1 September 2020 | Hanna Sous, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)
“It’s their own fault that we became unstoppable,” “Belarusian women are brave, supportive, creative,” “I have never shouted this loudly, “Long live Belarus!’” We assembled the impressions of the participants of the women’s grand solidarity march on 29 August in Minsk, which was attended by several thousand women.
Hanna Komar: “I realized that my voice, which I had not had for almost two weeks, had returned to me”
“We are angry. Driven to hysteria. It’s their own fault that we became unstoppable. And there is no predicting how we will act. We cried out as one, a roar, around them, in front of them, because it was impossible to react differently. There were no words left, no strength left, only this remained out of all the tools. A cry of despair, helplessness, a cry of injustice, of fatigue. Crying out as an attempt to reach living beings. A cry to drown out their walkie-talkies. A cry for them to surrender. They let us go. Surrendered. They realized that it was better to come over to our side before it was too late. Screaming as group therapy.
“I didn’t want to just go with everyone. I decided it for myself on the 26th, when I stopped running away. You cannot run away from yourself. In the very beginning, when we were about to start marching, they blocked our way by linking into a human chain. So we, as a huge crowd, shouted ‘Shame’ at them for a long time. I realized that my voice, which I had not had for almost two weeks, had returned to me. I realized it and was elated. My voice came back to me. As well as a sense of our strength.
“Near the Philharmonic, we were cut off by a police van and a chain of riot policemen. The girls started running away, but, as a surprise to myself, I went to the front, in front of these subhumans, urging women not to run away, but to stand together. “Article 17.1,” the riot policeman told us, and I was startled. He, a man who violated the CONSTITUTION and who is expected to face a criminal inquiry, is scaring us with a petty hooliganism charge for trying to cross the meter-wide road, which they had blocked off in the first place! ‘You betrayed us, you betrayed us, how could you?!!’ I shouted, but it was not me but a new Hanna. I know it’s the hormones that were being produced in my blood. Adrenaline and whatever else there is. I lost my sense of fear, there was only anger, rage that spoke in the voice of justice, the voice of my values.
I left before the end of the march, but I know that there is no stopping us, whether it is three hours or three months. Some of my favorite cheers: ‘I always take a video camera with me’ [Editor’s note: a line from a popular 90s comedy show] and ‘We do not need you to walk us home.’ Immensely grateful to all women who continue to fight and overcome fear, overcome inertia, fight for the return of our freedom.”
Natalia Ladutska: “The riot police saw mostly women and treated us as women, sometimes underestimating our strength”
“I was admiring all of us, how all of us are so smart, and beautiful, and very feminine. Sometimes it would get a little scary, but then other girls from other areas would run up to us, and there would be more of us. And the fear would recede, we would realize that there were many of us, and they cannot handle that, there were too many of us. Yet the riot police saw mostly women and treated us as women, sometimes underestimating our strength, sometimes getting embarrassed by our questions. I think they would have reacted differently if men had asked them these questions. We were rejoicing in our self-discipline and laughing. “We’re stopping!” we shouted, laughing and stopping, waiting for those who were left behind at traffic lights. “Let’s go!” we shouted. “Forward!” we laughed and went forward.
“I was pleased with our resourcefulness when we would run away from the riot police by running to the other side of the street. I was amazed and inspired when the girls wouldn’t disperse but would just walk in a different direction. And I understood looking at the female riot police officers that while there is still a chance that we might influence the male officers, we would not be able to influence [the female officers]. And there was a deep conviction that [Lukashenko] had been defeated, definitively and irreversibly. The girls and women of the city have come out to tell him this. He has no support; even the riot police officers averted their eyes and turned around within chain formation, letting us pass.”
Alena Mikhalenka: “I saw the real face of young Belarus”
“Belarusian women are brave, supportive, creative. The most memorable impressions: a beautiful golden-red-haired girl of 16 years or so with a poster “This is our country.” Many have shouted this slogan, but I saw hers as the real face of young Belarus. And a very old woman – she was wearing a red sweatshirt and a white scarf. At first, I only noticed her, but then we found ourselves together near Maryia Kalesnikava. This grandma had tears in her eyes, and seemingly joy, but then she said, “Child, you take care of yourself…” I remember a lot. Also when the column turned around near Hospital No. 1, I went on to the Academy of Sciences. The forces standing at the ready there were not riot police, but the army, “astronauts” (Editor’s note: nickname for armed forces in Belarus) in helmets, in full ammunition, only foreheads and eyes visible. And everyone’s hair is blond, eyes are gray-blue, classic Belarusian boys. It’s all so wrong…”
Kristina Bandurina: “I admire your sense of humor and ability to greet evil with a smile”
“Even a couple years ago, my answer to the question, “In what time would you like to live?” would be the 1920s. Now, I know that I live in the most interesting time, at the turning point after which anything is possible… Women’s march in the center of Minsk while Lukashenko is alive? Done! That was also considered impossible. And I think the victory we all look forward to will also be unpredictable and sudden.
“I have no words to express how much I love Belarusian women! I am proud to be one of them. One of us. This is an incredible force — weak, gentle, but at the same time strong, inextinguishable. These are not stones on mountain slopes, these are rivers: stormy, unruly, wild. Rivers that kindly take in what is theirs, parting and then closing again, and that can decimate you when you approach them with evil.
“Strong. Clever. Bold. I admire your sense of humor and ability to greet evil with a smile. I’m infinitely grateful for the opportunity to learn to be you. To be a Belarusian woman. I have never shouted “Long live Belarus!” as loudly as I have today. Today, I did not hesitate to sing “Kupalinka” (Editor’s note: a Belarusian folk song) and “Three Turtles” (Editor’s note: a popular Belarusian rock song) together with everyone — the female version is quite something! As always, we politely walked around the riot police, stopped at traffic lights, waiting for those who were falling behind. “Stop,” “A-ca-de-my,” “Don’t-walk-on-grass,” “To-Vic-to-ry-Square” – that’s how we were self-regulating. The tail end [of the march] would start it, and then, the wave of the chant would reach the front.
“I was delighted like a puppy by this tactic: they block our way – we turn around and go back. They simply did not have time to overtake us in prisoner transport vehicles (PTVs), and some just inched by our side. “We-don’t-need-you-to-walk-us-home,” “Ga-so-line-will-soon-run-out!” and “Cash-will-soon-run-out,” – I was laughing out loud. I didn’t have the strength to shout anymore, but I couldn’t help but support that. One of the posters, which I didn’t manage to take a picture of, said “SASHA, WOMEN ARE COMING,” and, looking at it, I felt overwhelming pride for all of us. For being so incredible.
“When literary criticism and literary studies are rebuilt in the new Belarus, I – probably alive, old, and wise – would be interested to read what will have been written about the deeds of three young poets, the hope and honour of Belarusian poetry, in the summer of 2020. I suspect this will be one of the more interesting pages in our biographies.”
Volha Minich: “When we approached Kamarouka [market], there were many women with heavy bags near the bus stop, and here we were all so colorful and beautiful, with our “We believe! We can! We’ll win!” I was scared that someone might suddenly show some #iamdaddy aggression towards us (Editor’s note: #iamdaddy in Russian is a slogan used by pro-government supporters to signify their allegiance to Lukashenko who has been referred to as “Daddy” by some throughout his rule. The slogan also sounds like a Russian swear word derivative of “[email protected]#k” which has since resulted in ample ridicule from anti-government protesters), but no, they started smiling and flashing victory signs, I was honestly surprised!”
Daria Dudzina: ““One for all, and all for one!” – that’s what struck me. And the atmosphere there was such that you could see that things will never again be the way they were before!”
Yauhenia Dougaya: “It was nice to see how the girls surrounded and defended Nina Bahinskaya, when a blue police van and a PTV almost ran into her from behind.”