Ales Bialiatski’s letters to his family

Ales Bialiatski, the most famous Belarusian human rights defender and chairman of the organisation Viasna, has been in prison for almost two years and the pressure on him has increased in prison. Read extracts from his letters to family and friends below.


Ales Bialiatski illustrated

Ales Bialiatski illustrated.

I’ve slept all the New Year night and, hopefully, will spend the whole year in the same way. The Minsk city court is on holidays and still has not set a time for appeal hearing. So I’m stuck here, though the soul is longing to the prison camp. There I will at least be able to look into the distance. Or maybe because “there’s always a better place”. Thereby, this is my “prison school”, and I’m only a freshman having so much to learn.

(10.01.2012, Prison№ 8, Zhodzina)

Can you imagine: after your visit the watch worked for two more days and broke down… Probably, felt hurt by my criticism. When buying a new one, get me something simple. One with display light and alarm will be perfect.

(0.04.2012, Babruisk)

(to Natalia, the wife) Happy 25th wedding anniversary! I hope this time has not been too boring and sad. Hopefully, I haven’t disappointed you much during 25 years. I remember these years with sentimental nostalgia and gratefulness. Suppose, the years to come will be not worse, but better, and we will celebrate many more anniversaries together.

(12.04.2012, Babruisk)

As for the youth who leave for America for self-fulfillment, I would say that this is all about today’s world. And I suppose that whatever the political regime, this process will only intensify. Look at Lithuania and how many young people went away from there. This is globalization. A person is always looking for a better place to live. In short, maybe someone will come back or not everyone will go. Even if not, just several millions of Chinese will move closer to Europe. By the way, Skaryna is a product of the medieval integration. And Belarus benefited from it back then. As for me, I feel I’ve travelled enough. Don’t want to go nowhere. I’d really like to rent a boat for some 5 persons and float Belarusian rivers – Dzvina, Dniapro, Sozh, Biarezina, Prypiats, Nioman.

(01.05.2012, Babruisk)

(to Adam, the son) Traditionally, all the Bialiatski had the same health problem – the lungs. Your grandfather Viktar died of the lung cancer, as well as his brother Liavon when he was 60. Their father, your great grandfather Ustsin suffered from tuberculosis and died prematurely. So give up smoking! No discussions!

(04.06.2012, Babruisk)

Ales Bialiatski Letters 2

I have not written to you for long as I don’t have enough free time. At best I write one letter a day and only on Sundays can do some more. However, I love receiving letters.

There are a lot of pigeons, sparrows and swallows. I envy them – they are birds and can fly wherever they want. But yesterday I noticed a kite slowly floating over us and over them. And I realized that everything is not that idyllic.

The crosswords you sent me are interesting and funny. But the font is not very clear. I saw a picture of Anatol Sys with a question – who is it? And I thought that in a few years Belarusian crosswords will have a question: a Belarusian human rights activist, 10 letters…

(08.06.2012, Babruisk)

Everyone is looking forward to the amnesty. There will be big changes: someone will go home, someone will be able to move to a prison settlement or be eligible for parole. As a result, in six months a third part of the group will get free. At the same time newbies arrive, so I’m not a “freshman” anymore. As for the age, I’m the fourth oldest out of 100 prisoners, the rest are younger. There are even guys born in 1992…

(28.06.2012, Babruisk)

(to Natalia, the wife)  It’s a year since I’ve been away on “a mission” somewhere close to home and close to you. But it feels like just yesterday I left the apartment heading for the subway where I was stopped. It’s been a year full of alarm and anxiety, a year which divided us in three. And this is most unusual, because with all the rush and tensions of our past life, I always had a feeling of home where three of us would get together. Ales has left and started his adult life. Our apartment was almost confiscated, and we are still apart. What happened can be compared to an earthquake, when the windows break, furniture goes away and the decoration flakes off. But the house itself stands, and the rest can be restored. Something lost, but something gained.

(05.08.2012, Babruisk)

(to Adam, the son)  I see you’ve had a pretty intense summer. I really envy you now. When I was 20 my big dream was to go to Europe to study for 2-3 weeks. But in the Soviet times the border was closed. So my first foreign destination was Bialystok when I was 28. And, of course, it was not the time for studies. By the way, it’s time you started thinking what you want to do after, because the following year will pass very quickly. At your age you still can study for 2-3 years more. But it must be something which will give you new knowledge and skills. Because studies only have sense when you go from something easy to something more difficult. Otherwise, it’s boring and tedious.

(19.08.2012, Babruisk)

Ales Bialiatski Letters 1The camp was attacked by mantes – funny, green, looking like pods or thin leaves. They are predators, eat flies and mosquitoes and fight each other. There’s one of them living in our inner porch and creeping on the flowers. Windows are open, but it won’t fly away.

(25.08.2012, Babruisk)

It’s strange, but even here I lack time. I read almost no books, only some poems once in a while.

(25.08.2012, Babruisk)

I try to do sports regularly, exercise abs and back to avoid osteochondrosis. Interestingly, here I started drinking milk (200 ml twice a week), and it seems to be digested well.

(02.09.2012, Babruisk)

I go to work every day. Another group sews warm jackets and pants with batting. And this wadding is floating all over the place. We either clip and turn out shoulder straps, or make mittens. Shoulder straps are for military school. Kind of militarized classes. And on the straps they have three letters “coo”. If you put two straps together – “coo-coo”. Mittens are from solid canvas. It peels out all the excess skin from fingers. In the evening I smear hands with cream and it helps. Though the work seems easy, it’s tiresome. When you come back to the barrack the only desire is to read a paper and fall asleep.

(02.09.2012, Babruisk)

13 months have passed since I was forced to move from a big cage to a small one. Naturally, a person gets used to anything. So am I. I have adapted and now get joy out of simple pleasures – beautiful September sky, dark-blue leaves starting to fade, light flight of swallows above. Of course, I only lack a faceted glass with moonshine in the right hand, and a big pickle in the left one to make the contemplation of life even easier, but no complaints: you can’t always get what you want.

(04.09.2012, Babruisk)

Ales Bialiatski Letters 3

The TV I watch very rarely. Usually they show Russian news by NTV and sport programs on Belarusian channels which is not of an interest for me. As for the radio – all day long we hear “Radio Mahiliou”. Nothing else.

(09.09.2012, Babruisk)

Daylight hours get shorter and it’s easy to notice. It’s absolutely dark outdoors after 7 p.m. When here, one pays more attention to weather and nature (we get up early; the second shift comes back late and we stay outdoors for the roll-call), and the changes are felt more keenly than at large.

(15.09.2012, Babruisk)


Illustration by palasatka
Taken from

Categories: News.
Tags: Ales Bialiatski and Viasna.
Regions: Belarus.