“Belarus is one of the last countries in Europe that still has political prisoners. During the contemporary period of Belarusian history, more than 200 people have been imprisoned for their political beliefs. Nineteen of them are featured in this book,” said EHU faculty member, political scientist and philologist Dr. Aliaksandr Feduta. Feduta spoke to students, faculty, and special guests on campus during a presentation of a book he compiled and edited called Voice of Freedom from behind Bars: An Anthology of Belarusian Political Prisoners.
The book holds within its covers poetry, memoirs, diaries, stories, and articles written by citizens of Belarus who have been or continue to be politically persecuted. It was published by EHU Press with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Among the authors are well-known poets, journalists, politicians, and first-time authors.
Voice of Freedom from behind Bars: An Anthology of Belarusian Political Prisoners was published earlier this year. Unfortunately, it was not to possible to bring the book to Belarus and present it there. That is the reason the presentation took place on October 29 at EHU in Vilnius. Five of the authors joined Dr. Feduta for the presentation.
“We have forgotten the meaning of the Gulag and Stalinist repressions, and we do not read literature about them. But all these things are coming back. Anyone can become a prisoner in today’s Belarus,” said Valiantsina Alinevich, whose son Ihar is a political prisoner serving an eight year sentence: the longest of all political prisoners.
“Even murderers are not sentenced for this long. I hope that the solidarity of people will help free those who are still imprisoned,” said Alinevich.
Poet and former presidential candidate (2010) Vladimir Nekliaev paid respect to all the authors of the book, some of which are still behind bars. He recited some of his poetry that is featured in the book.
“These texts are my expression of the pain of the people whom I met during the five long years of my imprisonment,” said another featured author, leader of the Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich.
Feduta noted that he himself spent 109 days behind bars, 55 of them in solitary confinement.
“I wrote simply so as not to go mad,” he said. “In my writings, I address people dear to me. One of them was my mother, who is now gone.”
“We shouldn’t forget the people still behind bars in our country, because they serve sentences for us, for our independence,” said author and Hrodna-based journalist Aleksandr Kirkevich.
The book also features texts by famous Belarusian journalist currently working in Kiev, Pavel Sheremet. Sheremet became one of the first political prisoners in Belarus seventeen years ago, when he was sentenced along with cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky, who later disappeared.
“Back then, the solidarity of Russian and Belarusian journalists helped to free us,” Sheremet noted. “I couldn’t believe then that such a large number of people, also those who are far from politics, would go through this experience in the years to come. Now it’s an everyday experience. But we cannot treat the current situation, of having political prisoners as something normal. It is a crime against humanity,” said Sheremet.
Feduta mentioned that the presentation of the book was taking place on a very sad occasion. On October 29, 1937, a number of Belarusian writers were executed. “There were supposed to be the future of the nation,” noted Feduta.
Thanks to the support of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the book Voice of Freedom from behind Bars: An Anthology of Belarusian Political Prisoners is being distributed for free. The authors will not receive any royalties for their texts.