about it and agreed. No ulterior motive sprang up at that moment. When we walked on stage, we saw that in actuality “Clean Age” is a big antagonist concert for the support of the acting president with a simply huge quantity of young people from BPUP (Belarusian Patriotic Union of Young People); many probably saw this concert later on Belarusian television, all of those disgraceful flags...). For us, it was a shock. After that, the feeling remained that we had simply been crudely and wickedly used. I emphasize again that the concert had been announced as a benefit. There was this feeling that you are nothing in this country. They simply lied to us.
-You were the first ones to stay on the square during the night of detention?
-Yes, I stayed at first. Before that, I came afternoon and night when there was time. It was just that I had many performances that week. On Thursday especially important concerts had been behind, and since five o’clock I had been on the square. I had time for it. It wasn’t scary on the inside of the camp. There were many young intellectuals there. Everyone supported each other, conversed.
One girl told me that those two nights would be the hardest. I saw that in the camp there were many underage and other people who would have a hard time protecting themselves. I thought, I’m an adult who can sensibly think in a difficult situation. In general that was what I was forced to think about later. When the disbursement started, I tried to calm down and protect the girls so that they could not get to them. I think that in some way, I fulfilled my mission. In short, that night I decided to stay on the square.
-Many people learned of the events of that night through reportages...
-When I left jail, my wife showed me a recording of the news. Of course it was all lies. I have friends who were witnesses to the fact that before shooting the events on the square, syringes and other things were first planted in the tents. When they seized the tent village, some things were done especially for the camera. It was all different. For example, especially for the recording they did not have their batons out. But they had enough of other equipment. And in general, we did not show any kind of resistance to it. When they tried to take us one by one, we sat on the ground and held on to each other.
-What made it on camera?
-In front of the cameras, they said they would “give us five minutes to dispurse”. Naturally there were no five minutes. A woman with a megaphone requested that make a corridor so that people could get through. But it was as if they didn’t hear. They explained for the cameras that we had five minutes and that was it... Practically immediately they began the takeover. I crossed to the outside perimeter from the side of the prospect.
On my side there were 2-3 stool pigeons. When we sat down, they started to jump out and yell: “Guys, let’s get out of here!” But everyone stayed in place. Then they themselves, pretending that they got out of there, ran away, right in front of the cameras, and were let go.
I was not beaten, except for when they began to take us, already sitting on the ground - a SWAT officer jumped over me and in passing, kneed me in the face. There was a really unpleasant moment when were taken to the bus. The SWAT officer was looking for a piece of paper to write down all of the detained. He looked at my backpack and asked: “do you have a piece of paper?” I said I did not. There were some documents and my work notebook in my backpack. He says: “how is it that you don’t have any? What is this?” He took the documents and began writing on the other side. And he looked at the notes, tore them up, and slipped them back inside. Then when things were confiscated at Okrestina, they asked me what was with the torn papers, and if I needed them. I answered that I am a composer and they are the fruits of my labor. They placed the notes with the remaining things.
-What were the conditions like in jail?
-It was cold. For the ten day sentence, we were transferred to a cell where the window would not close and the toilet did not work. The faucet also leaked badly, making it damp inside the cell. In order to use the restroom, we needed to call the guard who led us to another room. I had spent three days in these conditions, until a normal replacement for the guard came.
I started getting really chilled, kidneys and lungs. They arranged for a female medical assistant to do rounds, but she was not of any help. There were two medicines – analgin and citramon. And the phrase that I will remember for a long, long time: “that’s enough for today, don’t bring any more. I’m already tired”. Between ourselves we nicknamed her “beast woman”. We treated ourselves with whatever means we had on hand.
-Many had colds. We squeezed onion juice and dripped it into our noses. In 15 days, I changed cells five times. I managed to do time with those who were taken on the 22nd and those who were taken on the 25th. In this manner news about the events came to us from the horse’s mouth. There were many interesting people – programmers, artists, kids from various youth organizations.
I found out how well the KGB works here in Belarus; it is possible that it works much better than in Russia. In general it surprised me how well-prepared the regime had been for these events. Take the building of the new wing at Okrestina. I heard that they had readied a room underneath Dinamo Stadium to hold the detained.
-How were you as detainees treated once in the detaining facility?
-Immediately upon being taken to Okrestina, we were treated like criminals. We were spoken to very rashly, calling us dead men walking; they constantly pushed, yelled... And then when we had sat our term out, there were different replacements; a lot depended on which replacements were keeping watch. Some treated us normally; something was passed from cell to cell. They said “well you’re not some kind of common criminals – normal people, it seems.” And there were also real Sadists who constantly had the cellphone on to play and didn’t let us sleep. We slept in shifts anyway, because there were 10 of us in a five person cell. When I asked the lead of one shift to move us to another cell (having already suffered health problems and from inhumane conditions), he answered: “We don’t care if you die here! What’s it to me? I’ll just work my shift and get out of here”.
When journalists and representatives from the Organization of Safety and Cooperation in Europe started showing up, relations toward us drastically changed. In my presence the shift lead said that “he had orders to wash everyone in jail before 10:00 p.m.” I myself only made it to the shower on my 11th day. The food changed. One time, instead of oatmeal and bread, we had something almost resembling chicken soup. Guards greeted us while walking by; wished us “bon appetit” before we ate. It was said that some, at the end of their shifts, glanced around the cell and said in a whisper: “Long live Belarus!”
-What happened in the cells?
-In the beginning, everyone conversed a lot, got to know each other, discussed the news that was passed in from the outside. Books were read out loud. At the end it was evident that everyone had had it. No one talked especially; they waited to be freed. The brutal limitations on freedom let themselves be known – 15 days enclosed in four walls, no connection to the outside world. For example, we judged the weather by the color of the windowpane. If the glass was lighter, then our mood lifted because there had been sun. We could only dream about going for a walk.
There was a government-issued radio in the cell. Another additional pressing – political shows for brain-washing, perfectly tasteless music, and constant bombardment that everything in our country is good, and how everywhere else in the world, these nightmares are happening.
-What changed in your lift after the events on October Square?
-I became much more interested in what’s happening in politics. I became more convinced of some things, found out something new. It was a discovery for me, how well developed the KGB is, how well the executive power is prepaired for these kind of events. Even members of the SWAT team proved to us how “we were wrong” and how we were “all mixed up” when they transported us in the bus. They proved that we “are meeting under a Fascist flag”. I wonder who told them that?
Similar things happen in Belarusian show business. A year and a half ago, television and radio received a direct order. The Belarusian stage where the agitation would be needed to be readied just like at Belarusian Republic Union of Youth. I can’t