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‘An abyss of impunity’ Belarusian writer and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich on the implications of Navalny’s death

Source: Meduza
SOPA Images Limited / Alamy / Vida Press

As the news that Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny had died in prison on Friday spread, thousands of people around the world expressed their grief at his loss and their anger at the Russian authorities. Now, many are trying to understand the broader implications of his death. Belarusian writer and recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature Svetlana Alexievich spoke with the Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva about the potential impact Navalny’s death could have on political prisoners in Belarus, its implications for authoritarian leaders’ impunity, and its far-reaching consequences for global power dynamics. Meduza is sharing some of her thoughts.

On Alexey Navalny’s death

The whole world is in mourning today. I looked at Meduza’s newsfeed and saw reactions from people all over the world: politicians, writers, musicians. Everyone is stunned. Of course, there’s shock over the level of cruelty that we’ve allowed evil to reach. [Evil] has spread to such an extent that it’s doing things we couldn’t even imagine. Although we knew these authorities’ nature.

The most frightening thing for Belarus is that we have almost 2,000 political prisoners, and our leaders are also in prison. Maybe someone is in a ShIZO now. We’ve heard nothing from Maryia Kalesnikava or Viktar Babaryka. We know nothing about Mikalai Statkevich. And there’s this feeling that at any moment, we could hear that the worst has happened to them.

Dictators learn from each other. Navalny’s death has opened up an abyss of impunity for dictators around the world (they’re all in cahoots), especially in Belarus. Now, anything could happen. The authorities have been given this leeway. As it turns out, they can do anything — and the world will be helpless. The country will be helpless. The authorities will go unpunished. That’s what’s truly frightening.

There’s hope that after Navalny’s murder, the world will see that Putin, like Hitler, is capable of dragging the world into a world war; he won’t stop. We need to help Ukraine as much as possible, or we’ll have to pay an even higher price. A new Hitler with new technologies will be more terrifying than what we’ve seen from history.

On Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Yulia Navalnaya’s meeting

These are touching images. It made me think: men are the ones fighting, but war kills women most of all. Imagine Yulia’s soul — a beautiful woman, Navalny’s loyal friend. Or Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s, who for so long has had no idea what’s happening with her husband. That’s why women face a more terrible war.

On Russian President Vladimir Putin

He’s a cruel person. He’s a KGB man, not a politician, so he’s capable of anything. It would seem unthinkable to kill one’s main opponent, the main opposition figure, a politician. A powerful person wouldn’t consider such a thing; they’d value a strong opponent. A weak person does what we’ve seen.

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