I remember when, in communist Poland, opposition leaders were promised to be freed from prison or internment if they decided to emigrate. I live in a country that once specialized in forced exiles. So, the decision of Belarusian authorities to force disobedient citizens to move abroad does not surprise me. I recognize this method and its unique paradox. Here’s a promise of freedom that, in reality, equals enslavement. It is the decision to remain in a country where one is threatened with persecution and retribution on loved ones that becomes the sign of real freedom. In my country, in many countries of the former Eastern bloc, for a long time, this heroism was a domain reserved mostly for men. Or, at least, this is the history that has been written down. But today, a free Belarus is a woman. Alexander Lukashenko once said, “Our constitution is such that it is difficult for a man to carry the burden of power. If we were to give this burden to a woman, the poor thing would collapse.” I have bad news for you, and good news for the rest of the world: this poor thing will not collapse. Even more, she will win freedom for Belarus.
I admire the tens of thousands of protesting women, defending men from OMON’s attacks. I think about the Belarusian leaders who are women, and whose names are echoed around the world today, names that became a symbol of the struggle for democracy. I think about the kidnapped Maria Kalesnikava, who tore up her passport to prevent the authorities from forcing her to cross the border into Ukraine. I think about Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala, who were forced to emigrate. I think about Olga Kovalkova, forced to leave Belarus for Poland. And, most of all, I think about Svetlana Alexievich, the exceptional writer, Noble prize winner, and, as I understand, the last member of the opposition’s Coordination Council who remains free. Svetlana, I would like you to know that if it were possible, I would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the independent journalists standing guard at your home. With my hands clenched into fists.
Olga Tokarczuk, writer, Nobel Prize laureate
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