Deutsche Welle (English edition)
Belarus needs more than economic aid: Vitali Alekseenok
The regime in Minsk may have quelled protests, but dissatisfaction is simmering among people in Belarus. Musician Alekseenok discusses their aspirations in a new book about his country.
In the fall of 2020, conductor Vitali Alekseenok and literature Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich sat at the kitchen table in the latter's apartment in Berlin. But this was no ordinary coffee date.
The two sat down to discuss Alekseenok's new book which deals with their native Belarus, which Alexander Lukashenko has ruled with an iron fist since 1994. The county is widely considered to be Europe's last remaining dictatorship.
Alexievich, who won the literature prize in 2015, praised the 29-year-old conductor's book as an "important contemporary document." When their conversation turned to the future of Belarus, both of them voiced concern: neither believes that the biggest political and humanitarian crisis in the country's history is about to end.
In August 2020, Lukashenko won the country's presidential
elections with a landslide in what many saw as rigged elections. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in peaceful protests that were violently crushed by the regime.
The European Union, which says it does not recognize Lukashenko as the country's president, has meanwhile renewed sanctions on Belarus.
A visit that changed the conductor's life
And when Alexievich left Minsk in September 2020, she was the only leading member of the Belarusian opposition who had not yet been arrested. Vitali Alekseenok, the musical director of the Abaco Orchestra of the University of Munich, organized
protests against Lukashenko in Germany last summer before heading home in August - like thousands of his compatriots - to prevent election rigging and to support the protest movement.
The six weeks that the conductor spent in Belarus were to change his life; he chronicled these events in a book entitled The White Days of Minsk.
The book reads like a travelogue dotted throughout with matter-of-fact impressions of war. It combines background information about the country and its people into a kind of "How-to-Belarus" for those who know little about the country and its present problems.
Europe's last dictatorship
Vitali Alekseenok hails from the small town of Wilejka northwest of the capital, Minsk. He grew up in a neighborhood with its fair share of crime, but thanks to a charismatic music teacher, he did not end up in prison, but moved to Minsk to study music.
The young conductor completed his training in Saint Petersburg before he received an invitation to work in Germany. But both the past and the present of his native country continue to influece his life each day.
"Whenever I see a minibus in Germany, I cringe and check whether the license plates are covered or not," Alekseenok told DW. In Belarus, masked police officers would often sit in such vehicles during mass arrests on the fringes of demonstrations that were "brutal, lightning-fast and clearly meant to deter," he recalls.
Resentment on the fringes of Europe
Alekseenok's book portrays such scary moments in great detail. At the same time, it juxtaposes just how mundane everyday can be even in the midst of all this upheaval. One moment, there are mass arrests,
and the next, Alekseenok and his contemporaries look for internet signal to send encrypted messages. Vitali Alekseenok's book is a first-hand account of what it feels like to be pushed to the fringes of Europe.
Meanwhile, many Belarusians have become resentful about the fact that the West is apparently able do little to change anything about the situation in Belarus, Alekseenok says, adding that all the same, "it's important that the world knows about us."
He shares the Belarusians' longing for justice and acceptance as well as the desire not to have to go it alone, to notice a sense of support and belonging. "That's what Belarusians need from the West — more than economic aid," he says.