Polina Z.

Polina dreamed of being an investigator, of working in the Investigative Committee. She had a heightened sense of justice. Evil must be punished. Thieves should be in jail. That which is secret will always see the light of day. The weak have to be protected.

If Polina wasn’t just 21 years old, and if she had managed to fulfill her dream before August 9, 2020, then one day, being a young and inexperienced investigator, she would undoubtedly have made a mistake. If she didn't collect enough evidence, lost material evidence, the suspect refused to repeat in court the words he said during interrogation - how many mistakes can a young investigator make? How many weaknesses can a cunning lawyer find to completely destroy the prosecution?

What would have happened then? Intuitively, it is clear that the suspect is a criminal, that the lawyer set up casuistic traps. The investigator simply hadn't figured it out. What would a judge have done? Would he have helped Polina? Would he have supported her not fully proven accusation? Most likely, he would. Judges in the ex-Soviet countries come mostly from the ranks of police officers and prosecutors. Or from court clerks who studied online, did not have time before the exam to read the speeches of Plevako and Koni, who consider all defendants to be criminals by default.

The judge would support her, and Polina, who should have suffered her first and most crucial professional defeat, would have celebrated an undeserved victory. She should have been swallowing tears of impotent shame, seeing the criminal she couldn't fully prove guilty being released. Instead, she would feel satisfied that evil has been punished and that the Belarusian justice system has covered up her mistake.
And she would have found out that that is perfectly ok - you can make a mistake or even cheat, the system will cover it up. Could she at that moment have understood that the help from the judge undermines the very spirit of justice? Would there have been someone with enough authority in Polina’s eyes to say: "Get out of here, this is all a lie"? Unlikely: the corruption of law enforcement agencies occurs little by little and is inconspicuous to the defenders of law and order themselves.

Polina would have been overwhelmed with work. There wouldn’t have been time for anything. Polina would have had over two dozen unsolved cases hanging over her. Every day she would have to have written a pile of office notes, protocols, and court orders. More and more, Polina would count on the system to cover for her and do her job more and more carelessly. And sometimes Polina would be summoned by her superiors with hints or direct indications about who should be considered a criminal and who should not.

Could Polina understand then that her work was becoming less and less related to the practice of justice? Perhaps. Many people, noticing how the system forces them to distort the truth and lie, found the strength to write a letter of resignation.

If she couldn't, Polina could have dismissed her professional conscience with the simple thought “Well, they are criminals after all”. The suspect still hasn't been proven guilty, but that’s because it's a lot of work, the lawyers are too smart, and, finally, there is simply no time to prove anything - the system will cover it. 

On the night of August 9-10, 2020, Polina would have been copying the arrest records of people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. The police reports would have had absolutely nothing to do with reality. One of the reports would have been about Polina's own  mother, accused of organizing riots and chanting anti-government slogans, even though Polina would have known that her mother only left the house to walk their little dog and went to a nearby schoolyard to see the election results.

At that moment, Polina would have wanted to toss all the lying papers in the air, spit, and leave the punitive system which she would have become a part of. But it would have been difficult to go: a government-provided apartment, quarterly bonuses, an unpaid loan, documents labeled “Top Secret”, seeing them would have precluded her from ever leaving the country. On top of that, a lecturer from the Central command would have convincingly told her all about the strategies that the West uses to stage color revolutions which, it turns out would have made it seem as if Polina was right all along.

What would Polina have done? Would she have been able to put an end to her shameful career? Or would she have continued to serve, justifying the lies with concerns about national interests and trying to avoid exclusively political cases that are completely indefensible?

Thank God that Polina Z. never had to make that choice. On August 9, 2020, she wasn’t working for the Investigative Committee, but she did go out with her mother to walk their dog. She went to a school where voting had just ended, and awaited for the results to be posted. She saw how riot police were arresting independent observers on school grounds and tried to intervene (a heightened sense of justice, remember?). She argued with the riot police, protested, filmed the arrests on her phone, and was eventually detained herself, with her mother joining her not long after.

The police report was filled with lies. The report stated that Polina was detained three hours after it actually happened. And that she was detained not in a schoolyard, but next to the Stella (an obelisk in the center of Minsk) for shouting anti-government slogans.

And then, a second police report was drawn up, as if Polina was also detained on Nemiga Street. The two reports contradicted reality and each other, but who cares - the system covered it up.

Polina served four days in the prison on Okrestina Street in Minsk and another two days in the jail in Zhodino. There, in prison, she demanded medicine for her sick mother and protested against the constant beatings ( there’s that heightened sense of justice). There, in prison, Polina's dream of serving in the Investigative Committee died. There, Polina saw with her own eyes: people in uniform will protect anything but justice.

Returning home after her release, Polina learned that she had terrific neighbors. The neighbors, it turned out, had filmed exactly how she was arrested on their cell phones. Not only that, but her neighbors also filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee that people dressed up as the riot police had abducted Polina right before their eyes. The neighbor’s testimony, as well as the recordings were enough for the Investigative Committee to call a retrial. Polina was rehabilitated and her criminal record expunged.

But none of the riot policemen or their superiors were held accountable for Polina’s arbitrary arrest. Neither did the investigators for their lies, the judges for their illegal decisions, nor the jailers for their abuse. Justice did not prevail. Evil was not punished. The Investigative Committee turned out to not be the place where one could apply a heightened sense of justice. A place for a person with a heightened sense of justice is on the streets, in the squares, in prison. Polina Z. understands that now.