Here in the Corner, I wanted to share a couple of links embedded in my Belarus series, which continues on the homepage today. (The last installment will be tomorrow.) Aleksandr Kazulin, a Belarusian democracy leader, gave a speech at last year’s Oslo Freedom Forum. You can see it here. It is 23 minutes long, and that’s a big chunk, for busy people. But it will repay your time, if you have it. He had us spellbound as he talked about the agony of his country, and about his personal ordeal. At the time, in Impromptus, I wrote, “You know how sometimes you can just sense you are in the presence of a great man? That’s how I felt — I must confess — about Kazulin.”
While he was in prison, his wife died. She had done her utmost to win his release. The authorities were not going to let Kazulin out, to attend the funeral. He began a hunger strike, refusing even to drink water. He said, “You’ll have to bury us both.” The authorities relented, letting him out for three days. Thousands attended the funeral, despite heavy threats from the dictatorship.
Kazulin explained to us that he was lucky to be alive. And he credited the administration of George W. Bush with saving him. (Bush and his people took a keen interest in Belarus.) Kazulin said, “Thanks to their efforts, I am still alive today, even though I was at death’s door.”
I also wish to share with you a simple news photo — a striking news photo, here. It shows one of Belarus’s democratic candidates, Andrei Sannikov, voting last December 19. He is with his three-year-old son, Danil, and his wife, Irina Khalip, a journalist. They are a happy, handsome trio. Danil is in his red snowsuit. They are holding hands, as if doing something important, wonderful, and memorable — and also fraught with a little peril.
Or a lot of peril. The night of the election, Sannikov and Khalip were dragged from their car, as Khalip was on her cellphone, talking to journalists. The candidate was beaten to a pulp, with one of his legs broken. The couple is now in a KGB prison. (The Belarusian intelligence service is still called the KGB.) Danil is with his grandparents, though the state is threatening to take him away, in a throwback to Soviet times.
Many things about Belarus appear a throwback to Soviet times.