Letter to Ales Bialiatski by Artak Kirakosyan FIDH Sec. General

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Dear Ales,

I have been overwhelmed by the most conflicting emotions since I learned this summer of the threat that was hanging over you and of the receipt by the authorities in Belarus of a “present” from Poland and Lithuania containing information about accounts connected with your human rights work and the work of the Viasna Human Rights Center. These were feelings of sorrow and grief that you might possibly find yourself in the very same prison whose monstrous detention conditions were the subject of testimony that you and I gathered during our recent trip to Minsk from social activists and opposition figures who had served time there. These were also wrenching feelings of injustice that a person who so faithfully and loyally loves his country, his people, and his culture could be betrayed by “friends” and find himself within the prisons of this very same homeland.

But I was also filled with admiration for your uncompromising courage untainted by any ostentatious heroism. By your readiness to serve your country and bear the brunt of the attack in order to draw attention to this paradoxically short-sighted and cruel regime that continues to hang on in the center of Europe with the connivance of “democratic countries” and, of course, its own people as well. Any human rights defender is somewhat naïve in his or her expectations. He or she expects and demands more from people than they are prepared to do. He or she expects them to be what they still have not become.

Knowing the dangers, you returned to Minsk. You didn’t even consider the possibility of doing otherwise. Naturally, we hoped that it would blow over, that the people who make decisions in today’s Belarus would have enough elementary sensibility not to take this step. That they would be smart enough not to try to take off the street someone who OPENLY speaks about the problems in Belarus, who OPENLY defends people from the arbitrary rule of officials, and who OPENLY speaks about the diseases of the governing regime. After all, we have long known how regimes that rob themselves of the ability to hear the truth end, how they perish even though they have surrounded themselves with a wall of security agencies, informers, and bootlickers. But every dictator is convinced that he is the one who will escape the fate of Beria, Ceauşescu, Pinochet, and Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, the Belarusian authorities are slipping and sliding down into this very same abyss before our eyes.

You are already in prison. And this means that if the regime can digest even Ales Bialiatski, then the repressive apparatus will not stop. After it eliminates “open enemies,” it will move on to “hidden enemies,” since the apparatus must work and produce results. This means that the apparatus will blindly seize “rank and file” Belarusians, since the number of dissatisfied people will grow, but no one will be able to speak openly, like you.

But no, Valik was right when he said that “they will be ‘overwhelmed’ by Bialiatski.” I also hope for this. I count on Belarusians. I hope that they will not be blinded by the fabrications the authorities have made up about the large amounts of money allegedly hidden away by human rights defenders, who have selflessly defended their fellow citizens for 15 years, in spite of the danger that goes along with this. I hope that in spite of the calculations made by the rotten government, they will not judge you based on their own “lower selves,” which indeed frequently justify opportunism and indifference because “everyone is the same and I am no worse.” Regardless of whatever prison you find yourself in, they will remember you as the person we have long known you to be—courageous, selfless, a fighter who never thinks of himself, but always of others. A person who always does what he believes is right, meaning the only thing possible.

In friendship,

Artak Kirakosyan
Secretary General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Chairman of the Board of the Civil Society Institute
Yerevan, Armenia

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