Belarus. Convicted oppositionist Maria Kalesnikawa in an interview for Deutsche Welle about Lukashenka, the political situation in the country and life in prison

The Belarusian oppositionist Maria Kalesnikawa, who is in prison, gave an interview to the German station Deutsche Welle. Among other things, she told what her life behind bars was like and what cheered her up. She appealed to Belarusians in exile not to forget about their compatriots at home. In her opinion, the loss of power by Alyaksandr Lukashenka is only a matter of time. “Nothing lasts forever,” she wrote in a letter in response to questions from the DW editorial office.

Mary Kalesnikawa, a flautist by education, is today one of the faces of the Belarusian opposition. In 2020, after the presidential elections in Belarus – rigged in the opinion of the West – she became one of the leaders of the protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In early September, the activist was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “calling for actions to the detriment of national security and of collusion to seize power.” It intends to appeal the sentence at the end of December.

Kalesnikawa, imprisoned in Minsk, gave an interview to the German station Deutsche Welle. DW received permission to send written questions to the oppositionist. In her replies, the Belarusian talks about prison life and the current political situation in her country.

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Mary Kalesnikawa was sentenced to 11 years in prison AA / ABACA / PAP / EPE

The oppositionist about life behind bars

Kalesnikawa writes that in prison she lacks virtually everything: “air, sun, my flute, letters, conversations and the possibility of taking a shower”. “But if you know what for [żyjesz – przyp. red.]it doesn’t matter how, “he adds.

As he emphasizes, despite the fact that he has a limited ability to maintain contacts with the outside world, he feels “the care and love of people in Belarus and around the world”. The oppositionist admits that it gives her “tremendous support and energy”.

Together with Kalesnikawa, the Belarusian lawyer Maksym Znak, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison, is imprisoned. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the opposition activist believes that their sentences are “absurd” because they are both innocent. “Only one person usurped state power,” says Kalesnikawa, referring to Lukashenka. She adds that she does not intend to ask for pardon. “This is out of the question” – he emphasizes.

Kalesnikawa: I have no regrets

Kalesnikawa’s comrades in the fight against Lukashenka’s regime – Svetlana Cichanouska and Veranika Capkała – left Belarus and continue their opposition activities in exile. Cichanouska – recognized as the leader of the Belarusian opposition – recently announced that she is more useful abroad than in a country where – like Mary Kalesnikawa – she would certainly end up behind bars. Kalesnikawa, in an interview with DW, emphasizes, however, that he does not regret the decision to stay in his homeland.

Mary Kalesnikawa is fighting against the Lukashenka regime Jelena Tołkaczewa / TUT.by

Belarusian “prisons are full of honest, brave Belarusians who don’t waste time thinking of surrendering despite the incredible pressure” they are subjected to, Kalesnikawa writes in a letter to DW. As he admits, “it is an honor to accompany my people on this journey towards peace and change.” “Everyone plays a unique role in this story,” adds the oppositionist.

Kalesnikawa writes that he has many plans for what he will do once he is released from prison. “I have a lot of musical ideas, ideas for art projects,” he confesses. One of them is “transforming the pre-trial detention center into a cultural center”. The oppositionist would also like to organize a “rehabilitation and rehabilitation center for women who have been deprived of their liberty”.

Protests in BelarusShutterstock

Kalesnikava: Lukashenka’s loss of power is only a matter of time

The opposition activist was asked what she thought about the constitutional reform proposed by Lukashenka, as well as about the recently signed agreements between Minsk and Moscow. On November 4, Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree accepting the program of deepening Russian-Belarusian integration in the years 2021-2023 as part of the Union State for implementation. As the Center for Eastern Studies explains, the document mainly concerns 28 union programs initially agreed in September, which are ultimately to lead to the unification of economic, social and energy policies, including the creation of a common gas, oil and electricity market.

Putin and Lukashenka Shutterstock

“No one has yet seen the draft new constitution and the 28 union programs,” Kalesnikawa says. As she writes, it is hard for her to believe that when the country “destroys” the media and civil society, at the same time trying to “democratize” the constitution and “move away from authoritarianism”.

The oppositionist calls on all Belarusians abroad not to forget about their compatriots at home. “I admire all those who were forced to emigrate, and yet continue to fight for Belarus. Everyone contributes to a common goal,” he argues. And he emphasizes: “It’s important not to get distracted from reality and realize that the situation is serious and it will take some time to come up with a solution.”

In Kalesnikawa’s opinion, the fight to remove Lukashenka from power has “been executed for over a year”. However, the oppositionist is sure that the end of his rule is “only a matter of time, which is the price the Belarusians will have to pay.” “Nothing lasts forever. There are forces [wewnątrz rządu – przyp. red.] open to constructive steps and dialogue “, says the Belarusian opposition in a letter to Deutsche Welle.” The life of Belarusians, our common future and common home – these are our basic values. They force us to look for a way out of this crisis “- concludes Kalesnikawa.

Kalesnikava: Lukashenka’s loss of power is only a matter of time president.gov.by

One of the leaders of the protests in Belarus

Mary Kalelsnikawa headed the staff of the former banker Viktar Babaryka, who was not allowed to run in the presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020 and sentenced a year later to 14 years in a penal colony for alleged financial embezzlement.

After Babaryce was prevented from running in the elections, the activist supported the opposition candidate Swiatlana Cichanouska. After the elections by the opposition and the democratic international opinion deemed rigged and after Tichanouska’s forced emigration, she was the face of mass protests against the rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In September last year, she was arrested. The Belarusian services tried to take her to Ukraine, but at the border, an activist tore her passport and prevented their plans.

Protests in BelarusShutterstock

After this incident, she was accused of calling for actions to the detriment of state security and placed under arrest in Minsk.

In early September this year, a court sentenced Kalesnikawa to 11 years in prison on charges of “a call to act to the detriment of national security and of collusion to seize power, and the creation of an extremist organization.”

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Main photo source: AA / ABACA / PAP / EPE

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