7 February 2021 | Victor Shenderovich, echo.msk.ru
The Gerhart and Renate Baum Foundation’s 2021 Human Rights Prize will be awarded to Maria Kalesnikava, one of the leaders of the Belarusian protest, in Stuttgart today. The prize will be accepted by Maria’s sister since Maria herself has been imprisoned since September of last year…
Victor Shenderovich to Alexander Lukashenko
We could almost say we are personally acquainted – a few years ago your press secretary called me to convey on your behalf that there is no political censorship in Belarus and that I can come and give my concerts there. I asked her to quickly pass this good news on to concert hall directors since this was not something they had been kept abreast of and so, they thought political censorship was alive and well in Belarus.
But that’s not what I want to talk about right now. Right now I want to talk about Maria Kalesnikava.
Things took an embarrassing turn for her with you. After it became clear that Viktar Babaryka was less harmful in prison than his press secretary was on the outside, you wanted to quietly ship Maria out of the country, yet she, quite unexpectedly, turned out not to be an inanimate object but a human being. These things sometimes happen to the great annoyance of leaders of your caliber, who are born to manage the masses but who have absolutely no idea what to do with people who are free.
Maria disrupted your brilliant special operation. She tore up her passport at the Ukrainian border and stayed in her homeland, which, regrettably, is your homeland too.
And then you stitched her up with a criminal offense (well, I’m sure you remember that part).
This criminal case does not fit Maria one bit. It is coming apart at the seams and the conspicuous white thread that is holding it together is visible even to the naked eye. Judge for yourself: if she did in fact cause harm to the state, why did you try to kick her out instead of immediately arresting her? And why did she tear up her passport if she wanted to flee? Not everybody in Belarus is schizophrenic, Alexander. Trust me, Maria (who I have the honour of knowing personally), is a very normal person, with a clear mind and an immutable will. And she can play the flute, too – a skill virtually as intricate as the work of an instructor of political patriotism. (More on this in Hamlet, do ask someone to recount it to you in their own words).
But let’s get back to Maria. She has to be released, Alexander. Truly, it’s about time. You have already demonstrated just how incredibly tough you are in dealing with unarmed people. You have a direct line to the gods who tell you the correct voting results. You are a genius on the regional scale, and with Hugo Chavez dead there is almost no one as thoroughly wacko left on the planet. This hasn’t escaped anyone by now, so if you let Maria Kalesnikava go, no one would reproach you for being insufficiently cruel or liberal. You are in no danger of having this stain on your reputation.
But the level of disgrace might go down a degree or two. Honestly.
And it might even prompt some not so careful Western politician to decide that it’s ok to talk to you…
Think about it, will you?
Things are looking bad anyway: you won’t be able to pretend that Maria Kalesnikava does not exist plus any sentence that she might receive will once again draw the attention of the entire world to your rapt face emanating the light of the accumulated goods and deeds, and to the country you continue to make love to in public while not really bothering with her feelings.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as the Chinese say, who really have your ear these days since no one else will talk to you.
Take that first step. Free Maria Kalesnikava.