The Corner

How It Goes in Europe’s Last Dictatorship

In the mailbag concerning Belarus, there is a letter from a pastor in Washington State. (I started an Impromptus series on Belarus today.) This man worked as a missionary in Belarus during the mid-1990s, when the presidential dictator, Lukashenko, started to clamp down. The pastor keeps in touch with matters Belarusian today.

He writes, “We have been told that if someone really wants to experience the old Soviet Union, he can go to Belarus.” The pastor also says that Lukashenko is “a former Soviet collective-farm boss who is running the country like a collective farm. He even publicly stated one time that the reason the shelves were empty was that ‘you Belarusians are eating too much’!”

Not long ago, our Andrew Stuttaford wrote about a remarkable institution: the Belarus Free Theater. (For Andrew’s blogpost, go here.) This is a group trying to hold on to a little civilization. Speaking of theater groups, there is something called the Baltic Circle Festival, in Helsinki. Eva Nekylaeva is associated with it. She is the daughter of Vladimir Neklyaev, a poet and democracy leader who was a presidential candidate in Belarus last month.

On the night of the election, he was jumped by Lukashenko’s goons. They beat him to a pulp. Some hours later, more goons, dressed in black, seized him from his hospital bed. While he was being dragged off, his wife was locked in another room. Neklyaev was not heard from for eight days. His family feared that he had been taken into the woods and shot, as had happened to other opposition figures.

Finally, on December 29, a lawyer saw him in the KGB prison. (Belarus is the last country to have an intelligence service called the KGB.) He was near death. Since then, his wife has received one letter from him.

It’s amazing, the way people will stick their necks out.

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