In Belarus, the trial of Mary Kalesnikawa and Maksim Znak, associates of the opponents of the president of this country, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, are underway, who are considered extremists by the authorities in Minsk. According to the accounts of their relatives, they both do not lose their spirits, and Znak in the letters from the arrest sends poems. In them he comments on the Belarusian reality.
Maria Kalesnikawa and Maksim Znak have been held in custody since September 2020. They were employees of the staff of the former banker Viktar Babaryka, who was not allowed to run in the elections in August 2020, and this year he was sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony for alleged financial embezzlement. The trial is held behind closed doors, and the relatives of Kalesnikawa and Znak were not admitted to the trial.
In letters to her father, whom she has not seen since her arrest, 11 months ago, Kalesnikawa wrote that “she is ready for any sentence.” Her and Znak face a sentence of up to 12 years in prison.
It’s not a happy day for me, but I smile nonetheless. I know that it is definitely hard for her, but I am delighted with her attitude and she makes me want to be like her (…) I feel nothing but pride
On Wednesday, the day the trial began, the media circulated photos of Kalesnikawa, smiling and dancing in the court cage where she and the Mark were placed. She was wearing a black dress and her lips were painted with her favorite red lipstick. She showed the symbol of the heart with her hands. – It’s not a happy day for me, but I smile nonetheless. I know that it is difficult for her, but I am delighted with her attitude and make me want to be like her – said her father, Alyaksandr in an interview for Russian TV Dozhj. “I feel nothing but pride,” he added.
Kalesnikawa’s father, in front of the courthouse, watched on the phone a short recording published by the state media. He was smiling at the camera. He said that Masha could not dye her hair while in custody, so she became a brunette. She cuts herself with a clipper, which we managed to deliver in a package.
They recognized the Coordination Council as an extremist organization
Western media described Kalesnikawa and Znak as the faces of the Belarusian protest that broke out after last year’s presidential elections. Kalesnikawa was first the head of the election staff of Wiktar Babaryka, and after his arrest, she joined the team of the candidate of Swiatłana Cichanouska. Together with her and Veranika Capkała, they conducted an election campaign together, creating a “female trio” exotic for Belarusian politics. Before the elections, as long as the authorities allowed it, thousands of people came and went to the rallies organized by them.
After Swiatlana Cichanouska’s departure from the country, forced by the KGB, Kalesnikawa, Znak and other associates of Lukashenka’s opponents created a Coordination Council, which they intended to be a platform for political and social dialogue. The authorities recognized it as an extremist organization.
What the authorities mean when they say about “calls to act to the detriment of national security, collusion to seize power, and the creation of an extremist organization” is not known exactly as no official information has been released about the investigation and the trial is secret. In a written interview for Dożdż Kalesnikawa television, she wrote that the trial was classified, otherwise “everyone would see that the authorities are the main threat to Belarusians and Belarus.”
As she wrote, she was offered an interview for television, similar to that given by the arrested Raman Pratasiewicz – the former editor of the opposition channel NEXTA complained about it and criticized the opposition, and praised Lukashenka for his strength of character and “steel me”. She refused, as did the suggestions that she should write a petition for pardon. “I’m innocent, that’s why I exclude it,” she said in an interview.
Kalesnikawa was “kidnapped” in the center of Minsk by unknown persons in September last year. Later, the special services tried to force her to leave the country by taking her to the border with Ukraine, but at the border, a woman tore her passport. According to Alyaksandr Kalesnikawa, she did it in order to stay in Belarus, and also to show that “it will not act according to the secret services’ scenario.”
He sends poems in letters from arrest
The sign, which is himself an attorney, he described the proceedings and the trial as absurd. “I cannot understand, knowing not only about all public activities, but about every sentence, every thought, of those who worked with me last summer, how everything can be presented exactly the opposite in a document that is to change a person’s life for up to 12 years Honestly, even with all that is happening, I can’t get over it, “Znak said in an interview with Deutsche Welle, given by the attorney. He compared the text of the accusation to a Hollywood movie, in which the small print at the end said “based on real events”.
“The saddest thing is that, according to this accusation, all Belarusians who joined the Coordination Council in order to try to help somehow in a constructive solution in the context of August 2020 can be considered extremists,” wrote Znak. In his opinion, by accusing him and Kalesnikawa of a conspiracy, the investigators de facto accuse anyone who does not agree with the policy of the authorities.
In letters from arrest, Znak sends poems in which he comments on the Belarusian reality – he writes about his situation, lawlessness in the country, a secret trial and about the baron, who is tired of being a hero, but every day he “curls his mustache higher” and leaves the house to make new “feats”.
Kalesnikawa is a musician by education, she plays the flute. Before starting cooperation with Wiktar Babaryka – first on cultural projects and then in politics – she worked for many years in Germany. Znak is a titled lawyer, lecturer, and worked as a World Bank expert and UNDP consultant. In addition to Russian and Belarusian, he also knows English and German.
They were both considered political prisoners.
Main photo source: Reuters