Who Is Ales Bialiatski, the Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate?

WARSAW – She hasn’t seen her husband, new Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, since a few days before his arrest in July 2021, and has yet to be told when and for what reason he will be arrested. bring to trial. Their letters to each other were sometimes delivered, but for a long time, the letters did not arrive.

“I dare not say what this award means,” said Natalia Pinchuk, Bialiatski’s wife, in a phone interview from Minsk, the Belarusian capital, after he was announced as one of the winners. 2022 award recipients on Friday. “Of course, I have hopes, but I am afraid to express them. There is always this fear.”

Although not widely known in the West, Bialiatski, 60, has been a pillar of the human rights movement in Eastern Europe since the late 1980s, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union. but he was inspired by the reforms of Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Moscow, gradually shedding decades of crippling fear.

He was active in the Tutajshyja, or “Locals”, a dissident cultural organization that helped lay the groundwork in the late Soviet era for the Belarusian independence movement.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the 1994 election of the dictatorial leader of Belarus, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Bialiatski helped found and lead the Viasna, or Spring, a human rights group. rights whose members are now almost all in prison or in exile. foreign.

He served as director of the museum honoring Maksim Bahdanovic, a poet considered the founder of modern Belarusian literature, but was forced out when Mr. Lukashenko, now president for 28 years, started to crack. use the Belarusian language and promote the Russian language.

Andrei Sannikov, a longtime friend of Bialiatski and an opponent of Mr Lukashenko, hailed the Nobel Peace Prize as an “extremely important” motivator for “all of us who have fought for humanity” human rights and dignity” in Belarus, and reminded the West that it needed to put more pressure on Mr. Lukashenko to release what Mr. Sannikov said were more than 4,000 political prisoners.

“I hope this sends a strong signal to both Lukashenko and his guards that the world is watching and will certainly punish the perpetrators,” said Sannikov, now living in exile in Poland. , said in an interview.

Mr. Bialiatski, he added, “has been at the forefront of defending human rights against terrible proportions for decades.”

When Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister who resigned in 1996 in protest of Lukashenko’s increasingly repressive policies, was put on trial in 2011 for participating in peaceful protests, Bialiatski acted on his behalf. he testified – and was arrested soon after. afterward. Tried for tax evasion, Mr. Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. He was pardoned in 2014.

The 2011 allegations involved money he received from abroad to help fund the rights group Viasna of which he chairs, and were based in part on confidential banking information provided by Lithuania and Poland. to Belarusian prosecutors. The incident shows that European authorities have at times been complicit in helping Lukashenko strengthen his increasingly autocratic regime, Mr. Sannikov said.

Europe and the West in general “do not care enough about human rights in Belarus,” he said, describing conditions in Belarus’ prisons as “absolutely terrible”, including the frequent use torture and other ill-treatment.

Natalia Satsunkevich, a Viasna activist now living in exile, told Dozhd, a Russian online TV channel that has been shut down in Russia and now operates abroad, that Mr. inhumane conditions” in a squalid prison inside the 200-year-old Minsk fortress.

Giving him the Peace Prize, along with recipients from Ukraine and Russia, was “very symbolic,” she said, and underscored “how closely these countries are now connected by war.” , though that concept met with criticism from some in Ukraine on Friday.


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