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Svetlana Alexievich: Tractor dragging crosses is scary sight

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Svetlana Alexievich. Photo: Zmitser Lukashuk

The employees of Baraulyany forestry guarded by policemen grubbed up and took away the crosses installed around the Kurapaty Tract (mass grave of repression victims killed in the 1930s) on April 4. This ‘getting things put in order’ was the execution of the President’s request pronounced during the Big Talk on March 1, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s spokesperson Natallya Eismant said. Nobel Prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich has commented on the events in Kurapaty for Euroradio.

What feelings and emotions were aroused in you when you got to know about the dismantling of the crosses installed by Dashkevich and his friends in Kurapaty last year?

It does not matter that the crosses were installed by Dashkevich. The authorities decided to check whether the public would swallow it or not. I do not know any other country where it could be possible. Thousands of people would go out to protest everywhere because a tractor dragging crosses in the field is a scary sight.

What do the authorities want to check?

If you can grub up crosses and drag them with an excavator, you can do anything with this people. This is what they wanted to check.

Many people are saying that this attitude can be explained by Belarusians’ lack of historical memory. The things that happened in Kurapaty in the 1930s have not been fully studied so far, the excavations have not been finished and the names of people shot there are still unknown. Do you think that it may be connected in some way?

This is definitely connected. The torturers have not bene punished, the idea itself has not been condemned. I cannot imagine crosses being dragged by excavators even in Putin’s Russia. He (Putin) would probably visit such places and say the right words – something that I have never heard from our authorities. On the contrary, they said that one should go to that restaurant (“Poedem, Poedim”. – Euroradio) to have a drink there… The authoritarian power rarely belongs it intellectuals like Platon wanted it to be. It is in the hands of primitive people.

How do you think, does it matter that the crosses were installed illegally?

From the authorities’ point of view, Kurapaty is an illegal monument. Even if our people do not revolt against it, it will leave a trace in everyone’s heart, I think. This is a huge mistake made by the authorities. People will remember it. I heard people discussing it in the public transport – they were crossing themselves: “Oh, God! They have already started felling crosses!” I do not understand how a politician responsible for the whole country could do such a thing.

Maybe this person is the red man described in your books instead of a clever politician?

I think so. Being in power for too long can spoil people. Any people’s initiative results in a burst of negativism. The events in Ukraine – Zelenski’s phenomenon – have frightened both Lukashenka and Putin. They thought that everything was stable but Ukraine where some democracy exists has shown what the people thinks.

I think that it would be great if Svetlana Alexievich wrote a book about Stalin’s repressions. Have you ever thought about it?

You know, I read the world history of socialism, if the regime that existed in the USSR can be called socialism. When I tried adding some information about it to Secondhand Time, it turned out to be impossible. There are very few victims of Stalin’s repressions left nowadays. The same can be said about chasteners.  They are too old and many of them are suffering from marasmus. There is little left in them – only biology. I am too late. It was done by Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn. I do not think that I could advance anywhere in it.

Do you think that all these events (the prolongation of the secrecy term for KGB archives and the authorities’ reluctance to do anything in Kurapaty) may be connected?

Of course, they are!  They want to cement that time and all that Stalin’s history. They need history but if they touch Stalin, there will be no history: even the victory in the Great Patriotic War was all blood and massacre. It is better for them to hope that new times will come and it will be forgotten.

The God sees everything and the authorities will be punished for it, Zmitser Dashkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets said. How do you think?

Everything in the society is based on religion. If you lift your arm against it, the ground will shake. This is dangerous.

I wish our church, both Orthodox and Catholic, reacted to the events in a more conscientious and precise way. The church is an institution that people trust to. Its words would be very important.

The authorities are checking the people’s reaction, you said. What can make the Belarusian people arise if the dismantling of crosses can’t?

I do not want to insult Belarusians by saying that only hunger can do it. I do not think so. It is difficult to predict what can launch this process. New persons have bene born in 30 years and the people have slightly changed. They do not think the way our authorities do. Look at Lukashenka’s generation, at Poroshenko’s generation (no matter how good I think of him) – they are people of the past. And here is Zelenski – a new person suggested by the modern time. We are still in the dark ages – crosses are being dragged in our fields… This is happening when Lukashenka is supposed to look for unity with his people based on the national idea to be able to resist the Russian threat. Nevertheless, he does such a thing. I do not understand it. It only testifies to the fact that our own Zelenski is growing up somewhere.

The full interview with Svetlana Alexievich: