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A Statement from PEN Melbourne in support of Belarusian PEN and Svetlana Alexievich

September 24, 2020 IN WIP
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And now there is another unknown person ringing at my door. 

Svetlana Alexievich, Belarus, 9 September 2020

The members of PEN Melbourne know full well what this knock at the door signifies for a writer  who has spoken out courageously against their tyrannical government.

PEN Melbourne condemns the arbitrary arrests of members and staff of the Belarus PEN centre  for carrying out peaceful protests against the recent presidential election result following claims  that the vote was falsified. Those detained include secretary, poet, and translator Hanna Komar, project manager, poet, and translator Uladzimir Liankievic and translator Siarzh Miadzvedzeu.

We abhor the arbitrary detainment, the ill-treatment and torture of hundreds of peacefully  protesting citizens of Belarus; the serious attempts to crush the people’s freedom of expression  and their right to criticise the appalling record of the Lukashenko government on human rights  and widespread corruption.

We are deeply concerned that charges have been brought against members of the opposition  Coordination Council including Svetlana Alexievich, Chair of Belarus PEN, world-renowned  writer and Nobel Laureate. Ms Alexievich is now the only member of the Council’s executive presidium who is not in prison or in exile.

Members have been charged with undermining national security, however the Council was  created to facilitate a political transition and ensure a peaceful resolution of the post-election  crisis in Belarus. After unidentified men attempted to enter Alexievich’s apartment recently,  diplomats from several European Union nations gathered there to prevent her detention.

On 18 September, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution from the European Union to launch closer monitoring of alleged rights violations in Belarus.

PEN Melbourne urges the authorities to drop all charges against Ms Alexievich and the other  Coordination Council members.

Svetlana Alexievich has called on the international community to intervene and to speak out for  the Belarusian dissidents.

‘We are a small country. I am afraid we cannot make it on our own.’ 

Hear these words and join the international calls to the Belarusian government to immediately  release those citizens unjustly detained against their fundamental human rights and to cease the  unjustified harassment of peaceful protesters.

PEN Melbourne


This letter to Svetlana Alexievich, writer, Nobel Laureate and Chair of PEN Belarus has been written by PEN Melbourne member Subhash Jaireth, himself a writer, poet and essayist. Between 1969 and 1978 Subhash spent nine years in Russia studying geology and Russian literature. Subhash knows Ms Alexievich’s work well and elsewhere has written with eloquence and insight about her books. 

Subhash also translated the Statement from PEN Melbourne in support of Belarusian PEN into Russian. 

Dear Svetlana Alexandrovna,

Years ago, I had penned a note addressed to you. It was written after I read your documentary novels.  I was touched by the care, respect, and honesty with which you had assembled thousands of voices and strung them to create a polyphonic narrative of suffering and hope.

The note sits dormant in a folder on my computer, unsent and unread.

However, I have taken it out now and I want to rewrite it, convinced that this time it needs to reach you. This is because circumstances have changed, and I spot dark clouds of danger hovering over you, your friends, and your people who you love and are so proud of.

I hope you don’t mind that I have addressed you by adding your father’s name to your name. In addressing you this way I want to pay respect to your parents and especially to your grandmother, without whom, as you have written, you wouldn’t have become the writer you have: a luminescent light of courage and hope. It does seem appropriate that your parents called you Svetlana. It reminds me of the Russian words svetlo (luminous) and svet (light). That the second Russian word also means world seems befitting because in your novels your presence illuminates the whole world: the world of suffering and redemption, fear and hope, courage and failure, and of death and resurrection.

I’m Indian by birth but in Russian I have found a home that brings me, so I hope, closer to the world in which you were born, and in which you wrote your books. I am fortunate that I can read your books in the language in which you composed them. Yes, composed is perhaps the right word because in them I find the perfection I hear in Bach’s blissful cantatas. I am also fortunate that I can also read Dostoevsky in Russian.  You call him the source of your inspiration and of your belief in the humanity of human beings.

I feel humbled that I share with you the home of Russian language. Perhaps that’s why I too feel obliged to join you in calling our Russian brothers and sisters for help. ‘Why don’t you speak,’ you write in your statement, ‘when you can see this proud little nation is being crushed? We are still your brothers.’

In one of your interviews you call Lukashenko ‘a clown’. A clown he is but he has power and is backed by the repressive apparatus of a totalitarian state. He has already done irreparable damage to the country and people, and I fear he is capable of causing more misery.

‘Why the endless suffering,’ you write in your unforgettable Secondhand Time, ‘we, as a people, have endured hasn’t forced us to look for ways to free ourselves from tyranny? Is this because the handmaid of tyranny is fear? Is this because fear makes us comply and remain silent?

I admire your courage and the courage of your friends who have decided to stop fearing the fear. I admire your call to protest in peace and with peace. Your peaceful protest will test the patience of the rulers who want you to retaliate so that they can perpetrate more brutal violence on you.

‘I would like to walk away from barricades’, you write in Secondhand Time, because ‘on the barricades, everything is black and white.’ But you didn’t walk away. How could you? Because as you say, ‘today, tens of thousands of people are once again taking on the street. They are taking each other by the hand and tying white ribbons onto their jackets—a symbol of rebirth and light. I’m with them.’

I am, I want to say, with you Svetlana Alexandrovna. And with me are your friends in Australia. We too have pinned white ribbons on our jackets.

Subhash Jaireth



Заявление ПЕН-Мельбурна в поддержку ПЕН-Белaруси и Светланы Алексиевич


Вот опять кто-то неизвестный звонит в дверь…


Светлана Алексиевич, Беларусь, 9 сентября 2020 г.


Члены ПЕН-Мельбурна прекрасно понимают, что означает этот стук в дверь для писателя, мужественно выступившего против тоталитарного правительства.


ПЕН-Мельбурн решительно осуждает произвольные аресты членов и сотрудников ПЕН-Белaруси за проведение мирных акций протеста против результатов недавних президентских выборов после заявлений о фальсификации голосования. Среди задержанных – секретарь поэт и переводчик Ганна Комар, руководитель проекта поэт и переводчик Уладзімір Лянкевіч и переводчик Сярж Мядзведзеў.


Мы решительно осуждаем произвольные задержания, жестокое обращение и пытки сотен мирно протестующих граждан Беларуси; мы также решительно осуждаем серьезные попытки подавить свободу мысли и слова и права населения критиковать чудовищную политику правительства Лукашенко в отношении прав человека, и широко распространенную коррупцию в стране.


Мы глубоко обеспокоены тем, что обвинения были выдвинуты против членов Координационного Совета оппозиции, включая Светлану Алексиевич, председателя ПЕН-Белaруси и всемирно известного писателя и лауреата Нобелевской премии. Как нам известно, Светлана Алексиевич сейчас единственный член Президиума Координационного Совета, который пока ещё свободен или не выслан из страны.


Членов Координационного Совета обвиняют в подрыве национальной безопасности, в то время как Совет был создан для облегчения политическогоо перехода и обеспечения мирного решения пост-выборного кризиса в Беларуси. Нам извесно, что недавно неизвестные люди попытались проникнуть в квартиру Светланы Алексиевич, чтобы аррестовать её, но на её квартире собрались дипломаты из нескольких стран Европейского Союза, которые предотвратили арест.


18 Сентября этого года Совет ООН по Правам Человека принял резолюцию Европейского Союза о начале более тщательного мониторинга предполагаемых нарушений прав человека в Беларуси.


ПЕН-Мельбурн призывает власти снять все обвинения, выдвинутые против Светланы Алексиевич и других членов Координационного Совета.


Светлана Алексиевич призывает международное сообщество вмешаться и выступить в защиту Белaруских диссидентов.


«Мы маленькая страна. Боюсь, мы не сможем сделать это самостоятельно».


Не проходите мимо этих слов Светланы Алексиевич! Присоединяйтесь к международным призывам к правительству Белaруси немедленно освободить этих граждан, несправедливо задержанных за нарушение их основных прав, и прекратить необоснованное преследование мирных демонстрантов.






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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International