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Vice Blog

Tien dagen in de Wit-Russische bajes

Een tijdje geleden plaatsten we een artikel over de slechte staat waarin Wit-Rusland verkeert. President Aleksandr Loekasjenko runt het land tegenwoordig als een dictator. Het volk reageert daarop uit angst voor geweld enkel met onschuldige protesten. Een vriend van ons werd een paar weken geleden bij zo'n betoog in de hoofdstad Minsk gearresteerd, en bracht tien dagen door in de nor. We spraken hem op de dag dat hij vrijkwam. Hij wilde vanzelfsprekend niet dat zijn naam werd gepubliceerd. VICE: Hey man. So you just got out of prison today?
ANONYMOUS: Yes, I was released this morning.

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Why were you arrested?
Well, there are a series of protests that happen in the central squares in Minsk. The protesters don’t have any flags or posters—they basically stay silent and occasionally applaud. The first two went well, then the police started arresting people. After that, people started to gather around other squares in different neighborhoods of Minsk.

Last week I went to a protest in my neighborhood. There were 200 people and only a few policemen. They were in civilian clothing, filming the whole thing. After a while, they grabbed some guy who was clapping and moved him toward their unmarked van. It was more like a kidnapping than an arrest. The guy was with his mother, who started screaming and crying as they dragged him away, but then people actually started to defend the guy.

They stood up to the police?
Yeah. Well, for like five minutes. When people saw that protesters were standing up to the police, they started clapping. Then the police started throwing people into their van. They arrested some guy on a bike who was taking pictures. I tried to help him out by grabbing the policeman from behind and throwing him on the ground, and the next thing I knew they were pulling me inside the van.

What happened to you after that?
They drove us for like 200 meters and told me to get out—that was the first time I saw a policeman wearing a uniform. Then they moved me to a bigger bus, with four policemen. There were about 12 of us total, including the crying mother, her son, and the guy who was riding a bike.

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We were taken to the police station. They wouldn’t let us call anybody and they were especially pissed off at me because I threw the cops on the ground. They slapped me on the cheek and punched me in the stomach a couple of times. A policeman asked me, “Are you a junkie?” and I said, “No.” Then he said, “But I think you’re a junkie. We can find heroin any minute, you know. We can find it on you, or in your apartment.” That scared me a lot since we have very strict drug laws here.

Did they throw you straight in prison?
Well, they wrote 12 absolutely identical statements and threw us in Akrestina, a famous jail in Minsk. It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but it was really hot and old, and there were like seven people in a small room. There weren’t enough beds and there were no windows.

We were taken to court the next day. It was supposed to be an open court, but my trial happened during lunch break, which meant none of my friends or family could come in. It was just me, a policeman guarding me, the judge, and a court reporter. There were two written charges from the cops. The judge asked what really happened, and I told her. I was sentenced to ten days in prison and it was over in less than half an hour.

Did the judge seem sorry that she had to do it?
No. It reminded me of how not all of the Nazis who arrested Jews hated them—they were just part of the system and did what they were told. She just looked like she was doing what she’d been told to. She said that I had to go to jail for ten days, and then just looked up and said, “Oh my God, I didn’t have my lunch break.” That was all she cared about. They were not pissed off at us, nor did they hate us. They were just completely indifferent. Weirdly, I was arrested for swearing, but all I did was wave my hands.

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Better that than getting locked up for assaulting a policeman. Where did you go after that?
They moved us to the jail. For the first five days I was in a room with five other people. For the second five days, they moved me to another prison where there were ten people to each tiny room. Luckily, it was all protesters. We weren’t mixed with other inmates.

What did you do while inside?
We read newspapers and did crosswords, but at some point you start to go crazy. I mean, there’s nothing you can do but walk around the table.

Did the police intimidate you while you were in there?
Not really. The people who work there are OK.

So the police on the street are violent and everyone else is just doing their job?
Yeah. Once, when they were transporting us to Radin from Minsk, the policemen in civilian clothing started talking to us. They were the same people who arrest protesters. They believed we were protesting for money. They were absolutely sure we were being paid. They were so brainwashed.

Were they Belorussian?
I’m pretty sure they were.

Has this experience made you want to back off or protest even more?
If the guy in the police station hadn’t said that stuff about finding heroin in my house I would want to revolt more, but this whole thing with drugs scares me.

Do you think the protests will do any good?
In my opinion, peaceful protests are useless. They just beat us, put us in jail, and let us out. Then we go and protest again and then they beat us again and send us to jail again. I don’t think it works.

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In people’s heads, I don’t think they are ready to fight. They’re ready to protest peacefully, but they’re not ready to fight. I am pretty sure that our president will never leave peacefully. It’s pretty much the same story with Gaddafi and Libya.

But I guess Belorussians have more to lose than Libyans.
Yeah, I mean, nobody is starving yet. As long as they have something to eat, I don’t think they will protest. Maybe they’re waiting for some strong political figure to lead them. Maybe they don’t see the point in just standing around and clapping. The point is that all strong political figures are either jailed or killed. There’s nobody to lead them.

Do you think a leader will emerge this year? Or will it take more time?
We have a 66 percent devaluation of currency, and everybody is expecting our ruble to drop even more. Some people are expecting heavy outbreaks of protests in the autumn. As for me, I am not so sure.

Thank you very much, mate. Good luck with everything.

WORDS: ALEXANDRA VEGAS
PICTURES: ANTON MOTOLKO