Жыве Беларусь!


As a child, I read an apt remark in some book: ‘Let an intellectual spend a night in a police station, and he will immediately write a book about it’. I don’t know if I can consider myself an intellectual, and I spent much more than a night in the clutch of the System, but this expression seems to me quite relevant. Indeed, imprisonment and everything connected to it provides you with such a spectrum of feelings and experience that you can hardly gain elsewhere. And for those who are used to critically analysing the experience, it is also an incredibly fertile ground for observation, reflection, and deep thoughts.

According to the idea which I hope to bring about, this collection of stories is just an interim step on the way to a more comprehensive narrative. It is a touch on the canvas which is still to be filled with colours. It gives just a general idea but doesn’t let one embrace the whole picture. Such a picture, I hope, will materialise in my future storybook that will describe my imprisonment from the first day to the last.

Why did I decide to write ‘The Colours of the Parallel World?’ First of all, the authorities have been and are afraid of publicity around everything that is going on in prison dungeons, intentionally making them as secretive as possible. This means that publicity can do them reputational and moral harm. And if we have an opportunity to inflict such harm, we must use it. Every villain strives to cover their actions or, if this is not possible, to justify them by anything really: the law, sword law, ‘revolutionary necessity’, morality… To tell the truth and expose misdoings is an imperative, a moral duty of every person. Second of all, it’s important to speak about what we’ve seen and felt for the documentation, too. For no one and nothing lasts forever. And many people in the future can say, ‘We haven’t done anything... We were just following orders’, or ‘We didn’t know that was happening, otherwise we would have definitely taken action!” Alternatively, they are going to reject everything, ‘That’s lies, nothing like that happened. Where is the evidence?’ And if they are never tried by the people or even the state, the bar of history is the most important thing.

Alot has been said and written about prison. And sometimes it seems to be difficult to tell something new, because the imprisonment stays the same, in all countries — from Asian dictatorships to Western bourgeois democracies. The contents of prisons are the same: despair, bitterness, fear, pain, dirty tricks and self-sacrifice, mercy and cruelty and, of course, the institutionalised violence, which is a specific language of prison. Will I be able to say anything new? If we look at this from a global perspective, then of course not, since Belarusian prison is not anything unique, especially for the post-Soviet region, and the general logic and philosophy of prison, like I said, are identical everywhere. But on a local scale, I surely will. No false modesty, I can say that my experience on a scale of Belarus was unique. My friends and I became the first anarchists in Belarus sentenced to imprisonment for political actions since the country gained independence. No less unique were also the conditions of our release. I don’t know if world history can boast any examples when high officials of European states, from presidents and prime-ministers to US senators, demanded from another state the release of anarchist prisoners (sic!) convicted for direct actions, while in most of these countries there is a bunch of ‘domestic’ anarchists doing their time. Interestingly, as a result of these demands among other things we were really set free.

Over the five years of my imprisonment I did my sentence in four prisons and three colonies. Only a few convicts in Belarus come through such a fate. All in all, I spent more than a year in solitary confinement. I could closely see the criminal world and its representatives — professional criminals, ‘nomads’, as they call themselves. I became the second convict in a twenty-two-year history of Mogilev prison who got convicted there under article 411 of the Criminal Code. I felt first-hand all and any methods of ‘correction’ — from deprivation of care packages to the transfer to a high-security prison — and tried all and any methods of prison protest — from filing complaints to hunger strikes to self-harm. That’s why I hope my experience and the information that I carried out from the inside will be useful: some might need it to withstand the storm in the future, some in order to avoid making similar mistakes, and some, perhaps, for sociological and anthropological research.

The convicts’ slang enriched the Russian language by a few hundred if not thousands of words. The translators tried to find certain equivalents of it in English. At the beginning of the book, you will find a short glossary.

Thank you for reading this far. I hope you will find this small storybook interesting.

Many people were instrumental to the materialisation of this book. I want to express gratitude to my father and comrades, because it was thanks to their efforts that I could get out half a year before the end of the sentence; to my professor Vladislav Ivanov — for encouragement and motivational skills; to my wife Lera — for reviews and criticism; to lieutenant-colonel Alexander Litvinsky by virtue of whose vengefulness and hatred I saw what I saw. I also want to tremendously thank the whole punitive system of the Department of Corrections, since its total lunacy and anti-humanism have been and will always be a source of inspiration for me.