The Hobbits

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
October 18, 2020

What happened today in Minsk looks like a confident victory for the people. Warned that they could be shot and killed, two hundred and fifty thousand people joyfully and freely walked through their city. A few stun grenades couldn’t dampen the mood.

The hobbit,* in his capacity as Grandpa Mazai, navigated the streets adjacent to Partizansky Prospekt, hoping to catch a few hares. But people left the march inspired and in no need of rescue. The tikhari [KGB agents disguised in civilian clothing] were not on the prowl as usual, they did not kettle people by the side of the road. Apparently, the command to stand down had been issued. It wasn’t the protest that fizzled out, it was the regime that fizzled out. The slaboviki [literally, “weaklings,” a play on the word siloviki, referring to the security forces in Belarus, Russian, and other post-Soviet states] saw that further escalation of violence only brings them closer to a tribunal. Long live Belarus!

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sasha Razor for explaining the hobbit reference, to wit:

* “Our people’s character is strange and hard to grasp. Our national archetype is the partisan — a clandestine person who hides in the forest and fights his oppressors. Have you ever seen truly clandestine characters raise their voices to represent themselves? As a partisan, you can foil the entire operation by exposing your identity. This is why nobody hears or knows much about the Belarusians these days. My people simply do not like to be looked at. They are hobbits in their essence, akin to the hard-working hobbits from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, who prefer to stay out of sight. And one can understand why. When you have had Mordor to the East for 500 years, when there are hordes of orcs racing back and forth through Middle Earth, all you want to do is put on a magic invisible hat. Of course, at the moment, there is a lot of fear among Belarusians regarding a possible Russian invasion.” (Artur Klinau, quoted in Sasha Razor, “From the Sun City of Dreams to the City of Angels: A Conversation with Belarusian Artist and Author Artur Klinau,” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 15, 2017)

Autazak

Several years ago, the autazak—the vehicle that the police use to transport detainees—became a paradoxical symbol of Belarusian art protest culture.

Autazak, by the art collective Hutka Smachnaa, published November 17, 2016

“Autazak,” a song by the band Partizansky Praspekt (Guerrilla Avenue) that was written in Belarusian and recorded on the eve of the August 9, 2020, presidential election, continues this trend.

Partizansky Praspekt consists of two people: its frontman, poet Uladzimir Liankievič and guitarist Raman Zharabcou. By August 2020, both men already had firsthand experience riding inside these vehicles and being detained overnight by the police.

“I used to write more metaphorical texts that were often contemplative,” says Liankevič, “but now the time has come for straightforward and clear messages. Raman and I chose the garage-rock form and recorded the song very quickly.”

Zhabracou was arrested a few days after the song’s release. Liankevič was arrested on September 8 during a march in support of opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who had been abducted a day earlier. Liankevič spent six days in the Zhodino Temporary Detention Facility and was released on September 14, 2020.

On September 16, Liankevič wrote the following on his Facebook page:

Basically, what happened is that I was illegally detained and convicted, not as a musician, writer, TV presenter, showman, leader,  activist, journalist, activist, philosopher, Instagram influencer, champion athlete, generalist, or something else very important, not for my activities or my inaction, but as a mere citizen. More precisely, I was detained and tried as if I were not a citizen, but as a person without status. (Although, generally speaking, I lucked out). Today, people are taking to the streets, flying flags, and singing “Kupalinka” in the name of ordinary civil rights and even universal human rights.

At such moments, I simply do not care about any of my identities, except for one—my identity as a human being.

Co-ed, programmer, resident of stairwell no. 4, chemist, surgeon, poetess, friend, enemy, female passenger, pedestrian, random drunk, Israeli national, geologist, cyclist, demobbed soldier, vocational college student, unregistered person, cap wearer, bag toter, backpack schlepper, female opera employee, flower holder, posterless, professor, minor, disabled person, birthday girl, hot-tempered lout, post-surgical recoverer, deceiver, handsome man, deadbeat, ex,  show-off, foolish woman, smart-ass, intellectual, believer, classmate, talented lady, goofball, long-haired hippie, childless man, prostitute, drug addict, and freeloader, what is it that you want?

To be called people.

Аўтазак

Па горадзе гойсаюць банды ў цывільным,
Твары схаваныя, позірк звярыны.
Пакуюць карціны, пакуюць людзей –
Няправільна стаў, не так паглядзеў.
Душаць, загадваюць, рукі ламаюць.
Час разагнаць незаконную зграю!

Краіну спакавалі ў аўтазак,
Яны за гэта мусяць адказаць.

Мы сёння разам, і нішто не спыніць гэтай хвалі.
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.
Пасля дажджу гуляюць промні па небакраі,
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.

Крадуць галасы без сораму, стабільна
Чыняць беззаконне, судзяць нявінных.
Ганяць, прыніжаюць, хлусяць кожны дзень.
З суддзямі таксама сустрэнемся ў судзе.
Святкуюць перамогу занадта рана –
Ніхто не застанецца беспакараным.

Краіну спакавалі ў аўтазак,
Яны за гэта мусяць адказаць.

Мы сёння разам, і нішто не спыніць гэтай хвалі.
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.
Пасля дажджу гуляюць промні па небакраі,
Мы вернем тое, што ў нас забралі.

Autazak

Gangs in plainclothes roam the city,
Their faces hidden, their eyes like beasts.
They pack away pictures, they pack away people:
You stood the wrong, you gave the wrong look.
They choke us, shout orders, twist our arms.
It’s time to drive away this lawless herd!

The country has been packed into an autazak.
They must answer for this.

We are together today, and nothing will stop this wave.
We will get back what was taken from us.
After the rain, rays shine across the sky
We will get back what was taken from us.

They steal our voices, our votes without shame,
They violate the laws, they persecute the innocent.
They chase us, humiliate us, and lie every day.
Our judges will also face us in court.
It is still too early to celebrate:
No one will escape unpunished.

The country has been packed into an autazak.
They must answer for this.

We are together today, and nothing will stop this wave.
We will get back what was taken from us.
After the rain, rays shine across the sky
We will get back what was taken from us.

Introduction, commentary and translation from the Belarusian by Sasha Razor

You Go, Girl! (Reading about the Belarusian Women’s Protests)

Sasha Razor
Facebook
October 10, 2020

In solidarity with the International Women’s March for Belarus, which is taking place today, I am offering this collection of texts about the Belarusian women’s protests. If I overlooked some sources, send me your suggestions.

August 31, 2020
Ousmanova, Almira. “Belarus’s quest for democracy has a female face.”

September 16, 2020
Laputska, Veranika. “From Beauty Queens to Freedom Fighters: Belarusian Women’s Political Evolution.”

September 17, 2020
Moore, Ekaterina. “Despite Women-Led Resistance, There is a Long Road to Gender Equality.”

Solomatina, Irina, and Luba Fein. “Women and Feminism in Belarus: The Truth Behind the Flower Power.” An Interview with Irina Solomatina by Luba Fein.

September 20, 2020
Shparaga, Olga, and Elena Fanailova. “‘Avtoritarizm — ne takaia prostaia shtuka’: Belarus i zhenskii protest.” An Interview with Olga Shparaga by Elena Fanailova.

September 22, 2020
Fürst, Juline, Anika Walke, and Sasha Razor. “On Free Women and Free Belarus. A Look at the Female Force Behind the Protests in Belarus.”

September 23, 2020
Tikhanovskaya, Svetlana. “I was a Stay-at-Home Mom. Now I’m Leading a Revolution.”

October 6, 2020
Solomatina, Irina and Nina Potarskaia. “U protesta ne zhenskoe litso: Interviu s Irinoi Solomatinoi.”

Photographer Vadim Zamirovski: Fifty Days of Protests in Belarus

Minsk, August 12, 2020. A young woman talking to a law enforcement officer as he is trying to close the gates of the Okrestin jail. After street protests took place, hundreds of people went to the jail in hopes of finding their relatives who had disappeared. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

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Photographer Vadim Zamirovski: Fifty Days of Protests in Belarus

“I do not know the exact number of news photographers still working on the ground in Belarus right now,” says Vadim Zamirovski, a photo correspondent for TUT.BY, “but you can count them on the fingers of both hands.”

TUT.BY is the leading Belarusian independent news website. It is currently under investigation by the country’s Ministry of Information and thus might lose its accreditation as a mass media outlet.

Since the fraudulent presidential elections took place on August 9, 2020, covering the protests in Belarus has been very much like war journalism. Journalists have been shot at and detained by police, while some have been deported, and Belarusian authorities stopped admitting foreign press shortly after the elections.

Zamirovski has already been detained twice. The first time, he was held for seven hours at a militsiya station. (Belarus has retained the old Soviet name for the police, just as it still has a KGB.) The second time, he was detained for only forty minutes. That time, however, he was beaten in a microbus by police, and his flash drives were confiscated.

Vadim Zamirovski

“But that is nothing,” Vadim adds, “compared to how [my] colleagues Alexander Vasiukovich and Uladz Hridin have recently spent eleven days in jail.”

On September 17, the Belarusian independent media produced editions with no photographs to protest these arrests.

After his second detention, Vadim spent two days off with his family at the man-made lake in Minsk known among Belarusians as the Minsk Sea. On his Facebook page, he wrote:

I took a mini vacation this week. An entire two days without riot police, tikhari (the undercover police), busiki (the civilian minivans used to transport the detainees), and all the other things that have recently become a part of our reality. It felt like an impermissible luxury. But you know, when you take a break, your mind finally catches up and you begin to realize the degree to which things are messed up right now. It’s best, perhaps, to keep going.

During the past fifty days, Zamirovski has, in fact, kept going, delivering the most stunning images. It is through these images that millions of people all over the world have learnt about the plight of the Belarusians. One day, these photographs will be published in the history books of the new, free Belarus. Meanwhile, as the country remains a danger zone for the journalists on the ground, we should keep focused on Zamirovski’s clear-eyed lens and courageous voice.

Sasha Razor

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Minsk, September 1, 2020. An elderly woman kneeling in front of a riot police officer pleading with him to release high school students detained on the first day of school. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, September 23, 2020. A young woman screaming in front of a police cordon on the day of Alexander Lukashenko’s secret inauguration. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 15, 2020. A young woman poses for the camera wearing make-up imitating the aftereffects of police brutality. The inscription on her dress reads, “Not enough for me.” Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, September 19, 2020. A young woman during the Women’s March, surrounded by riot police right before she was detained. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 14, 2020. A young woman hugging a soldier and pleading with him to lower his shield. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. The silhouettes of protesters against the evening sky. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 12, 2020. A young woman crying in front of a memorial to slain protester Alexander Tairakovsky. Her placard reads: “Today is my birthday. My birthday wish was for no one else to be killed. We are peaceful people! Enough violence, I beg you.” Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 10, 2020. Doctors and volunteers helping a wounded protester. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 8, 2020. A protester runs up against a cloud of tear gas. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. An elderly man bowing to participants in the Women’s March. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 23, 2020. More than one hundred thousand people converged on Independence Square in the center of Minsk. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 13, 2020. The shadow of a female protester on the historic Belarusian flag. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 10, 2020. A fire was sparked when several Molotov cocktails were thrown at riot police. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

Minsk, August 16, 2020. More than one hundred thousand protesters came to the center of Minsk to voice their disagreement with the fraudulent election results. Photo by Vadim Zamirovski. Courtesy of the photographer and TUT.BY

For many years I have said that solidarity is a two-way street. I cannot begin to thank Vadim Zamirovski and Sasha Razor enough for their generosity in sharing Vadim’s photographs and story with me and my readers. Paraphrasing the words of my favorite song, they have come bearing a gift beyond price, almost free. Please return them the favor by sharing this article wherever you can and doing whatever you can wherever you are to support the Belarusian revolution. || TRR