Dramatic events took place in Belarus in August 2020. Protests began to arise in the run-up to and during the 2020 presidential election. Two sound engineers who were collaborating on a concert recorded Viktor Tsoi’s Soviet protest song Change as a protest against injustice.
Dzmitry Dzmitryjeu (43), a poet but also a former sound engineer of a Belarusian state institution, couldn’t resist reacting to this act and immediately made a poster. This poster became the most popular protest image in the country. On August 9, Lukashenko was re-elected as president of Belarus. “The classic autocracy suddenly turned into a terrorist group. With torture, rapes, hostages, and extrajudicial killings,” says Dzmitry.
Since that day, Dzmitry Dzmitryjeu has experienced daily fear. But he decided to flee from Belarus to Poland when the now world-famous journalist and blogger, Roman Protasevich, was arrested during an emergency landing of a passenger plane on May 23.
Roman Protasevich is also the founder of the Telegram channel Nexta. Despite the repression in the country, the Belarusians can still follow what is happening in the country through this channel. But this is anything but legal.
Last week it was announced that Belarusians who subscribe to Telegram channels banned by the government face years in prison. “This is just an attempt to give legitimacy to a long-standing practice,” says Dzmitry. Before, when people were subscribing to the telegram channel, people were already tortured, murdered and are still being held. Now the authorities only need the legitimacy of this action. In the morning they kill, in the afternoon they pass the law to make the murder legal. “This is just an attempt to describe in the form of a law what has been happening for a long time,” says Dzmitry.
According to Dzmitry, fleeing from Belarus is almost impossible. Belarusian special services can kidnap a person in Moscow just as easily as in Belarus itself. He was lucky that acquaintances from Switzerland, Germany and Poland helped him and his family to start a safe life in Poland. “In Poland, the understanding of the Belarusian situation is clear. We are not exotic for them. They understand the mechanism and nature of our pain well,” says Dzmitry.
There are people in Belarus who believe all the news that is broadcasted on the news. “They believe in sterile propaganda information: in supposedly mutilated police officers, in the alleged atrocities of Polish border guards, and in a world conspiracy against Belarus,” says Dzmitry. Recently, PEN Belarus, the Belarusian Association of which Dzmitry had been a member for the past few years, was liquidated by the government. And there are more victims. There are no professional organizations that protect the rights of journalists anymore. Recently, about forty-two cultural professionals, writers, dancers and actors have been persecuted. Some have been sentenced to in prison for up to 14 years. “The interest of the media in Belarus has increased. For myself, I see an incredible growth of protest texts, reflections on our horror,” says Dzmitry.
Dzmitry does not want to return to Belarus. “Now I am over 40 and still not free. I am tired of waiting for Europe in Belarus. But maybe I see Europe too poetically.”