Before she was arrested, Nastya B. had read or heard about many natural phenomena, but did not really believe that they actually existed.
First of all, sexism. Nastya's mom and dad never put each other down. It was impossible to imagine her dad making a decision and her mom meekly obeying. Nastya describes their relationship as more than just love, but as a true partnership. Besides loving her own husband, Nastya also felt equal to him - they discussed everything, shared their thoughts, expressed doubts, but her husband was never “the boss”, and Nastya the subordinate. Even when Nastya decided it was important for her to help monitor the election, her husband was very worried about her, but it never crossed his mind to forbid it, he couldn’t even think to say that ‘only men should be involved in politics’, and women should cook borscht.
And now, a minute after her arrest, in a prisoner transport vehicle, Nastya heard this from an officer of the Belarusian riot police for the first time:
- What the hell are you doing here you moron? Should’ve stayed at home and cooked up some borscht.
Nastya was amazed – it turns out that sexism exists. The riot policemen could be aggressive against the detained men, feel hatred, but they did not question the fact that these men were of sound mind and willingly chose to take to the streets to protest.
The riot policemen saw women as inherently devoid of free will. Your husband took you with him, so you went, like a dumb heifer to your slaughter. You got paid - so you agreed, like a prostitute who doesn’t have to agree as long as she gets the money. You could not be an election observer, because you need to be able to count... as if a woman could do that. You could not have been protesting, because how could you understand something about politics, when women are only able to understand soap operas and cooking shows on TV. That is what they said, and it was what they thought. Nastya could not believe her ears: the sexism that she read about in books really existed.
On the way to jail in the prisoner transport vehicle, Nastya got into a conversation with one of the guards, the kindest one, and he could not believe that Nastya had a university degree. How could a young blonde girl have a college degree? And when a commander heard them talking about university, he sharply forbade his subordinate from talking to Nastya – “She’ll mess with your head, you idiot!” - as if a university degree turns a woman into a witch.
Sexism actually exists, wow!
Second, the lies. Before her arrest, Nastya did not believe that actually lying was seriously possible. Well, that is, you sometimes tell small lies or catch some minor deception. She hid a broken cup from her mother when she was a child. She lied that her throat didn't hurt when she really wanted to go to a party. But you can't lie under oath, when another person’s fate depends on the truthfulness of your testimony.
It turns out that you can. Nastya was amazed when fully grown men in uniform on duty were flat out lying about Nastya’s detention time and place in the official police reports - as if she was detained at 10 pm at a protest instead of at 6 pm near the polling station where she was quietly sitting on a chair and counting voters. You can't lie like that! But it turned out that you could, and you were even encouraged to.
Third, the submission. Nastya grew up as a compliant girl, but she listened to her parents because they gave reasonable and kind advice. If her father ordered her to burn a cat, throw a rock at a bird or trample toys in the kids' sandbox, Nastya wouldn’t have listened no matter what. But now she saw with her own eyes how riot policemen were ordered to beat - and they beat, ordered to torture - and they tortured. They were ordered to lie - so they lied. It was impossible to believe that this could actually happen. But there it was, happening in front of her eyes.
Fourth, Nastya had to confront that there is pure, distilled cruelty in the world. On the many faces of police officers and prison guards, Nastya saw pure pleasure when they got to beat and torment defenseless people. There were jailers who showed cruelty out of necessity, but there were also those who enjoyed being cruel. It was impossible to understand. What kind of joy could a person experience by hurting another person? What is the pleasure of mocking a person who is completely in your power? Nastya could not understand it, but she had to confront its existence.
Fifth, Nastya faced the existence of fear. An all-powerful and all-consuming fear that turns the body numb, and legs to jelly. On the last day at Okrestina, when Nastya was taken out into the courtyard and put up against the wall, and people in military uniforms were playing around with and clicking machine gun breech blocks behind them, fear seized Nastya entirely and knocked her out. She didn't just faint because she thought that they would gun her down, she truly believed that they would start shooting. She passed out, fell unconscious to the ground. That is, it exists, real fear, that's what we have to admit. And it is stronger than Nastya.
But sixth, Nastya learned that human solidarity exists in this world. When Nastya was taken out in a police van from Okrestina to be transported to Zhodino, she saw people through the window. A sea of people! The old men were making the sign of the cross at Nastya (orthodox symbol of ‘good luck’) and her cellmates. People the same age as Nastya's parents were looking for their kids and their friends’ kids in the police vans. Young people were yelling and singing. And all the way there all the oncoming cars were honking: hold on, we are with you, we are on your side! Her throat closed up from her tears, and Nastya thought: wow, it really exists - the solidarity of hundreds of thousands, of millions of people.
Finally, seventh. Nastya cannot explain exactly how in five days of imprisonment and several months later of filing complaints, protests, and emigration, somehow she came to the conclusion that Belarus truly exists - and that existence is important.
Belarus isn’t just a random area accidentally drawn on a map, not a piece of land marked by arbitrary borders, but the Motherland. Nastya used to think this word was too pathetic, especially with a capital letter, but now it makes sense to her.
The Belarusian people are people who stand up to weapons with flowers.
The Belarusian language is not a funny dialect of Russian, it is the personal cultural heritage of Nastya and millions of other Belarusians.
“Long Live Belarus!” is not just a protest slogan you can go to jail for. Long Live Belarus! - is a prayer that you shout to heaven because there is no one to hear it - neither the authorities nor the international community care to hear it.
You shout it out, and just like that the heavens hear it, in Belarusian.