«Lukashenka was choosing between murder and suicide». Knyrovich talks tough on politics for the first time – this interview has been waiting for its release for several months

Aliaksandr Knyrovich
7 mins

In August 2021, one of the most media Belarusian businessmen Aliaksandr Knyrovich was released. Two months ago, KyKy asked Aliaksandr uncomfortable and thorny questions about business, prison, attitude to Lukashenka and the revolution, but this text couldn’t be published. Belarusians live in a new reality today, when someone can knock on their door because of a comment in social networks, or your loved ones can get taken hostage. KYKY.ORG has been waiting for a moment when it would be safe to release this text. It has finally happened, and motolko.help publishes the translation of the original interview of KYKY.ORG unchanged.

You can read the original interview here

If you don’t know who Knyrovich is – briefly: in 2018, Aliaksandr Knyrovich, the co-founder of the Sarmat group of companies and the Bavin venture investors community, was sentenced to six years in a strict regime colony. He was charged with tax evasion and bribery in large amounts. The Supreme Court later considered the appeal and reduced sentence to five years.

An interesting fact: in 2015, the Ministry of Information blocked the website KYKY.org because of texts, among which were Knyrovich’s columns. The materials then were seen as potentially «harmful to national interests», as well as «disparaging remarks regarding the state holiday» of Victory Day.

Part 1. On the amount of debt to the state and Lukashenka's insecurities

KYKY: Aliaksandr, were you a political prisoner?

A.K.: No, I don’t think so, and I’ve never thought, because if you call yourself a politician, it’s a profession that you have to take responsibility for. I’ve never declared that I was going to become a politician. And I don’t have those plans. I’m rather an entrepreneur who has an opinion of his own. Therefore, saying my case was political means to be a legend in my own mind. I don’t know who came to Lukashenka and reported on me. Maybe, indeed, he was shown a recording where I told him how much his residence costs. Perhaps this caused anger. But I don’t want to fantasize about it.

KYKY: Okay, I’ll say in other words. Do you think the verdict was correct?

A.K: (laughing) Look, my sentence is a set of nonsense. Moreover, it says that when I was at the KGB pre-trial detention center, I still continued to evade taxes. And the last supervisory complaint I wrote was about this: after all, in order to evade taxes at the KGB pre-trial detention center, I had to collude with the head of the KGB pre-trial detention center (laughing).

KYKY: You know, Lukashenka personally commented on your case in 2017 and stated that you were seeking pardon and wanted to buy off. Is it true?

A.K.: It’s an interesting interpretation to be honest… First, I didn’t seek pardon of anyone, and in four and a half years I have never written such a petition. Another matter is that being at the KGB pre-trial detention center and talking to investigators, as a normal entrepreneur, I said: «If you have any  financial claims against me, tell me the amount — I will reimburse for those». And I would continue to work, and they would continue to deal with the criminal case. There was such a conversation, but it was not in the context of «let me buy off».

KYKY: Eventually, how much did you pay to the government?

A.K.: It’s about millions. I don’t even want to think about this amount and name it publicly. And not the amount is the worst, but the fact that at the time of my arrest the investigators didn’t have any evidence of my guilt. The investigation took a year so that the amount of damage could appear. That is, for a year I served for no reason at all. The document, on the basis of which it was possible to charge me, appeared only on January 18, 2018. Do you understand what a madhouse it was? The Government Control Committee inspection’s report had not yet entered into force, and I had already been convicted. And during the year, the company didn’t even know the amount of claims, respectively, could not repay this amount. At the same time, banks and suppliers tore it apart simultaneously. When the amount of damage eventually appeared, the company was no longer able to pay it. If it had been presented in the first month, the company could stay afloat, jobs would have been saved. At the time of my dismissal, SarmatThermo-Engineering employed about 140 workers, who eventually were left on the street.

KYKY: You don’t want to say the amount of damage – but does it change anything? I know that money turnover of Sarmat was about $58 million in 2018, and now the company is a bankrupt.

A.K.: In 2018, the turnover of all the company’s enterprises amounted to $53 million – this was the peak of the holding’s development, but is it necessary to talk about this?

KYKY: What has happened to the Radex plant that your father was trying to save? Is this company also bankrupt? 

A.K: There’s nothing anymore, so I feel easy. And that’s why I left so easily – I don’t have anything in Belarus, only a fictional debt to the state. And this is a joke, because I was also charged under subsidiary liability for bankruptcy, so the amounts in millions are still doubled. And the humor is that I have nothing left – but still have the debt to the government.

KYKY: In what amount? 

A.K: This is about 3.4 million Belarusian rubles. 

KYKY: Are you going to pay it off?

A.K.: That’s a good question. In any case, at the moment I have no money — I only have the image. But if I had at least 10 million, would I give three of them to the state so that it would back off? Probably not – anyway, it doesn’t change anything. I think that after this interview, the state will also have non-financial claims against me. And even if I had 340 million, I would probably not have given anything to the state – their decision to recovery was initially illegal.

KYKY: Is Lukashenka your enemy today?

A.K.: I have no enemies at all. I don’t want to waste my life on enmity, battles and hatred. I want to spend my life creating – it is important for me to understand that I’m building something. And even within myself, I really don’t want to see Lukashenka as some kind of personal enemy. I don’t want to live with those categories. The fact is that I can easily imagine the internal psychological structure of Lukashenka – it is very far from me, my interests and goals… Listen, now I’m going to say something that we’re going to get locked up for (laughing).

KYKY: We’ve already been recognized as extremists – it’s too late to be afraid, so I’m listening to you carefully.

A.K.: In my opinion, Lukashenka is a very insecure person, so he won’t tolerate anyone bright near him. Therefore, we have not a single notable politician in power. I can name Sheiman or Makei, but they’re definitely not public politicians. If you look at the situation in Russia, there are Gryzlov, Sobyanin and others who know how to interact with the audience. There will never be such people next to Lukashenka, and if they appear, he will eat them tomorrow because of his own internal insecurities. Next to him there is never an adult beautiful woman, because he is pleased only when he is looked up at with adoration. This is such a young girlish adoration of a great man — and it’s difficult to imagine with an adult conscious woman. Therefore, he won’t stand an adult conscious woman next to him in principle. You can remember Kochanova, but that’s different (laughing).

In addition, from my point of view, Lukashenka lives in 1972 – we all come from our hormonal youth. Why does my generation, for example, remembers Russian rock with such passion? Butusova, Tsoi, Shevchuk… Because there is a hormonal explosion at the age of 13-15, emotions and music that are imposed on it — all this remains with you for your whole life. Another question is that some then have emotional and psychological development, and some — failure. Alexander Grigorievich today lives in his happy childhood around 1972 and measures everything in approximately the same categories. He wants everything, including Belarus, to return to that happy time for him. And so all that BSSR style in propaganda appeared – this is the style of 1972.And he’s attracted to that time because that’s when he was genuinely happy.

He was choosing between murder and suicide a year ago. For him, the result of the election in which he lost was an outright suicide. He had a difficult choice, but he decided not to commit suicide yet.

And he has a constant madhouse and insecurities in his head that tear him apart, and constant attempts to silence these insecurities through a sense of his own globality. So where am I in this place? What should I prove him? I see no reason for the development of our enmity – Lukashenka is constantly busy without me. 

The fact that he said on TV in 2017 and so the rest of the crew ran to follow his instructions really existed. But Dalai Lama said: I am grateful to the Chinese who kicked me out of my country. The country suffered – that’s a fact. And I suffered – that’s a fact. But if I had remained on the throne and led Tibet, we wouldn’t have a chance to see you, and I wouldn’t have a chance to travel around the world to convey my own views and faith. I have the same story internally. Yes, I lost my business. Yes, my loved ones suffered while I was in prison. But if there wasn’t this story, I would now be in such a situation as my friends are, Belarusian businessmen who are tied to the country by chains. They can’t go anywhere because they have business, people, assets – they have nowhere to go, so they have to stick their opinion deep in their asses and live with it. Internal ulcers and physical problems are born out of all this. 

KYKY: Could you keep silent in 2020?

A.K.: No way. 

Part 2. On the prison and the guard "Zhenya-shit"

KYKY: Did you have something like forced political awareness and brainwash in prison?

A.K.: Formally, there was political awareness, but in reality today the entire control system is in such a non-working state that the signal sent from above reaches the bottom in a completely changed form. And everything is executed in a f**k off way. Therefore, formally, you can «tick a box» for the political awareness, but this is not a working history — you can’t build communism like that (laughing).

KYKY: There was information from political prisoners that at the KGB pre-trial detention center they were forced to watch BT TV fall day long.

A.K.: The KGB pre-trial detention center is a special place where there is a real emotional sadism. I got to the KGB pre-trial detention center on January 25, and February was terrible for me, because my neighbor subscribed only to the SB [pro-regime newspaper –ed.], and I didn’t have time to subscribe to any newspaper yet. Therefore, I have been reading «Sovietskaya Belorussia» for a month and thought that my hair would begin to grow inside because of that. But everything worked out. This is such a nonsense and it’s written in such a bad language that Soviet propagandists are probably spinning in their graves. But the conditions in the «Amerikanka» are difficult, although after a few months you get used to it and stop noticing this background, including nonsense on the TV.

«Lukashenka was choosing between murder and suicide». Knyrovich talks tough on politics for the first time – this interview has been waiting for its release for several months

Aliaksandr Knyrovich at the Court / Tut.by

KYKY: But how can you not notice when the mold appears on the sweater because of damp, as in the case of Eduard Babaryka? Or when they pour chlorine into the cell?

A.K.: I’ve heard these stories, but it didn’t happen in 2017. I think in 2020, things could have changed a lot. And I can only grieve about what these people are going through right now. In a prison colony, for example, there are 30 policemen per thousand people, 28 of whom are simple village guys with whom you can form normal human relations. Yes, they do their job, but they’re lackluster with that. At the same time, there’re bastards among them, whom they hate among themselves. And we had two such bastards among the controllers: one had the nickname «Badger», and the second — «Zhenya-shit». There were also reverse situations when people were respected – and they were called only by their patronymic. It’s all a personal relationship. If you get such a «Zhenya-shit», he can pour chlorine — this is a feature of the human personality. This is a negative selection, which today has become even tougher, such «Zhenya-shit»s can be many times more.

KYKY: During the interrogations and while serving your sentence, were you pressured, were you tortured? 

A.K.: I only know two people who told me they were beaten. There was no physical pressure on the others. I won’t speak for anyone else, but at least a hundred people passed before my eyes. Another thing is that there is a practice when during the arrest they like to push people’s faces on the asphalt — but this is not because of hatred, just a standard. And I’ve seen a few people coming with «asphalt sickness». But to be beaten during interrogation… I haven’t come across that. And such methods were not applied to me.

They rather looked at me as dead. I looked them in the eye and realized that I was gone and all they had to do was just paperwork. Whatever I said, no matter how I explained my actions, it didn’t matter. The judicial system works in such a way that no amount of testimony, evidence, or lack of them will change anything.You will be imprisoned for as many years as they see fit.

KYKY: You worked in production in prison. What kind of production was that? What are the working conditions? 

A.K.: When I left the prison colony, there were a thousand people there, but the work was only for 200 – those who really wanted to work. Everyone else was just doing nothing: formally it was listed that they worked, but in reality they didn’t do anything. And nothing can be done about it — to equip one workplace, you need at least 10 thousand dollars, or even more. That is, you need $8 million to equip places for another 800 people. But of course, there’s no money. Therefore, 800 people are just fooling around, but they work according to documents.

But let’s first talk about those who actually work. Approximately 120 people are employed in real production in woodworking, sewing and metal disassembly shops. For this work they’re paid 50-60 rubles a month. Another 80-100 people are engaged in maintenance and work in the dining room, in bath and laundry plant and so on. Two or three times a week they are brought to the industrial zone, they allegedly do something there, and they are taken back to lead their usual recumbent life on bunk beds.

When I initially got to the colony, I wanted to work – time passes faster in this case. And for about six months I worked at the woodworking shop, I didn’t work physically, but was engaged in the discharge of papers, accounting, and so on. Then I was transferred to the reserve team: all my work was connected with the club and activities, which were written about in the media. And the rest of work was that as a member of the reserve brigade, I went to the industrial zone and pretended for 2-3 hours that I was chopping wood.

KYKY: You’ve changed so much in appearance. Your first photo from prison went all over the media and shocked many. Is it a healthy lifestyle or the consequences of the deprivation you’ve been subjected to?

A.K.: It’s a healthy lifestyle. At the pre-trial detention center, I stopped eating lard, meat and gave up animal fats. As a result, it had a very good impact on my health. I recently got an ultrasound — my vessels are in excellent condition. And in the colony I began to move more, to eat relatively healthy food. I had physical activity, sleep from 22 to 7, fresh air – so I’m fine. What’s more, I’m much healthier now than I was when I went to jail. The only problem is that the eyesight is hooked. I’ve read that Tsikhanouski loses his sight – this may be true. In the pre-trial detention center, vision deteriorates — this is a fact, because there is very bad light, and the main occupation is reading.

But I’ve spent the last month before my release in extreme tension because it was an extra month – I had to come out earlier. I was delayed exclusively by the court of the Frunzensky district of Minsk, this is a great story! On June 19, changes in legislation came into force: «a day and a half». With this in mind, my term ended in March, respectively, since June 19, nothing could keep me in the colony. But there were 85 such people in the colony, and in order to release us, the colony had to send a petition to the court, and a piece of paper had to come back from the court. But some courts reacted negligently to the consideration of such «papers». By July 15, the vast majority had left, and after July 20, I was left alone, whose direction for release was not considered. This lasted until August 17 thanks to the Frunzensky district court and, I think, was done on purpose. The court received the papers on June 22, but the court gave them to a person who was on vacation until July 12. Then this man appointed the establishment of the court not immediately, but only two weeks later on July 27. The court could immediately send the papers to the colony, but «forgot» to do it, although my relatives lied on the phone that the documents were sent. As a result, the documents were sent only on August 14, and on August 17 I was released.

That extra month and a half can be interpreted in different ways: as a fear of the court before the KGB or as a personal revenge — 4.5 years I decently got them with appeals. And I think, they got a certain number of reprimands thanks to my efforts. So for the last month I’ve been in terrible tension: you wake up and think that this day can be today, and by 15.00 it becomes clear that it is not. It’s tormenting. So I came out with a tense face. It’s easier now.

KYKY: Do you save the letters you received? And basically, did you get the letters?

A.K.: I think a lot of letters didn’t come, but a lot of them did. And I had 237 — 246 letters a month. For 4 years and 7 months I wrote about two thousand letters. Thanks to the media, because people who didn’t know me wrote too. This support was very important to me, especially at first at the pre-trial detention center. The last year, when I felt psychologically stable, it was no longer so important – it was rather nice that you were still remembered. But at the initial stage of writing, this is very important. I no longer keep these letters – all the stories start and end at some point. Not so long ago, my daughter posted on Instagram how she burned 167 letters. A very touching post. This story should end and remain in the past – a completely different life has begun, and you need to look forward, but not to look back.

Part 3. On the lost revolution and acquaintance with the opposition

KYKY: How much do you earn now?

A.K.: I’ve been working at Imaguru for two months, which is an IT-tied business. I wouldn’t like to name specific figures, but I will say this: I earn the social minimum to feel comfortable in Poland or Lithuania. It is enough to rent an apartment without cockroaches in a normal area, buy a few things of the middle price segment, gadgets which are necessary for work. And yet — to go to the store for food, without thinking about its cost, sometimes allow yourself to go to the cinema and cafes. But in terms of my ambitions, this level is much lower than what I’m used to. I think my earnings will grow together with the results of the company.

KYKY: You didn’t join any political headquarters. Doesn’t the revolution hook you?

 A.K.: I think we’ve lost. Perhaps my words will sound depressing, but now we are in a situation of 18-20 years of the last century in Russia – when people left and believed that they were leaving for a short time and tomorrow the Entente or the Soviet regime would eat itself. And the people who stayed in the country also thought that all this nonsense could not last long. The worst deception is to deceive oneself and believe that you only need to hold out for a few months and the revolution will win. There is no reason for this, and the Kremlin holds Belarus tightly. Moreover, I absolutely believe, looking at Putin, that Russian tanks can also walk through the streets of Belarusian cities if there is any threat.

KYKY: So you think that everything that Tsikhanouskaya and Latushka are doing today is leading nowhere?

A.K.: First of all, I think these people are heroes and great guys anyway. And if I were in their shoes, I would do the same, regardless of the forecasts for the development of the situation. Because there are situations in life when you realize that you have lost, but you do what you have to do. This, by the way, distinguishes English football from Belarusian. The Belarusian team folds its wings in the middle of the second half, and in English — the team will fight with the opponent to the end, even if he wins. But it is always as fate wills — after all, there was a plane with Pratasevich.

KYKY: Let’s say in other words: do you believe them?

A.K.: These people were hired by the Belarusian people and paid not with money, but with trust. And the people expect concrete actions from them. And in this part, I also trust these people 100%. I believe that Latushka, Viacorka, Tsikhanouskaya, and people from Babaryka’s headquarters are all definitely interested in the result and change of power in Belarus. And they will definitely do everything they can. In this part, I trust them all 100%. It’s just that the methods by which our opposition operates will not lead to a result if Lukashenka and Putin don’t make fatal mistakes themselves. And if we proceed from this point of view, Prokopyev is the only one who has an understanding that only a real guerrilla war can lead to a result. And he is doing everything possible to make this guerrilla war begin faster. And in general actions of the opposition, I lack a philosophy on which to rely. So that we can confidently say: whatever events occur and no matter how long they last, the truth is on our side.

KYKY: The philosophy that unites Belarusians since 2020 is to overthrow the Lukashenka’s regime and build a new Belarus. 

A.K.: To break something is a negative connotation, and to build a new Belarus – what kind of Belarus? No one has articulated that for sure. And the people who have made commitments to fight for a new Belarus, worthily fulfill them, although they are all very tired. Surely they all believed that the struggle would last weeks, or months, a maximum of six months. And now it is clear that we all have a marathon. And we may not have the same views on the pension system, economic policy and so on, but I would like to see something else above this – some common features of national identity for everyone. And to answer what economic policy should be, for example, we must first answer: who are we? What are we? In 2020, we saw the birth of a nation, and now is the best time for reflection.

KYKY: Is Babariko your president?

A.K.: Yes, because Babariko didn’t accumulate a negative image: he came forward beautifully, spoke beautifully, and then he was imprisoned. He didn’t have time to make mistakes like Latushka and Tsikhanouskaya. Nelson Mandela won the election. 

KYKY: But a person is easy to break in a Belarusian prison. We’ve all heard of torture…

A.K.: Today Navalny is being broken and tortured – he was really arranged if not hell, then the hell-adjacent. What do you know about Viktar Babaryka? That he worked at a bakery? I can say that in our colony there was a workplace at the bakery – it was a place where you still need to be able to get a job. There you are warm, eating, respected and live a slightly different life than the rest of the colony. You don’t live on a rigid schedule. Although I can also be wrong and not know something, but did Viktar Babaryka himself say that he was under pressure?

KYKY: I am sure that a person who has opposed himself to Lukashenka cannot serve quietly in prison. Even if he doesn’t openly talk about torture and pressure.

A.K.: His deputy was treated absolutely indifferent in a colony. Our consciousness adds a lot if we don’t have the facts. And maybe that’s the case when we draw up horrible pictures in our minds that don’t really exist.

For me, Viktar Babaryka is more the president of Belarus than Tsikhanouskaya or Latushka. At least that’s what I’d really like. Of course, another beautiful image is Masha Kalesnikava. But this is rather a fairy-tale hero — the mother of dragons. And I associate Masha Kalesnikava with Lech Walesa, although they come from different social groups, but they had the same role – a leader on the barricades who inspired the people to revolution. Among Belarusians it is not an electrician from a shipyard, but an image of an intelligent sophisticated woman. I think Viktar Babaryka would be an excellent prime minister, and a woman should become the president of our future parliamentary republic. This is natural for us, because Belarus has a female energy – you can consider me a feminist.

KYKY: Will you return to Belarus without Lukashenka?

A.K.: Of course, on the first day. 

KYKY: And with Lukashenka?

A.K.: I would come back if Lukashenka became different, but this is impossible. 

KYKY: If you were offered to work for the state, as Prokopenya was once offered, would you agree?

A.K.: Even then, in 2017, I would have thought hard and disagreed, and now I wouldn’t agree. You can’t play with cheaters for money. Today you are offered, and tomorrow someone, who quickly delivered a file, won — and you are in jail. Look at Chyzh. But it was one of Lukashenka’s close businessmen! A man used to mow the grass perfectly, and now he will get ten years in prison, probably. Lukashenka has nothing sacred – I think, he doesn’t even trust his children, but what could I do? Therefore, no deal is possible with the state.

KYKY: Since we’re talking about decent people in prison, who did you meet? Perhaps made friends? 

A.K.: I am grateful to the pre-trial detention center and the colony for meeting five people with whom, if they are interested in this, I hope to continue relations very much. Some of them are still serving sentences, so I can’t name them by name – just as images. For example, I was impressed by a foreign businessman with whom I served at the KGB pre-trial detention center. He walked into the cell as a red man with a belly, and when I met him a year and a half later, he could already do a full split, do push-ups, run. Being in terrible conditions, a man who was beaten, who broke his collarbone, having extremely unenviable prospects, was always positive and purposeful.

KYKY: Why was he in prison? 

A.K.: Formally – for fraud, but really – for the fact that he knows how to keep his mouth shut. He was beaten, and he was still silent. I can’t say anything more so as not to hurt him. He’s still serving his sentence.

Part 4. On a sacred sacrifice and dancing with Russia

KYKY: In September 2021, 13 political prisoners were released instead of 100 on the so-called Voskresensky’s list. What do you think of that? Is this the beginning of trade with the West about easing sanctions?

A.K.: It’s hopeless. There are more than 800 prisoners in the country, and before Voskresensky’s list, the prosecutor came to them, offering to seek a pardon. Therefore, this was not an innovation of Voskresensky – he rather just decided to sit on the wave and make an image on this beautiful story. Just imagine a person in a colony who still has to serve for 3-4 years — won’t anyone go on such a sweet deal in this situation?

Everyone wants to get home faster and be with their loved ones. Therefore, the petition for pardon, as far as I know and saw in the colony, was written by 50% of «political». Only a hundred people got into Voskresensky’s list, and of this hundred there were only 13 who were pardoned. This is a slap on the part of the state, which referred to the fact that it is impossible to have mercy for some formal reasons. For example, people were labeled yellow in prison as extremists. And the reason for rejecting the petition for pardon was the presence of the same tag.

I don’t think pardons can have long-term prospects. Previously, when there was a bargaining of prisoners, the situation was different and the conversation was just about the image. Now the conversation is personal, I would even say – about the physical existence of Lukashenka. Therefore, I do not believe that any bargaining with the West against the background of these 13 people is possible.

KYKY: But maybe this is just the first wave of those pardoned.

A.K.: No, if 100 people from Voskresensky’s list sought a pardon and only 13 received a positive response, then the remaining 87 people will be able to re-apply only after a year. This is such a formality under our legislation – many simply don’t know these procedures. 

KYKY: There’s a lot of discussion right now, is it possible to seek a pardon or should you be principled and continue serving? I don’t think we, haven’t been there, can judge, but what’s your position?

A.K.: You know, I would feel bad if Kalesnikava, Tsikhanouski or Babaryka wrote a petition for pardon. These people have chosen their path of politics, people have trusted them, which means that they have the right to expect a consistent position. But when a person who struck the shield of the OMON officer went for five years to the colony … If such a person writes a petition for pardon, I will react well — he/ she is doing the right thing. He/she didn’t assume the role of the leader and moral authority, a person who is the ensign and whom people should follow. Therefore, the sooner this person is released, even through a pardon, the better it will be.

KYKY: You don’t want Kalesnikava, Tsikhanouski and Babaryka to write a seek for pardon – why do we have this constant desire to sacrifice someone? After all, it would be better if they were and did something at large than to serve in prison.

A.K.: I’m telling you about the emotional attitude and only for myself: it would be difficult for me to understand and accept it. But this doesn’t mean that politicians and public people shouldn’t write a petition for a pardon, because Knyrovich believes so. Moreover, I think both Viktar and Maria are adequate people and understand that even if they write a petition for pardon, no one will let them go anywhere. I don’t know what scale the deal should be and what the West should give in return to let them go. And until that happens, it makes no sense for them to smear the paper. 

This whole story with the pardoned fits into the general canvas. After the events of August last year, Lukashenka was pressured by the Kremlin, saying, engage in reconciliation with society. And he promised, but with a back thought, not to keep his promise. Lukashenka then promised both constitutional reform and subsequent re-elections – steps that, from the Kremlin’s point of view, would bring society into a state of some kind of balance. But today, this balance is still not there – there is a broken cup of love. Lukashenka commits actions, but they are as caricatured as our entire system of governance is. What conclusions can be drawn from reading our new Constitution? First, there is a model of Kazakhstan or even Iran. On the one hand, a new president is elected, and on the other hand, presidential candidates are approved by an analogue of the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly. The model is laid, but it is difficult to imagine that Lukashenka will allow someone else to call himself the president of the Republic of Belarus.

KYKY: Well, it could be the Kremlin’s person.

A.K.: If it is a person of the Kremlin, Lukashenka will feel such a threat from him that he will eat him in the first month. 

KYKY: Today, the situation is different – everything is decided by financing and, as you know, the one who pays is a boss.

A.K.: Russia has been the boss for 20 years, but everything doesn’t work out. I understand that in 2020 a completely different situation happened, but something remained the same. Do you understand? (laughing) So this whole constitutional story, the Day of National Unity is just imitation. To a large extent, everything that happens is a chain of imitations, which I would not pay serious attention to at all. In my eyes, 2020 gave me the feeling that my people – Belarusians – exist. And we’re the majority. It is obvious to me that 70-75% of Belarusians are for change. Another thing, discussing what kind of changes are needed, we still quarrel with each other more than once or twice — everyone has their own ideas on this matter. But today’s cries of «don’t touch our stability!» are supported at best by 25% of the population.

KYKY: The society has already quarreled so much… And the majority that advocated change now lives with the victim complex. A crippled nation that begins to love its executioner is what is scary. And it’s even worse if it becomes the key to reconciliation. 

A.K.: Yeah, loving a dragon is certainly cool. I can only regret it, but I don’t know people who can truly love the dragon – they just don’t have any philosophy of the future. Lukashenka today has nothing to sell to the nation – he has neither a plan nor an idea. For example, the Kremlin has an idea of the Russian world – I don’t like it, but it is working and it can be sold under the slogan «let’s restore the empire.» Abomination, of course, but there’s something perversely beautiful about it. There was the idea of communism in the USSR,– also a lie, but the idea and philosophy were beautiful. Lukashenka has no idea for the future. He has no strategy – all his decisions are situational, at the level of a simple understanding of complex problems.

Of course, it is difficult to experience all this and admit the truth, but how many people left Belarus? According to various estimates — from 200 to 400 thousand. The population of Iceland is 300,000 people, my friends. There are already more of us than the entire population of Iceland. And the best who were able to make such decision and find a way, left. And today all Belarusians who left may build a new virtual Belarus. So let’s show that these 400 or 40 thousand people are able to produce GDP per person five times more in a foreign land than in Belarus. Let’s show that we are able to give birth to songs, productions, open theaters – do something beautiful. To do what is alive, because the Belarusian regime is a dead story. A man who supports Lukashenka’s philosophy will never stage a brilliant performance, will not come up with iPhone 14, he will not even come up with a new model of the tractor «Belarus».

I understand that everyone now has a big trauma of leaving, but you need to squeeze the sphincters and work. And to think about what unites us all here in exile, given that we are like Jews after the exodus. I don’t think the Jews were happy to leave Egypt. Moreover, I think they suffered terribly from Egyptian slavery.

Part 5. On psychotrauma and happiness

KYKY: If you read the columns that you wrote for KYKY in 2014-2016, remember that time – did you stay the same person or became different? 

A.K.: I don’t want to lie to myself. I was some kind of entertainer, but the situation was easier, so I wrote some simple fun things. Sometimes they were deep, but it was rather an accidental hit. And then I felt much less – I had less responsibility and a lot more freedom. Now I feel a responsibility to be deeper, to think and work on more serious things than did before.

KYKY: When was the last time you cried? 

A.K.: I often cry. On September 12, when I said goodbye to my loved ones, to my granddaughter, I cried. My soul was tearing apart – I was sobbing. I thought, «Why am I leaving? Why am I doing this? I’m not chased by dogs.» 

KYKY: Two months later, has anything changed in exile? 

A.K.: Of course, I feel much more confident and calmer two months later – I have a stable income. And due to the return to the familiar environment, there were limitless opportunities for development. However, the colony is certainly reminds me about that time. It would be good be released «right»: to be met by my close people, so that I rest and recover for several months and then calmly enter the working rhythm in a country where business is developing, where there are no revolutions, deaths, migration crisis … But the reality was different: I had to move quickly, and I still haven’t fully recovered psychologically yet. At times, I get emotional waves. For example, sometimes I think that I went out without a hat, and in the colony it was impossible without a hat. And only then I realize that I am not in the colony. I catch myself on such bells from the subconscious — sometimes it gives rise to some uncertainty and frightens. But overall, I’m doing well – everything is developing in the best possible way.

KYKY: You know, people you’ve met before say that when talking to you, they can feel your trauma. It is impossible to say exactly what’s going on, but something is definitely wrong with a person. 

A.K.: So I’m not wrong. These are traumas that will never be healed. Like the country’s trauma of 2020 will never be healed either. And when I talk about the lost revolution, I see sadness in the eyes of people and a mute request: «Just don’t tell us about it out loud».  And this is also a trauma, but many people are just not ready to admit it. 

KYKY: You’ve always said you’re an optimist. Do you stay that? 

A.K.: 100%. 

KYKY: Are you happy?

A.K.: I’m happy to have the loved ones. You know, it’s such an animal feeling when you lie in a cell and realize that you could cut off your hand for your children. I have wonderful kids – I’m very proud of them because they’re better than I am. I was rewarded with them for something by God… Well, really, given my wreck nature! So I’m happy about it – and the fact that my parents are relatively healthy at their age. I am happy that I have friends who didn’t leave me in trouble and, in addition to money, helped with spiritual intimacy. So I have everything in my life to be happy. The rest is up to me.

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