The phrase "Because of you, bitches, honest cops are dying on the streets” Tanya P. and Hanna L. heard several times. First in the van, then in prison. It was not clear what honest cops they referred to, the one who started chasing a protester, tripped and broke his leg or the one who beat a protester with such force that he broke his fingers in the process. There does not seem to be any more information about other victims among the law enforcement officers. But the phrase about honest cops dying on the streets was repeated often.
Various officials in uniform and civilian clothes visited the cell, especially during the first day, and gave the inmates their own account of all that military nightmare that was taking place on the streets of Minsk. They didn’t explain how they got this information when they were so busy torturing the inmates here, on Okrestina street.
They said: "There are grenades exploding on the streets!” (What? You are the ones throwing them, no?). They said: "There is a shooting downtown!” (But aren’t you the ones shooting?). Repeated, like mantra, key words "paid up", "curators", "organizers", "America", "Lithuania", "Poland", " Maidan", "orange technologies" ... Inmates of cell #18 would get scared listening to all this. If even the tenths of what the prison guards were talking about was true, what was really going on there? They didn’t realize at first that the policemen and prison guards were not describing the horrors of this military insurgency they invented to the jailed “insurgents.” They were describing them to each other.
It's hard to beat people, if you do not believe that you are waving the baton for the right cause. It’s hard to copy-paste protocols, if you do not believe that cunning “curators” and “organizers” cleverly masked the facts of their terrorist plans and you, a simple cop, are left with the task of switching them back to restore the truth. It's hard to torture people, if you do not believe that at this very moment, somewhere on central streets of Minsk the “saboteurs” are doing the same to your comrades. And it's scary to lose this belief. Nastya B. said that when she was transported in the van and tried to exchange a couple of friendly words with the riot police officer who did not shout and did not look like a complete animal, his commander immediately snapped at him:
- Do not talk to her! She will brainwash you.
As if they were transporting a witch. As if she would hardly utter a word – and poof! Bewitched! He would throw away his baton, stop cursing, take a white and red flag of the opposition, and go to Minsk Stele to chant "Long Live Belarus" with the rest of the protesters.
The wardens complained, sometimes switching to shouting, that it was they, policemen and prison guards, who were the miserable ones, weary, with small salaries, living in barrack conditions and all, raised by the alarm, putting their lives in danger. They complained to the arrested women, completely powerless, dirty, hungry, exhausted from stuffiness and insomnia.
People need to believe that they are on the side of good, law and order, justice. Not everyone, however.
“Many of them get enjoyment out of this,” Olesya S. says. "They are enjoying it," Yulia G. echoes. "They don’t like to think that the detained have rights,” confirms Olga Pavlova, “and they enjoy beating them.” And Yulia Filippova agrees: “There are sadists among them. Not everyone, but some certainly.” When Nastya B. describes her jailers, she says: "They revel in their own unlimited power." Making fun of the weak, like school bullies.
- Why are you hitting them? Olesya S. screams when she sees how men are beaten in prison corridors.
- Who's hitting? I’m hitting? - laughs the prison guard as he whips a man with a baton.
All women mention one name - Evgenii. The cruelest of all of them. Nastya B. saw him beating a man. Polina Z. heard him scream to Olesya S. “We’ll gang rape you! Stick a bottle in your vagina!” He slapped Olesya S. in the face, punched her stomach with his knee and pulled the ring off her finger along with the skin.
Even his own co-workers feared Evgenii, fawned before him, put their hands in front of their faces in the gesture of humility and protection when they spoke to him, he was the alpha male among them. There was also an alpha female. Karina or Christina - Zhanna L. couldn’t make out - the guard with the lash extensions. When women were let go, she attacked them like a dog unleashed from its chain. On the day of her release Zhanna stood in the hallway waiting and suddenly this Karina-Christina was summoned. She jumped on Zhanna from behind and started choking her, a farewell of some sorts.
Of course, their testimonies about face expressions cannot be considered objective, but the inmates of cell #18 are unanimous: Evgenii the sadist, Karina- Cristina and a good half of the servants of the regime had complete bliss on their faces while they strangled, beat, and tortured. Their faces expressed that incomprehensible to a normal human being feeling of intoxication from this power over other people’s lives, that feeling troubled kids have when they tear off wings off a butterfly or strangle a cat.
But if there are evil cops, then there must be good ones too, right? Oh yes, there is a host of legends, an entire epic about them in cell #18. Let's call it "The Tale of the Good Cop".
Tanya P., Hanna L. meet their Good Cop already in the police precinct, before going to the prison on Okrestina street. He treats them as if they were his own daughters, even says about Hanna that she looked like one of his own, calls her “little one.” He does everything in his power to stall their prison transfer and keep them in his cozy police precinct where people are allowed to sleep on the clean floor of the gym, and where peace is only occasionally disturbed when the riot police officers storm in looking to beat someone. But here the Good Cop is powerless.
He cannot disobey the order either. The time comes and he hands over “the daughters" to another Good Cop for transportation to the prison, "I am very sorry, girls."
On the way to prison the second Good Cop’s co-workers ask him if he is ready to use his government-issue weapons if needed. And he answers: “no, not ready.” He is not planning on taking part in any of these battles in general, his task is to protect the girls. And if there is a battle by the prison walls, on Okrestina street, then we are turning around and going back. He plans on taking care of Hanna and Tanya, on saving the girls, though not from his own colleagues, but from some mythical insurgents who are, as he imagines, storming the prison right this very moment, armed with weapons.
Imagine his surprise when upon their arrival on Okrestina street there is not a single insurgent in sight. “It’s just parents and volunteers here,” says the Good Cop.
Huge weight off his mind. Peacefully and safely, the Good Cop surrenders the girls to his colleagues for torture by stuffiness and hunger.
Lena A. also meets her Good Cop already in the precinct. He brings her a blanket. When no one is watching, he winks at her and whispers “Peramozhem,” that is “We will win.” It’s clear that this Good Cop sympathizes with the protesters but nevertheless continues to serve the regime they are protesting against. What’s he to do? He can’t do much here – he has a duty to obey.
The Good Cop takes Lena to court and when the judge sentences her to a 12-day arrest and Lena cries, the Good Cop takes her to the restroom to clean up. And whispers on the way: "Peramozhem." And then takes cleaned up and thus consoled Lena to Okrestina street and surrenders her to his colleagues for torture by humiliation and fear.
And of course, all prisoner of cell #18 remember that Good Cop who opened the door and took them to the hall for some air when the oxygen in the cell was almost completely gone and the women started to faint. This Good Cop, however, kept complaining afterwards that the inmates let him down and continued fainting in the hallway too, what lack of gratitude. Because he did get punished. Suffered for humanistic ideas.
You should not think that the prison on Okrestina street does not have Good Cops. It does. Their kindness, though, almost never shows, well, maybe only when they take you to the hall for some air. When Nastya B. comes to prison to get paperwork about her arrest, the Good Cop who allowed them to breathe says to her:
- Hello, do you remember me?
- Come in, please, for a minute. Nastya enters the checkpoint booth. And the Good Cop issues her the paperwork, as if it was also one of his little, but good deeds:
- I'm sorry I wasn’t able to do more for you.
There are also Good Cops among those who transport the women between prisons. The head of the convoy even gives everyone water and cookies. Then he offers to play a game (it’s a long trip, after all) - each woman would tell something about herself, who she is, were she’s from, what she does for a living. He then keeps getting surprised: a programmer, a fashion designer, a tax inspector, a university department head, a music teacher, a violinist, he never saw so many highly educated women at once.
The women are pleased to hear these compliments from the Good Cop. They start to smile, joke, "let's drive around like this till the end of our sentence." And the Good Cop jokes also until they reach the destination point. Then hands the women over to his colleagues. Nothing to be done - duty.
Zhodino also has its own Good Cops. They give women food, toilet paper and sanitary pads. This also counts as a good deed.
But, they say, there was a Truly Good Cop in the prison on Okrestina street. During inspection, he learnt that cell #18 had a young woman who got married just before her arrest and was now worried about her husband’s fate. Her beloved and loving husband, it turned out, was held in the next cell. The lovers asked the Truly Good Cop to check on each other for them, to send notes through him. And the Truly Good Cop checked and carried their notes.
And then he went to the safe, found these lovers’ wedding rings and gave them back to the couple. Took off his uniform, gave his notice and told these repressive agencies to go to hell. Then he left this goddammed country where a husband is beaten so that his wife can hear it.
Many inmates of cell #18 tell this tale of the Truly Good Cop. Unfortunately, none of the women can recall the couple’s names. At least the name of the girl who got her wedding ring back from the Truly Good Cop before he left. Yulia Filippova even doubts that the beloved couple, returned wedding rings, and the Truly Good Cop ever existed at all.
We hope that sooner or later the names of the characters of this story will emerge in someone’s memory.
Otherwise "The Tale of the Truly Good Cop " is plain Stockholm syndrome.