Three days ago, Nobel prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich (who is also President of PEN in Belarus) issued a statement saying that unknown persons were at her door. The last member of the Coordinating Council of Belarusian opposition to be imprisoned or exiled by force (she had already faced questioning), she expected to be lifted at any time. Her statement was a love letter to the people of Belarus. It begins:
“There is no one left of my friends and associates in the opposition’s Coordination Council. They are all in prison, or they have been thrown out of the country. The last, Maksim Znak, was taken today.
First they seized our country, and now they are seizing the best of us. But hundreds of others will come and fill the places of those who have been taken from our ranks.”
The statement goes on to describe the ongoing protests in Belarus and to express the belief that they will continue. It finishes:
“To my own people, I want to say this: I love you and I am proud of you. And now there is another unknown person ringing at my door.”
This is extraordinary writing. I defy anyone to remain unmoved by it, or by the raw courage of Alexievich and so many others before her. But what happened next was the most powerful of twists: In an inspired, magnificent gesture, the people who came to her door were ambassadors – diplomats from at least 16 nations – and journalists to document what happened. A group photo shows the diplomats surrounding Alexievich, there to bear witness to what happens to her. (The photo was tweeted by Ann Linde, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs)
What you can do:
- Write to the Department of Foreign Affairs urging Minister Simon Coveney to intervene (Ireland has no Ambassador in Belarus)
- Write to your MEP
- Write to the Honorary Consul of Belarus in Ireland
- Join your local PEN Centre
Here is a link to a blog describing Conor O’Cleirigh’s interview with Alexievich at ilf Dublin in 2016.
EXPLAINER: Svetlana Alexievich is a writer for our world and for our age. Author of Chernobyl Prayer, Second Hand Time Svetla The Unwomanly Face of War (among others), she documents human experience at its most raw, courageous, precious when faced with extremities of experience:- war, Chernobyl, oppression. In 2015 she won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”
Born in Ukraine, she grew up in Belarus where she now lives. She is a key member of the non-partisan Coordinating Council of the opposition there, formed after the recent presidential election. The incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory but a significant number of citizens believe the real winner was Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, currently in exile in Lithuania. Activists, intellectuals, artists and writers came together to form the Coordinating Council. Mass protests are ongoing, with thousands of protesters beaten, arrested, tortured. When threatened with criminal proceedings, some members of the Coordinating Council resigned. One by one, the remaining members have been arrested, charged and/or forced into exile. Svetlana Alexievich is the last remaining member at large, but several thousand volunteers have put their names forward to replace the existing council.