Bialiatski: “I worry for those who are on the other side of the wall.” A selection of his letters from prison

The head of the Human Rights Center Viasna has been behind bars for eight months already. His relatives, colleagues, acquaintances, and even people whom he does not know have been supporting him with letters and postcards. This human rights defender and political prisoner received almost 500 greeting cards for New Years and Christmas alone! “I don’t know who people outside prison think I am,” joked Ales in correspondence with his relatives.

With the consent of the human rights defender Tatyana Revyako, “Solidarity” is publishing several of Bialiatski’s letters to her.

Reading these feels like reading letters from someone at a resort, not in prison. Bialiatski’s family is taking care of him. He writes that he is catching up on sleep and that he is reading Blok and Bobkov. Ales does not complain about his health and asks that no one pity him: “I myself could feel pity for anyone…”

23 October 2011 (a little over a week before the start of the trial)

Hello, dear Tatyana! Everything is fine with me. I continue to prepare little by little for the trial. It’s interesting that the first time I was put on trial, for organizing Dziady (an annual procession in memory of the victims of Stalinist repressions in Belarus. It is held on the day of remembrance – ed. note), it was at the Pervomaiski District Court in October 1988. I was fined 200 rubles under an administrative protocol. Now it seems clear that 23 years later I will not get off so easily.

I am prepared for the penal colony or the corrective labour. Whatever they hand down will be mine. I also feel like I’m on a business trip, but this is far from the truth. The most important thing is that my health holds up. It has been fine so far. My conscience is clear, so I am sleeping well and catching up on my sleep. My general feeling is that I have leapt out of car where I was watching life through the window and that I am now walking along the road of life. Slowly, but observing and appreciating. As Igor Bobkov, whom I just read in “Dzeiaslov”, wrote, a person starts to feel like a person only if he comes out of the world a little. These trips have made me so tired recently that I still have not been able to withdraw. It appears that the trial will be open. We’ll see what it will be-a trial or a circus. It is like I am behind glass here. All of life’s storms are passing me by. But, as Korotkevich wrote, all of Belarus is a large cage. So I really do feel your presence somewhere near me. Please send my best to all our friends. Until we meet again. Ales.

16 November 2011 (during the trial)

Hello, Tatyana! I was happy to see you and the others, but you and Petrovich looked at me with such pity. And in vain. I’m fine. And I have not become better. I am the same as I was. So there is no reason to feel sorry for me. I myself could feel pity for anyone…I’ve fallen a little behind with my regular activities before the trial started. Preparations took up all my time. I didn’t want to overexert myself too much. They will determine my punishment by the end of the month. You don’t have to worry about me. I am much more worried for those who are on the other side of the wall. And I am actually in the exact place where a human rights defender should be in such a rotten situation. Please send my best to all my friends. Until we meet again. With love, Ales.

28 November 2011 (several days after the sentence was handed down)

Hello, Tatyana!

I slept for two days after the trial because I have been very tense this entire month and I was kept in suspense until the very last day. I felt your support this entire time, literally every day and every hour. Clearly, the trial was over the top so the sentence had to be as well. It was gratifying to see you holding my portrait when the sentence was being read. You won’t believe it, but nothing stirred in my soul when I heard the length of the sentence. I did not feel despair or disappointment…. And now my mood is calm and businesslike. I’m going to start studying English soon.

My sentence was handed down on Friday, which was especially fast. People here can wait weeks and months. This means that they don’t plan to marinate me here for long. It seems likely that they will review the appeal in cassation just as quickly and send me to the penal colony.

Natalya came for a meeting today and I ordered everything I need, so, to sum up, thank you all very much for the support. I think these months have been like stunt flying for us all. Finally everyone in Belarus has learned what Viasna is. I am very satisfied. Like an elephant. Now I am calm, which is what I wish for you all. The time for emotions is gradually passing. So we will live and work further. Please say hello to everyone and send them my respects. It seems that the worst is now behind us. There’s no need to cry or worry. I am trying to joke more and think less about unpleasant things. The most important thing is that we are alive. We will deal with the rest. Until we meet again!

6 February 2012

Hello, dear Tatyana!

Thanks for the letter you wrote on old museum letterhead (“I wrote Ales on letterhead with a “Pogonya”* on it that was 20 years old,” explains Tatyana Revyako. “I asked the dear censor to let it through. Thanks to him for that.). That really is a great reminder of days gone by! At that time we could do what we wanted without anyone bothering us…. But the fact that you didn’t write about any of your memories from social and cultural life or from current events at the time indicates that you don’t love yourself. Consider that which has not been recorded on paper to have never existed. That is the conclusion I have arrived at in analyzing the course of life. I hope that at least you wrote the Vesnovskoye essay….My bags are packed and already standing under my bunk, but no one seems to be hurrying anywhere. The judicial decision has not arrived yet. So I will be here for a few more days, but’s it’s OK with me because it’s so cold outside that I can’t even think about a prison transfer. Nevertheless, I will be leaving in several days, to where God only knows. I read about Irina’s press conference (this refers to a press conference held by Irina Khalip on the situation with her husband Andrei Sannikov, who was in Bobruisk Penal Colony, where Ales is now – ed. note). Honestly, I don’t really want to go there. But again, whatever will be will be… My health is fine right now. I did catch cold because there is no fresh air. It dragged on for a while, but I’m fine now. I try not to think about it because you never know which direction catastrophe will come from. I’m not 30 anymore, you know. The good thing is that I have tons of medicine for any event. I do pushups and squats; I’m trying to move around a little. It’s just too bad that there’s nowhere to go jogging…. Take care of yourself, be vigilant wherever you are and in whatever company you find yourself. You know what the times are like now. There’s no point in writing to me here again. First you should send a postcard to the new place to see how that goes. Hi to everyone. In friendship, Ales.

*Pogonya – the emblem of Belarus in the early 1990s – ed. note.

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