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20 Jan

João de Almeida Dias (Portugal)
Observador, 08.12.2014

While resisting, they expect no surprise

20 years past the beginning of Lukashenko’s rule, fighting the regime seems to be an effort in vain. What keeps them going when there’s no change to be happy for? Why to do insist, if there are no surprises?

It was the first day of summer. On June 21st, 2014, Ales Bialiatski was living a regular day in the life of an inmate in the high security prison of Babruisk, in southeasters Belarus. Monday through Saturday, seven hours per day, the activist and the fourteen other men who shared a cell with him were in charge of packing trousers, gloves and sweaters made by other fellow prisoners. On that Saturday, his mind carried only one thought: the following day, besides being allowed to rest, he would enjoy his weekly hot shower. But then, when no one expected it, a prison guard came into the room and yelled: "Bialiatski! Come with me!"

Until that day, he had been 1052 days behind bars — long enough for him to know that what would follow couldn’t be good. "I panicked. I immediately started to expect something unpleasant would happen. In prison, when one is summoned by the guards, it means that something bad will happen. At the very least you will get bad news." He left his spot in line of assembly, followed the guard’s steps and only stopped when he was facing the warden’s office door. As he was told to get in, Bialiatski went past the door. Inside, the jailer hand him a stamper paper and told him: "You’re going home sooner. You’re free."

Ales Bialiatski is the most recent political prisoner in Belarus to have met freedom. There are still seven men incarcerated for challenging the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.

The activist tells us about the day of his release calmly. His posture could be considered to be nonchalant weren’t it for his smile, constantly underlining each of his sentences. His drooping shoulders are the epitome of his relaxation, making it look like he could slip down his chair at any moment. Biliatski is sitting down at the kitchen of an apartment which serves as the clandestine headquarters for Viasna (Spring, in Belarusian), Belarus’ most prominent Human Rights NGO, of which he is founder and president. Occasionally, he raises both arms above his head, stretching the fibers of his blue and white shirt, to eventually intertwine his fingers behind the back of the head. This is what a man at peace looks like.

Contrastingly, things were nothing of that sort during his prison days.

It was during another Summer, that of August 2011, when Bialiatski lost his freedom. It had been almost nine months since the last Presidential Elections, in December 19th, 2010, which declared Lukashenko victorious with a fraudulent 79.67% of votes. More than 700 of those who protested the result were detained by the police. Besides, amongst the 8 opposition candidates, 7 were put to jail. Most of those who peacefully took to the streets that night received calls from the KGB, which used satellite technology to gather the cell phone numbers of everyone in that square, from passers-by to protesters. The secret service agents on the other side of the line wanted to know in detail where these people had been and what they had done in the night of the protests. Any misstep could lead to sudden unemployment or expelling from university. The eyes of the KGB had never been so pry in post-Soviet Belarus.

As each month passed by and Bialiatski remained free, he could only guess that this time was getting closer. Viasna is one of the most vocal organizations when it comes to denounce the foul of Lukashenko’s regime — from constant Human Rights violations to election-rigging. Bialiatski, whose name has been in the shortlist for the Nobel Peace Prize every year since 2011, was in the forefront of those who criticize the dictatorship. Thus, it was with no surprise that in August 2011 he was approached by two plainclothes policemen nearby Victory Square in Minsk. When this moment came, Bialiatski knew what he had in front of him.

His trial’s verdict had been decided much before the trial even started. The prosecution accused Bialiatski of having two foreign bank accounts under his name — one in Poland, another in Lithuania — which he allegedly used for his own expenses while avoiding to pay taxes in Belarus. He was accused of "concealment of profits on an especially large scale". Were it to be found true by the Belarusian court, his property could be confiscated and he could spend up to 7 years in jail.

Bialiatski’s case showed plenty of proof and presented enough points that showed his innocence. His lawyer, who admitted to the existence of such bank accounts, explained that they were not meant for the activist’s personal usage but rather to, under the banner of Viasna,  help financially the families of political prisoners; claimed that since these transactions were donations, the Belarusian law didn’t require them to be taxed; mentioned that the only thing that pushed Viasna into having bank accounts abroad was Lukashenko’s decision to revoke Viasna’s license to legally exist as an NGO in Belarus, depriving them of their right of assembly and leaving the organization no other option than to resort to clandestinity; moreover, it showed proof that the money kept in those bank accounts was gathered thanks to donations both from private citizens and foreign governments, such as Holland.

It was an useless effort. Besides having his personal apartment and Viasna’s office confiscated by the authorities, Bialiatski, who never confessed to the crimes he was accused of, was sentenced to four and a half years of prison.

Worse than a murderer

"The worst thing in prison life wasn’t the food, which was barely edible. Not even the living conditions, which were very poor. The hardest thing was to deal with the psychological pressure that was imposed on me. They wanted to mess with my mind in so many ways. That was the worst thing." Amongst his 14 cellmantes there were 5 murderers, two rapists and two drug abusers. This is the usual environment in which most political prisoners are inserted in Belarus. By putting them toe to toe with such convicts, the authorities want them to believe that there are no differences between an activist and a person who took someone else’s life. But in Bialiatski’s case they went even further than that — they wanted him to believe that his was worse than his neighbors. Every month, without any possible explanation, he was charged for bad behavior. From the whole population of Babruisk high security prison, more than 2,000 inmates, Bialiatski was considered to be one of the most dangerous and troubling men.

"At least five of my cellmates were constantly watching every move I made and later they would go tell the guards what I was saying, what I was doing... everything. All my steps were watched. And they were all forbidden to talk to me. Even in simple, daily life situations. If any of them asked me to hand them a newspaper, a piece of soap, or anything else, they weren’t allowed to thank me for it. There was one time when one of them made that mistake and he was immediately transferred to another cell just for saying ’thank you’."

Bialiatski had no other choice than to surrender to silence. During his 1052 days of captivity, he only saw his relatives in three occasions. One of them was a day-long, face to face type of visit with no significant limits other than the prison walls. The other two meetings were held through a glass window, under the prying eyes and the careful ears of a guard. To make up for this, Bialiatski wrote them as many letters as possible.

On June 4, 2012, he made his son Adam a stern demand:

"Traditionally, all Bialiatski suffer from the same health problem — their lungs. Your grandpa Viktar died with lung cancer, just like his brother Liavon, who died when he was 60. Their dad, your great grandfather Ustsin, had tuberculosis and died prematurely. Therefore, stop smoking! No discussion!"

On an important date, he wrote the following words to his wife, Natalia:

"Happy 25th anniversary! I hope this time hasn’t been neither too boring or sad. I also hope that I haven’t let you down too much during these 25 years. I remember them gratefully and with nostalgia. The next years will not be worse, they will be better, and we’ll certainly celebrate a lot more wedding anniversaries together."

Apart from writing, Bialiatski spent most of his spare time in prison reading newspapers compulsively as his cellmates would watch Russian television. Besides, he took up to observing the few signs of the world outside jail available to him. He realized that when in jail, "one pays much more attention to the weather and nature (...) and changes are felt with much more intensity than when one is in jail."

Bialiatski may have felt Summer’s arrival, but it couldn’t have crossed his mind that in that day, when sunlight passed through his prison cell window as soon as 4:30AM, he would be given his freedom back. When he heard the warden say "you’re free", Bialiatski thought it was just another scheme, yet another trap that would lead him to sign a plead for amnesty from the President — something he rejected doing twice.

It was only when he carefully read the paper in front of him that he understood that his prison days were over. After two hours of filling up paperwork, he was put in a train that was heading Minsk. Still numb and shocked by the sudden turn of events, he asked another passenger for their cell phone and dialed his wife’s phone number. "I’m free", he told her. He had to repeat himself twice. After 1052 days of silence, not even Natalia could recognize his voice.

Bialiatski is now four months out of jail. Long enough, he says, to realize that Belarus hasn’t changed. At the surface, he concedes, the country doesn’t look like a dictatorship. "When you go and take a walk in the street it looks like everything is okay. But, for me, every Belarusian knows until which line his action is accepted. And every Belarusian knows what will happen to them if they dare cross it. The average citizen knows they’re free to go to a concert or an art exhibition. One can do a lot of things here. It’s possible to walk down the street while savouring an ice cream cone." But, there is always a "but": "But everyone knows very well that they cannot go out in the streets holding a banner with protesting words."

The scenario, he assures, is as dark as ever. "There is still torture in our prisons, the inmates are exploited and there are still seven political prisoners. Propaganda is still being spread by state media and most part of the population is affected by it — most of Belarusians fail to see a connection between their lives and and the political life of the country. There is a state of apathy because it’s said on television that everything is good. The few independent media that resist are under control and censorship is something that is far from disappearing. Any journalist knows he’s being watched and that his job can be compromised at any given moment."


Minsk’s sturdiest door

That is Mikhas Yanchuk largest battle. Yanchuk is a journalist and chief-of-staff in the Minsk bureau of "Belarus’s first independent television channel", i.e., Belsat. Established in December 10th, 2007, Belsat started off with a 4.8 million euro budget granted by Poland’s goverment and Polish public television. On the other hand, the Belarusian government refuses any request to license Belsat. Thus, besides being independent, they have to be clandestine too.

According to Yanchuk, Belsat’s "role is to shed light on all issues that are not talked about in state television". For him, there is a clear distinction to be made: "In Belarus there is no public television. Actually, in Belarus, there isn’t anything that is public in the way this is thought in Europe. Here, nothing is public. It belongs to the state."

Four months after Belsat’s first airing, its workers learned the price they would have to pay if they wanted to be part of a journalist project to which Lukashenko gave the epithet of  "stupid, uninteresting and useless" from the start. In one night, all at the same time, several KGB officers entered Belsat’s Belarusian offices and the houses of each of the people who worked for the television channel, taking with them anything which they found to be relevant, mostly cameras and computers. "They wanted to scare us, they wanted us to be aware that they know who we are", Yanchuk recalls. The day after, they managed to air a newscast at 8:00PM which was filmed entirely with cellphones.

On Christmas eve 2010, just a few days after the protests against the fraudulent results of the last presidential elections, the KGB payed another visit to Belsat’s headquarters. "When we moved to that place, I made sure I bought the sturdiest door in Minsk. So when they tried to get in that time, they couldn’t break the door the normal way. They had to use a disk saw, instead." Yanchuk tells this story in laughter, much like he does when he goes into further detail. This time, two days before the KGB broke in their office, Belsat’s staff rolled up their sleeves and managed to empty the whole apartment, leaving behind not a single hard disk, camera or computer. "It’s not like we’ve lived just one day in this country, we knew this was going to happen eventually." However, they did leave two things behind — a simple wooden desk with an old typewriter on top of it with a note to their voyeurs. "Especially to you", it said.

Nowadays, Belsat continues to have its headquarters in Warsaw, where all kinds of shows are recorded in studios similar to those elsewhere in Europe. In Minsk, however, things are much different. Ever since its first days, all work produced in the Belarusian capital is done in apartments in residential neighborhood of Minsk. Due to safety precautions, the number of locations is not disclosed. When Yanchuk opens us the door of one these apartments, there are only two other people inside — one journalist and one video editor. It’s 11:00AM and the all remainding Belsat journalists are in the streets gathering footage and making interviews. Just like in any other news office, and as in any aparment, every division is somewhat messy. In the kitchen sink equal amounts of dirty and washed dishes cohabit. On the opposite side, someone left a box of cereals laying on its side, not far from a video camera. The apartment has two bathrooms. One is used accordingly by the staff. The other serves as a sound recording studio, which owes most of its acoustic to the two thick, grey blankets that are hung from the ceiling. Behind them, there lies a bath tub in all its normality.

 Every work day starts with a meeting over Skype with the Warsaw crew. When planning their newscasts, two things are to be thought over carefully. First, just like in any newsroom in the world, they must decide which topics are newsworthy that day. Then, unlike in any newsroom unless you’re in a dictatorship, they have to determine what is too risky to film. "It’s not possible for us to shoot in every place in Minsk because we’re not a registered channel. That’s why sometimes the police stop us in the street and seize our equipment, just to prevent us from filming (...). There are difficulties, because when an editor sends a journalist out to cover something, he doesnt’ know if that journalist will return with any material or if he’ll return at all."

 Most of Belsat’s viewers earn above-the-average incomes and have higher education. Some of them, Yanchuk is sure, work in "the state sector". Because it’s transmitted just on satellite, Belsat only reaches 1 million people, which makes up for 10% of the Belarusian population. However, there’s people who copy the transmission and who stream it online, making it accesible to anyone with a computer and connection to the Web. One of the shows which attracts more viewers is called "I have the right". This show tells reals stories sent in by common citizens in which state institutions or its functionaries went around the law. "Most Belarusians have no conscience of their rights, and what we try to do in this show to remind them that even in the situation we are, we do have our rights. For example, we are entitled to health or to a fair treatment by state institutions. In our country only a television channel like Belsat could air a show like this. It would be impossible to see something like this on state television."  

 Another of Belsat’s badges of honor is the fact that it is the only TV channel in which the only language is... Belarusian. In fact, state television, most radio stations and newspapers are dominated by the Russian language. Such fate isn’t a coincidence, but rather the consequence of years of Soviet policy. In 1959, the then Soviet Union president Nikita Kruschev, made his vision very clear in a speech to a Minsk audience: "The sooner we all speak Russian, the sooner we’ll build communism." One year later, 87% of books published in Belarus were in Belarusian.  In 1980, two decades later, this number collapsed to 12%. In 2011, twenty years past the fall of the Soviet Union, the numbers were down to 10%.

 "This is a result of Soviet policy and of Lukashenko posture towards our national language, which are exactly the same", Yanchuk points out. "It is the catastrophe of a nation, when not even its own language is spoken anymore, especially when you consider who is standing on the other side of the border. This is a cultural occupation of our country."


Hallucinations in the Russian-Chinese Empire

 If there isn’t a name to call it by, how can we know it exists?

 Minsk is a city amongst many other in Northwest region of the Russian-Chinese Empire, a gigantic world power that has always existed and never will cease to. Life is a mechanical process and all work is done in the sake of common welfare, even though those who work under its banner don’t see any representation of it their lives. In this bi-continental territory, communication is held over a mixture of two archaic and obsolete languages, known in other times as Russian and Chinese. There is no knowledge of other tongues in the planet. There are no surprises.

 Equally divided in three parts of George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, this is the beginning of Mo Va, the most recent work of Belarusian author Viktor Martyovitch.

 In this dystopian society, the rug where the feet of this stability steadily set on is pulled by cells of the Chinese mafia that start dealing a powerful and liberating drug. It’s not dust, neither herbs that one can smoke or something can be swallowed. This drug consists in small pieces of paper, the size of a post-it, which have written excerpts of texts in an unknown language. The drug dealers don’t disclose more information other than saying that the substante is called "Mo Va", which means "language" in a far off, long forgotten idiom called "Belarusian". Every hit of the drug emerges its user in a whirlwind of hallucinations that, one step at a time, start making sense.

 First, without much effort, the taker understands this strange language easily, much like it had been lodged in a deactivated part of his brain. Then, through the images that he sees in front of him during every hidden reading of "Mo Va", he realizes that in long lost days there was no such thing as the Russian-Chinese Empire. There were was even a small country called Belarus, of the same Minsk he lives in used to be the capital. The drug gets spread to the point that it’s no longer a secret. It is then that the revolt ensues.

 In little more than a month, Martynovich’s book sold 2,000 copies and was downloaded 3,000 times. Book critics weren’t unanimous about it. Some said the book was "relevant" while others thought it was and "unoriginal". Moments before presenting the book at Ў Gallery (a space in Minsk’s centre which holds a café, a wine bar, a book shop and a exhibition room), Martynovich tells me that he had always wanted to write a book on the issue of language and that "a dystopia is perhaps the best way to approach this topic, considering the graveness of the situation". For this writer and academic who currently lives in Vienna, Austria,"the Belarusian language is about to die because nobody speaks it".

 Looking at the numbers, one can’t deny that Martynovich is probably right: according to IISEPS, Belarus’s main independent polling agency, less than 5% of people speak only Belarusian in their daily lives. As for Russian, that number goes over 60%. In between, there are people who go from one language to the other or who mix the two. In these cases, Russian usually prevails.

 But five days after, in the same room where Mo Va was released, there are other numbers to take in account: in a room not larger than 100 square meters, there are more than 300 Belarusian learning Belarusian. There are young people and elders, ties and tshirts. Although it’s -2Cº outside, few can keep their foreheads dry from sweat due to high concentration of human heat. The room is so crowed that when someone tries to get in and pushes the door, it ends up hitting those who are already inside. On the opposite side, where it’s impossible to see the board or look at the teachers, twelve students are sitting down by the bathroom while taking notes.

 This scenario repeats itself every monday at Ў Gallery’s exhibition room. The class, know as Mova Na Nova ("Language Revisited"), begins at 7:00PM and last for about three hours. During that period, the teachers try to reach some middle ground — every class consists of grammar and vocabulary teaching as well as speeches from public figures who speak Belarusian in their daily lives. Every class is topped up with a concert. Unsurprisingly, the songs are all sung in Belarusian.

 Alesia Litvinovskaja, a 44 year-old Belarusian linguist, is one of the founders of this project which has started in January, 2014. "When we began we thought that only our friends and family would come to the classes. But after a short period of time, I can tell you that I don’t know 90% of our students." The unexceptionally high attendance numbers, Litvinovskaja explains, are the consequence of a need for national introspection. "There is a identity problem in our country. Most people only know what they are not: they’re certain that they’re not Russians. But, on the other side, they’re not entirely sure of what they are. At the end of the day, what does it mean to be Belarusian?" It’s a rhetorical question, but language can be a good starting point to find an answer.

 In Litvinovskaja’s regard, the Belarusian language is stained by two "highly destructible stereotypes". "On one side, there is the notion that Belarusian is a language that hasn’t evolved, that it’s simple, and that therefore is spoken only by those who didn’t go to school, those who live isolated in villages or those who work at the kolkhoz (collective state farms). On the other side, there are a lot of people who think it is the language of the opposition."

 Just like with a good number of most stereotypes, these too have truthful foundations. It is true that Belarusian is more frequently spoken in villages and smaller towns, both in workplaces and at home — the geographical distance from the means of power and jurisdiction, where no language other than Russian is spoken, were essential for the nevertheless fragile preservation. Lukashenko, himself born and raised in a small village in the East of Belarus and a former director of a kolkhoz, grew up speaking Belarusian.

 And it’s also undeniable that the opposition, alongside the intellectual circles of Minsk, communicates both in and outwards in Belarusian. Among the youth, which grew up using the Web but were raised by Soviet-minded parents, to speak Belarusian is distinctive. It’s cool. Ў Gallery, which got its name from a character that only exists in Belarusian which read like "oo", is a good example of this. Most people who go there are under 40 and it is the place of gathering for artists and journalists, for whom to speak Belarusian is a statement to be made to the Other — be it in a discussion about the 20th anniversary of Lukashenko rise to power, be it to order one more glass of red wine. In a country were repression is more ancient than its own borders and the means of protest are scarce, to speak Belarusian is an act of rebellion and a political gesture.

 Slava, a 65 year-old engineer, is one of the most active students in the Belarusian classes. Born and raised in a village, he remembers the humiliation he was put through when he moved to Misnk at the age of 18, ready to study in university. "I got here and would speak to people in Belarusian. But it was impossible: to speak Belarusian was a shame. At the time I had no other option than to resorte to Russian." To speak the same language as those in Moscow was an important key to success. As a result, Slava forgot his own language. He’d only speak in sporadic visits to his village and, when doing so, he would speak in the wrong gender, made mistakes in verbal conjugations and forgot words all along. It was a different kind of shame that he was under now — the kind one imposes oneself. "I was sad with all this, it was like I had forgotten about my past." Now, with the help of the Mova Na Nova classes, which he attends with his wife, he has almost mastered completely his own language. "To speak Belarusian is even fashionable now, go figure!", he says, admired.

Do you think that the so-called fashion has political foundations?, I asked him.

 "Of course it does, this is political. We’ve been oppressed for longer than we can remember and still are. Language is the first step towards freedom."

 The Belarusian teacher Litvinovskaya, however, avoids the subject of politics. Failing to do so one too many times could mean trouble to Mova Na Nova. "We are in a very vulnerable situation. Everybody knows this in this country: whoever gets in the way of Government is sure that they will be met by the KGB. We don’t want to connect our classes to poltics, because if we do so, they will be banned in a second", she explains.


The black list and catharsis abroad

 Such was the case with Liavon Volski, a 49 year-old musician and pioneer of Belarusian rock music. His career begun in the perestroika years, and ever since Volski has written lyrics that were both ironic and annoying towards political institutions. And, even though freedom of speech was weaker than in the days that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse, it was during the Lukashenko regime that Liavon Volski was most controlled.

 In 2004, Volski and the band he played for then, the NRM (a Belarusian acronym for New Republic of Dreams), were invited to play at a small music festival in Minsk that was scheduled to commemorate — negatively, that is — the 10th anniversary of Lukashenko’s first electoral victory. The concerts played along peacefully and were later reminded as a singular event that went against the grain of a regime that already looked like it was looking to last for more than jsut one decade. However, on the following day, the owners and managers of every bar, pub or concert hall of the country received a list with the names of every band that was strictly forbidden to play live. It was no surprise that every band that played that day was in it.

 In 2008, just as Belarus was at the brink of a diplomatic and energetic crisis with its life-long partner Russia, the black list vanished. Lukashenko’s deep sense of opportunism made him turn to Europe, in a purely theatrical effort to make Brussels believe than Belarus was, rather than "the last dictatorship in Europe", a country on the route to modernity. Therefore, this list disappeared and the concerts were allowed to happen once again. The last one, Volski remembers, was four days before the December 19th, 2010, elections. "It was an emblematic concert, we read poems by Belarusian poets, people were in harmony with us, there was a lot of people there... But we already knew that after this event they would ban concerts all over again."

 And that’s exactly what happened. The black list came back and this time it was stronger, holding even more names of artists and bands. "Bar owners are afraid to talk to us, because if word spreads out that we’re going to play there, the following day their doors will be shut. They can have a hygiene inspection that writes a report saying that the place looks like a pig-sty even if it’s immaculate, for example. Best case scenario, they’ll get a huge fine. Or they’ll simply revoke their license and shut their downs down."

 Volski’s career reached a near-end when he fell into a "huge depression". On one side there was the feeling of revolt for not being allowed to play in his country; on the other, the difficulty of making ends meet by playing music. In times when album sales are insignificant are concerts are the bread and butter of musicians, what can be done when they’re not allowed to enter a concert hall in their own country?

 Anna Volskaya, Volski’s manager and wife, found a solution to that problem. "I thought that the black list already had done enough damage, so I sat down just to see if some solution could appear. So I started looking at a map and I realized that Vilnius (in Lithuania) is the closest European capital. It’s only 170 kilometers from Minsk. So I called the Lithuanian ambassador in Minsk right away, because we’re close, and asked him: "What if we start making our concerts in Lithuania?" The ideal formula was found. The embassy offered to help every Belarusian with a ticket to the concert without charging them for it. Plus, the 60 euro that are usually charged when Belarusian citizens cross to Schengen territory would be written off.

"We all won something from this", Volskaya rejoices. "It’s an oportunity that a lot of people from here have to leave the country, to go to the European Union and see what life is like there. And we could finally play without having to play around with authorities or to put someone at risk, because that’s not how I do things." One week before meeting me, Volski played for an audience of nearly 3,000 people in Vilnius. The following week our interview, he did it again in front of hundreds of people at a private concert, also in the Lithuanian capital.

 Theses are not concerts, they’re authentical cathartic moments. Just as if, for a few moments, the dictatorship no longer existed. One of the strongest moments in each of Volski’s shows is when the first notes of "Tri Tcharapaqui" ("Three Little Turtles) cross the room. Both the melody and the lyrics were written by Volski, who penned this song back in 2000, when he was still the lead singer of NRM. This song is one of the few that many Belarusians, from all generations, know by heart, almost as if it’s part of their national heritage. In Minsk, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know it.

When you feel a smell of sewers

And life puts a leash around your neck,

You’ll understand then that the three turtles

Still pull the earth 


When you go out of the city and climb upt the mountain

And get in touch with the people there

You’ll understand that today, just as yesterday,

Our land is set on three wales


Such is the case with a wide number of widely popular songs — the meaning of their lyrics is encrypted and debatable. Who are the "three turtles" which Volski sings about? Are they Lenine, Stalin and Lukashenko? Nobody knows for sure. Just like the "three turtles", and the equal number of elephants that are mentioned further in the song. Maybe confusion is a part of it all.

 There is, however, a very clear message in the song’s chorus. Amidst all the confusion, in between the discoveries made by someone who climbed over the mountain, something is for sure:

 "Hey! La, la, la, lai! Don’t wait anything, there won’t be any surprises!

Hey! la, la, la, lai! Don’t wait anything, don’t wait anything"

 Lukashenko has been the President of Belarus for the last 20 years. Few risk guessing how many years he still has ahead of him. For those who’ve dedicated their lives struggle against him the best way they know and can, pessimism is omnipresent. There won’t be any surprises.

 When I end the interview in Viasna’s kitchen, Bialiatski gets up and promptly starts washing the mugs where we drank tea from during our conversation. Leaned over the sink, without turning his head to me, he switches our roles and asks me something: "What about Salazar (the Portuguese dictator who ruled over the country from 1932 to 1968)? How long did he last in power?"

 "36 years", I tell him.

 "Let’s see how things turn out here", he answers, with his voice muffled by the water in the sink, as though he’s not expecting any surprises.

Originally published: http://observador.pt/especiais/enquanto-resistem-nao-esperam-surpresas/