Mikalai Statkevich has visited his 88-year-old father in Baranavichy.
Over the past five years there have been many political prisoners in Belarus. They were much talked about in Poland and in Europe, although one got much news about some persons while others were less popular. Statkevich was among the prisoners whom the public heard little of. Sometimes, even some defender whispered with a mix of admiration, anxiety and scandal on the sidelines: “Oh, he is such a radical …” And Mikalai kept serving his term.
Some prisoners were released, other people were jailed – but he was still in prison. The fact that the Belarusian ‘head of state’ had inflicted his private vengeance on Statkevich was evident. Sometimes information about malignant conditions in Belarusian reached the West, yet another campaign started to free someone, some inmate was making a repentant speech on TV or signing a petition for pardon, someone else was leaving Belarus, another decided to come back, other persons remained in prison, although the authorities were to have freed them. And Statkevich kept serving his term.
It was becoming increasingly clear that the ‘leader’ was obsessed about only one thing – how to bring Statkevich down. To make Statkevich beg for mercy – he did know that he would be released in this case… But in vain. Statkevich has never asked for pardon.
It was his wife Maryna who attended the meetings organised by diplomatic and ‘human rights defending’ circles. She is always elegant, gentle and smiling; she keeps cats and loves reading, but she is also hard as a nether millstone … She has waited for 4.5 years – calmly, worthily and bravely. Meanwhile, the political life in Belarus was governed by its own rules. Anti-Lukashenka oppositionists who were released bit by bit, ‘piece by piece’, kept losing touch with reality. Being at odds with one another and suspecting each other, they are becoming more dependent on knocking on the doors to the West (and to the East, too). German Social Democrats, with whom Social Democrat Statkevich had such good contacts, valued their Belarusian colleague, but they do prioritise German Ostpolitik that always plays in the concert of powers and neglects the nations’ aspirations .
Then Russia’s aggression against Ukraine bolstered Lukashenka’s position at home and his stance towards Western Europe to such an extent that he decided to relax the grip before the presidential election so that, again in exchange, he could return to the position of a recognized leader of one of the European countries from that of a pariah. Maybe, this ‘leader’ will still remain a bit controversial, but he will be welcomed – at least in some salons. Releasing political prisoners was becoming not so much a required step as a desire of the West. And the West pinned more and more hopes on the normalization of relations. In order to mend fences, it was necessary to release the political prisoners.
Thus, Statkevich was set free. Not dropping a word for mercy, not yielding a centimetre, he was serving his term without complaints and left prison – after more than 4.5 years. This guy who always spoke his mind, who appealed to dignity and honor, has kept his honor. He knew he would go to jail and went there. As it had already happened before, he dared to take responsibility and consciously suffered the consequences.
I do not want to predict what way the political situation in Belarus will be developing because it is up to fortune-tellers to tell fortunes, not to journalists and experts. It is hard to say how Statkevich will approve himself as a politician in these special circumstances he is facing at liberty, but one thing is certain: he has already taken his place in the history of his country.
In conclusion I would like to say that nowadays Belarus needs real leaders rather than skillful politicians.