Kacjaryna Kryvičanina does not want to reveal her name until after she left Belarus by plane in January. After the management of the Minsk Institute of History had put pressure on the historian for months, she and eleven other colleagues lost their work at the National Academy of Sciences at the turn of the year. Now she is housed in the “Hera” guest house of the University of Warsaw on the wing of the Royal Residence in Wilanów and can look back on five months of protest in the Republic of Belarus. For Kryvičanina, the historical parallels are obvious. For them, this includes “the totalitarian Soviet state, in which the life of the individual with his point of view, his opinion, was completely worthless. Traitors, spies, bought and so on – the protesters get to hear such accusations today. ”The fact that anonymous reports have returned, the instrumentalization of the courts and a police that protect themselves instead of the citizens, reminds them of the conditions in the 1930s the Soviet Union.
It is also clear to the other affected parties that the failure to renew seven employment contracts is an expression of the political persecution of scientists in Belarus. Vadzim Anipiarkau, who also arrived in Warsaw in January, sees the whole group as the victims of a deliberate wave of purges, which initially fell victim to the union leader and her deputy. This was followed by those convicted of participating in illegal demonstrations under Article 23.34. But their story is not only about the repression of the state apparatus, but also about the willpower of historians and how power is restored every day in Belarus through the decisions of individuals. Five of the historians now forced into exile had resigned out of solidarity with their colleagues.
A festival of protest
Just five days after the fraudulent election, the first historians stood in front of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences with banners against violence in August 2020 after their colleague Andrej Radaman was arrested for no apparent reason. Initially, the academy’s management was in shock. After all, the Institute for Historical Sciences was an institution that not only did research, but also prefabricated building blocks of the official state ideology. It was well known that many employees there had opinions that differed from this ideology, but never before was their protest part of a week-long festival that was directed against the core of power.
Because the institute management interpreted this new form of self-confident public opinion as a threat to their own position and the state at the same time, they urged trade unionist Kacjaryna Kryvičanina in informal conversations: “Why are you participating in these letters, appeals and actions? If you want to flaunt your position, go to the woods! Why do you have to do that in front of the doors of the academy? ”Were the questions. Nikolai Volkov, who remained in Minsk, reported by email that after the weeks of waiting in September the thumbscrews had been tightened. After the intimidating meetings and one-on-one interviews, each participant in the protests had to make an existential decision for himself. In this sense, those who have now been fired are not defenseless victims, but actors who were willing to pay a high price for their attitude: their existence as researchers.