"When I feel hopelessness, despair, when I don't see the light, — I remember Ales." Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski is 60 years old
Ales Bialiatski turned 60 on September 25. On his anniversary, the creator and permanent head of the human rights center "Viasna" was in jail. Ales also celebrated his 50th anniversary behind bars.
Svaboda spoke with Ales Bialiatski's colleagues, whom he had introduced to human rights activities.
"People looked at him as a moral authority whose ethical values are indisputable"
Human rights activist Darya Rubleuskaya says that she first got acquainted with the books of Ales Bialiatski. And after reading these books, as the girl admits, she imagined a very gloomy man, burdened with the experience of a long, constant struggle.
"And when I first came to Viasna, Ales Viktorovich came out holding a mug with a Barbie doll on it, and talked to me very warmly. We talked about values for a long time. He asked where I came from, why I speak Belarusian, and when I decided to do it, he asked a lot about my family. And still in his letters, he always asks about it.
For me, he has never been a boss as commonly understood, as in serious commercial or vertically built structures. For me, he has always been a person you come for a certain advice. He himself never gives advice if you don't ask. But his views on some things were very valuable, and we really miss them," says Daria Rublevskaya.
She works at the Belarusian Human Rights School, where young people are taught human rights. From the beginning of the foundation of this initiative, Ales has taught at various courses, he talked about the history of the dissident movement, about the structure of Belarusian human rights organizations.
"But, of course, he not only influenced people with his lectures, it was noticeable that people considered him to be a moral authority whose inner values are simply indisputable. People stood in lines to sign books and to find out how he had got through the previous prison experience, what his creative plans were.
For me, he remains, despite the difference in age and experience, a very energetic, cheerful and most importantly — a creative person."
Darya also remembered how in 2020, when mass arrests of people on administrative charges began, young human rights activists founded the initiative "solidarity postcard workshop" and wrote letters to both political prisoners and those who got into the OIS (Offender Isolation Center) for a day.
"Ales was an ideological inspirer, he always spoke about the importance of such support, about the importance of solidarity primarily through letters and postcards. Therefore, no matter what happens, such activities cannot be abandoned. Ales Viktorovich is very much missed in the team," says human rights activist Darya Rubleuskaya.
"If something happens, he very calmly and soberly assesses what needs to be done"
Ales Burakou, a human rights activist of "Viasna", met Ales Bialiatski when he just got out of the Babrujsk prison and presented his book, the "Mercury silver of life" in Mogilev. In 2015, I got into meetings with human rights activists of the "Viasna".
"Ales Viktorovich seemed very thorough. Such people are impressive. The simplicity of communication was very captivating. He is a man who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, is a symbol of the human rights movement, such a majestic figure, but he talked so simply, easily shared common, everyday things with colleagues, for instance, how he can go to his village house and do something there. And he talked about it excitingly!
I am also very impressed with how he treats the difficulties related to his professional activity. Bialiatski possesses the magic to teach people who are close to him and not to react emotionally to problems. If something happens, he very calmly and soberly assesses what needs to be done.
It was a very useful lesson for me: any problem of the highest level can be solved with minimal nervous expenses," says Ales Burakov.
"When I feel hopelessness, despair, when I don't see the light, I always remember Ales"
For human rights activist Dziyana Pinchuk, Ales Bialiatski is a vivid example of devotion to his idea and principles.
"It was from Ales Viktorovich that I realized what the value of a Person with a capital letter is - what is at the heart of the concept of human rights. Therefore, now, when I feel hopelessness, despair especially acutely, when I don't see the light, I always remember Ales.
This man, despite the fact that there were more obstacles than any favorable conditions, back in 1996 he managed to create and maintain a large human rights organization "Viasna", which has always been and remains not to the liking of the Belarusian authorities. Because of the activities of the "Viasna" Ales and other human rights defenders are being held behind bars", Dziyana is convinced.
Ales Bialiatski himself always says that if it were not for the team, not for the ideological people nearby, he would not have been able to create such an organization. And he has always been personally taken care of by every employee of "Viasna", a volunteer.
"I remember that in 2020-21, when we had an extremely large amount of work, he always found time to call, ask how I was doing, how I was feeling. When I had to leave Belarus and move to Ukraine, he also always contacted me.
Therefore, it is very important for me now that he knows that human rights activities continue — in the form of the work of the "Viasna", fixing violations of the rights of Belarusians, supporting political prisoners, promoting human rights even in such simply impossible conditions and circumstances. So that he knows that the idea for which human rights defenders were imprisoned lives on today," says Dziyana Pinchuk.
"Ales is working on a new book of memoirs about the Bahdanovich Literary Museum"
Human rights activist Siarhei Sys has been friends with Ales Bialiatski since his student years — more than 40 years in total. And knowing the firm character of a colleague and a friend, pedantry and perseverance in achieving goals he is convinced that Bialiatski does not waste his time in prison while awaiting trial.
"Letters from Ales are very rare, correspondence is almost completely blocked by prison censors. Nevertheless, I know that Ales is working on a new book of memoirs about the Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum, where he worked as a director. He is writing an essay. But it is not known whether it will all be saved.
Earlier, Bialiatski handed over his books written in prison in parts in letters to freedom. And sometimes we collectively deciphered Ales' very illegible handwriting".
Siarhei Sys says that Ales reads a lot behind bars, although the selection of books in the library of the pre-trial detention center at Valadarka is not very rich, and hopes that he finds something for the soul and mind in those books of his friend. Ales carefully treats his health, cooks interesting dishes from available products and makes sure that there are at least some vitamins.
"It's a shame, it's known that he, like our other friends, has been behind bars for so long. Captivity is an extremely difficult ordeal. But I am sure that Ales will pass it with dignity," Siarhei Sys is convinced.