“In our country a massacre has been unleashed against all living things”

Maria Kalesnikava responded to Current Time’s questions in a letter from the pre-trial detention center

25 November 2020, 23:19 | Irina Romaliiskaya, Current Time
Maria Kalesnikava. An image from a video message recorded before her arrest.
Source: Courtesy Photo via Current Time

Irina Romaliiskaya, a journalist of the 24-hour Russian-language television and digital news network Current Time, was able to interview Maria Kalesnikava, one of the leaders of the Belarusian protest, who has so far been imprisoned in the pre-trial detention center for two and a half months. Here is what Kalesnikava wrote in a response letter from the isolation ward.

“I perceive what is happening as a new experience.” From the letter by Kalesnikava

What are you reading or, perhaps, writing?

I reread Shalamov’s “Kolyma Stories”. A lot has changed since then, but the main thing remained the same. Depriving a person of their freedom is already a sufficient punishment. But this regime tries to deprive its prisoners of human dignity. But no matter how hard it is, a person can always find the strength to remain human.

Currently, I am reading Harari’s “21 lessons for the 21st century”. I had started reading it this summer and only now am able to continue. This book is a must-read and a necessary case study for everyone, especially politicians. The challenges that our civilization is facing now and will face in the future cannot be addressed locally in one city, in one country, and on one continent. We are all parts of the same world. And from this point of view, what is happening in Belarus, a real collision of two worlds (the archaic one and the world of the future), looks even more absurd.

What do you miss?

Most of all, I miss my family, friends and loved ones, although I feel their support physically. Also, I miss live music and art.

What are the difficulties that you experience?

I have no difficulties. I perceive everything that is happening to me as a learning process and new experience: in my everyday life, communication, and isolation.

What is your view on the current situation [in the country]?

A massacre has been unleashed in the country against all living, humane, talented and professional people.

What are you dreaming of?

I dream of the day when I will see my relatives and colleagues and we will hug, laugh and talk a lot. And, of course, I dream of a free and new Belarus.

What are you worried about?

I am worried about the persistent violence, the authorities’ inability to find the strength and courage to accept the will of the people and stop this absolute evil. I am afraid that the further the authorities sink into violence, the more difficult it will be for us to return to peace. After all, the regime will fall, but all of us will still live here (both those who were beating and imprisoning and those who were beaten and imprisoned).

“It’s hard to understand the logic of the prison administration.” A commentary by the lawyer Liudmila Kazak

Maria Kalesnikava was recognized as a political prisoner by human rights activists. She has been under arrest in the detention center in Zhodzina since 9 September and is being accused of breaking the law under a criminal article according to which she called for actions threatening the country’s national security. Her lawyer, Liudmila Kazak, was live on Current Time and described how the books Kalesnikava mentioned in her interview were confiscated, why Maria could not answer all the questions asked in the letter, and how the prison censorship works:

Today, the books Maria talks about in the interview have been confiscated. How did it happen and why?

It is difficult to understand the logic of the prison administration. The system works in such a way that makes it impossible to send books directly to Maria. At first, the books are delivered to the library. Then, these books are brought to her cell upon her request. And yesterday, the books (one book by Stephen Hawking and two books by Harari) were confiscated – they had been given to Maria a long time ago, she was in the process of reading them. Yesterday, all of a sudden, the administration didn’t like something and decided to take the books away due to the fact that, supposedly, they didn’t come through the library. Although, technically, it is impossible.

And do they promise to return the books?

It is not clear yet. Yesterday, when I talked to Maria, she tried to figure out this issue with the administration. It is still unknown how it ended.

Can she correspond? And under what terms?

Of course, she can correspond and even do it with people living outside the Republic of Belarus. The service Pismo.bel is available for her to carry out her correspondence. Before the quarantine, she received a huge number of letters from all over the world, including the USA and Australia. She was very happy about that.

How does prison censorship work? Do they read her letters or cut something out of them? How does it happen?

Three days are given to censor incoming correspondence. What they are trying to blot out is up to them. But the letters Maria showed me, the letters she especially appreciates, had not been subjected to censorship. Some letters disappear because, apparently, the administration does not agree with their content. But most of the letters have been passed on to her. Only recently we have been experiencing difficulties with correspondence. The correspondence was limited for some period of time. Now, 5 to 7 letters have started to arrive daily. We are now investigating and monitoring this issue.

What kind of mood is Maria in? How is her health?

So far, fortunately, she is doing well. She is full of optimism and very cheerful. Every time I see her, it seems to me, she becomes even more energetic and determined to win.

Why didn’t Maria answer all my questions? There were a number of questions she skipped. For example, she did not answer why she was not present at the meeting with Alexander Lukashenko at the KGB pre-trial detention center. What about the question on the attitude the detention center administration has toward her? The question about her inmates? Is it true that not everything can be said?

I don’t think so. Perhaps she did not have time to answer all the questions. And if the questions are sent to her once again, then it is quite possible that we will receive the answers. She probably didn’t feel the need to say anything on the matter at that moment. But I am quite sure she has already answered the same questions before and the answers have been published somewhere. Therefore, basically, the information is out there.