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New York Times

Roman Protasevic: Belarusian activist “refused to live in fear”

Warsaw, Poland-Roman Protasevic, who spent his teens as a rebellious high school student in Belarus and lasted until his twenties while in exile abroad, was punished by national security agencies for violent beatings, prisons and family punishment. Faced with so many threats. “We all got used to them to some extent,” recalled a fellow exiled opponent. So even though he was branded as a terrorist by Belarus at the end of last year-the death penalty-Protasevic attended a meeting earlier this month when he left for Greece from Lithuania where he lived and had a short vacation. I wasn’t particularly worried about taking it with his Russian girlfriend, Sophia Sapega. But that reassurance shattered on Sunday when the MiG-29 fighter was scrambled to thwart commercial flights from Greece to Lithuania and then struck by Belarusian security officials at the Minsk National Airport tarmac. It was done. The 26-year-old Protasevic is now facing the revenge of 66-year-old Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. He once received a scholarship for a talented student, but has since been against his unwavering enthusiasm. In a short video released Monday by Belarusian officials signing up for a morning newsletter from the New York Times, Protasevic confessed to being forced to join an organization of “popular anxiety” in Minsk last year. .. Belarus capital. This is the government’s term of large-scale street protest for several weeks after Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, declared a landslide re-election victory in the August election, which was widely rejected for being bravely equipped. is. Dissident Stispan Putzira, co-founder of the opposition social media channel that Protasevic used to mobilize opposition protests last year, explaining the mood around Protasevic, departs for Greece. Earlier, he said he was talking to friends and colleagues about the possibility. risk. They are best to avoid flying over Belarus, Russia, or other states cooperating with Lukashenko, but flights between the two European Union countries of Lithuania and Greece should be safe. I agreed. He added that Protasevic may not have been aware that Ryanair’s flight to Athens on Sunday morning would fly to the western tip of Belarus. .. At the Athens airport, when Protasevic noticed a man who appeared to be a Belarusian guard trying to take a picture of him and his travel documents at the check-in counter, something went wrong. It was. However, in an interview at the office of Nefta, an opposition news agency where Protasevic established himself as one of Lukashenko’s most effective and winding critics, Puzira said it was not his character to be scared. Stated. “Due to his personality, Roman has always been very resolute,” said Putzira. “He refused to live in fear.” But since Lukashenko came to power in Belarus in 1994, it has been a very dangerous proposal. Protasevic has resisted his tyranny since he was 16 when he first witnessed the “disgusting” atrocities of Lukashenko’s rule. It turns a talented student at Minsk’s Science High School into an open enemy of the government, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called “the last true dictator remaining in the heart of Europe” in 2005. I started my journey. Protasevich grew up in one of the city’s anonymous concrete skyscrapers in a suburb of Minsk by a father who was a military officer and a mother who taught mathematics at the Army Academy. He studied in a prestigious high school and won an award in a Russian science contest. However, in the summer after the tenth grade, Protasevic was detained by police with a friend sitting on a park bench and watching a so-called “applause protest.” statement. Protasevic was just looking, his mother Natalia Protasevic said in an interview. “For the first time I saw all the dirt happening in our country,” he said in a 2011 video posted on YouTube. “As just one example, five giant OMON mobiles beat a woman. A mother with a child was thrown into a police van. I didn’t like it. After that, everything changed radically.” Security A letter from the unit to his high school followed. His mother said he was banished and had six months of home education because no other school would take him. The family finally negotiated a contract with the Ministry of Education. The Romans were able to attend school, but only if their mother resigned from an education position at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy, rather than the elite Lyceum he was previously enrolled in. It’s done. “Imagine being banished from school at the age of 16,” said Natalia Protasevic. “It was this incident, this injustice, this insult,” she said, driving him against political opposition. “That’s how he started his career when he was 16 years old.” Roman Protasevich studied journalism at Belarusian State University, but again encountered trouble with the authorities. He was unable to earn a degree and worked as a freelance reporter for various opposition-oriented publications. Frequently detained and briefly imprisoned, he decided to move to Poland and spent 10 months in Warsaw spreading videos, leaked documents and news reports criticizing Lukashenko with Puzila and other members of the Nefta team. I did. Protasevic returned to Minsk in 2019, convinced that his work would have a greater impact if he were in Belarus. However, as Lukashenko prepared for the 2020 presidential election, the political situation only diminished. In November 2019, Belarusian police detained opposition journalist Vladimir Chudentsov for being accused of the drug he was trying to attempt. Cross the border to Poland. Feeling a serious problem in front of him, Protasevic decided to escape. According to his mother, according to his mother, he hurriedly took only his backpack and set out again for Poland, a west neighbor of Belarus, with a large number of asylum seekers fleeing Lukashenko’s rule. His parents chased him to avoid arrest after security agencies pressured his neighbors to talk to their parents about encouraging their son to return to Belarus. There he faced a particular detention. Protasevich stayed in Warsaw, became a major opponent with Putsila of Nexta, and posted regular reports on the social media site Telegram. Lukashenko described their work as “activist journalism,” but added that Lukashenko did not leave space for traditional journalism by closing the exit in Belarus, which did more than the government parrot. Protasevic, who worked in an apartment in central Warsaw near the Polish Parliament, moved further away from traditional journalism after the presidential election last August and played an active role in organizing street protests through Nefta’s account on Telegram. Played. “He was more interested in organizing street action than spreading the news,” recalled Putzira, also known as Stepan Svetrov. “I can’t say he was more radical, but he definitely took a more resolute attitude.” Protasevich’s job is to not only report on protests, but to plan them politically. It straddled the area of ​​activity. “We are journalists, but we have to do something else,” he said in an interview last year. “No one else remains. Opposition leaders are in prison.” Putzira said Protasevic never claimed violence, only peaceful protests. Last September, Protasevic left Poland to join Svyatlanatihanovskaya, a major opposition candidate for the August elections, which had to flee to neighboring Lithuania. Lukashenko’s other major rivals were detained, making Tihanovskaya the main voice of Belarusian opposition. In November, Belarusian prosecutors formally charged Protasevic under a law prohibiting the organization of protests that violated “social order.” Security forces also put him on the list of accused terrorists. However, Protasevic felt safe in the European Union and even mocked his accusations in his hometown. “I received more celebrations in my birthday life after the Belarusian government identified me as a terrorist,” he told Belarusian news site Nashe Nive. Lukashenko said he was surprised that Lukashenko would land a commercial airliner just to arrest young critics, but he believes the operation should not have been a big surprise, benefiting from hindsight. The dictator said, “I will contact you everywhere, not just in Belarus. He has always tried horrible things.” The measure is when the plane was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday. It was said that Belarusian security agencies arrested Sapega as well as Protasevic. Arrested at her association. She is not known to be a target in her own right. Her lawyer said Wednesday that she would be imprisoned for at least two months and brought to criminal trial. Putzira said Nefta received so many threatening letters and abusive calls that Polish police officers were permanently guarding the stairwell leading to the office. “The Lukashenko administration sees Rome as one of its main enemies,” he said. “Maybe that’s right.” Another colleague, Ekaterina Elsalimskaya, told’s news service that she and Protasevic had noticed a mysterious man who once followed them in Poland and reported it to the police. .. Still, Protasevic remained casually. “He settled down saying no one would touch us, otherwise it would be an international scandal,” said Yerusalimskaya. Protasevic’s mother said she was worried about her safety, but shed tears when she considered the fate of her son after being arrested in Minsk. We believe that all this horror goes through. We believe that political prisoners will be released. And we are very proud of our son. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company