Ales Bialiatski: “I consider Vaclav Havel to be my spiritual teacher”

In correspondence with friends, Ales Bialiatski writes that he was greatly comforted by a letter he received from Vaclav Havel on January 6 while he was mourning the death of his father.

I received some mail today and I was comforted by one letter, which was from none other than Vaclav Havel. The letter was written in Czech and signed by him. It also contained his trademark heart symbol that he always places next to his signature. A translation into Belarusian was enclosed. The letter was dated 15 December 2011,” writes Ales.

Ales says that this letter made a strong impression on him, since he had learned of Havel’s death on television. Below Ales recalls his meetings with Mr. Havel.

Our first meeting took place in 2005 when I was part of a Belarusian delegation. Stanislav Shushkevich, Vintsuk Vyachorka, Anatoly Lebedko, Ales Mikhalevich and I met with him.

The second time was when Valentin Stefanovich and I met with him in 2006 when he presented me and Viasna with the Homo Homini Award [this award is unique because it is meant to draw society’s attention to a situation with human rights and human rights defenders which requires the immediate intervention of international organizations and the entire world community]. The presentation of this award took place during One World, the major festival for human rights films which is held in Prague by the NGO People in Need. The films were screened in a large building that was formerly a church. Then the presentation of the award took place. I was deeply affected by this because I looked at Vaclav Havel as my spiritual adviser, even though we did not know each other that well.

I respect him for his genuine, abiding solidarity with democratic forces and with the Belarusian people. When I met him, I felt that on a spiritual level he and I were like family. This was the same way I felt with other human rights defenders, regardless of country or continent. I felt the same way in Russia and in Cuba, in Tunis and in France. Even though he served two terms as president of the Czech Republic, power never spoiled him. Of course, I also respect him for his intelligence, for the fact that he was a world-famous writer, and for the stoicism with which he endured the repressive measures taken against him. He came out in support of human rights and was subjected to persecution in far more difficult times. But he had a profound, unwavering belief that he was right and that the Czech people deserved better.

Unfortunately, with his death Belarusians and democratically aligned citizens have one less friend in the world.

I also send my sympathies to the Czech people, who lost a significant and wonderful figure, a person who actually influenced positive changes in the history of the Czech Republic.

This letter of support signed by Vaclav Havel is now the most valuable item I have with me here.

As dead stars continue to provide light for many years, illuminating the darkness, so too did Vaclav Havel’s letter appear to me as a living ray of light when I received it after his death.”

Ales Bialiatski also conveys his profound gratitude to everyone who has sent him words of support: “I am literally being flooded with postcards and letters expressing best wishes for the new year and sympathy over my father’s death. I cannot answer them all, but I would very much like to thank everyone for their support….”

Ales Bialiatski is currently in Zhodino Prison No. 8 awaiting review by the Minsk City Court of the cassation appeal of the verdict under which he was sentenced to 4.5 years in a medium security prison. The human rights defender does not admit any guilt and believes that the verdict was politically motivated.

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