Viktar Babaryka’s last interview before his arrest.

Sasha Romanova / KYKY.ORG

It took place in Bobruisk, where on June 15th the presidential candidate went to submit people’s signatures given to him and meet with members of his initiative group. Accusations against Belgazprombank had already been made; Eva by Chaim Soutine had already been removed from the public gallery. Everybody guessed that there was a risk of Viktar Babaryka’s detention, and I wanted to record not just a parting but what was happening – to understand what he thought and what he wanted to share.

Viktar Babaryka left his election headquarters and walked five meters in the yard towards the car. He was immediately recognized by casual passers-by and they began to approach him and take pictures with him as if he was Elton John. Five minutes later, we sat in the back seat of a large Toyota with a light leather interior. A guard and a driver drove up front. I praised Babaryka’s election logo with a ruby heart, and he remembered a grandmother on the picket, who was screaming: “We want respect and love!” Next there will be a tape recording of Viktar Babaryka’s voice with minor cuts and interruptions:

– I am zakahany (from Belarusian “in love”) with every tree, point and detail of this Belarus, with every situation and with people, no matter who they are. These people are the best. I almost love Alexander Grigorievich (note “Lukashenko, current president of Belarus”), despite the harm done to me. The most correct story in love is an opportunity to reconcile everyone, just as our hearts did. It’s trivial, isn’t it? But everybody is torn. A man should have the impression that Belarus is full of miracles beyond our understanding, and we still continue to fall in love with it.

I was confused and kept silent. Imagine the situation: the bank he worked for is falling apart, his friend Svetlana (Svetlana Kupreeva – Editorial note KYKY.ORG) is already in prison, the news about the blocking of his accounts comes right there in the car, and Viktar Babaryka sits and tells me about love. It sounded like “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King, and it was bloody unexpected!

Viktar Babaryka in childhood

Viktar Babaryka as a child. Photos from his personal archive.


– Let us try to go through human life from birth and origin of circles of love to the very end. Here we are born. Mother, security, father, little brothers and relatives – the circle of love is expanding. You love your grannies and grandads, who took you into their arms in early childhood. You went out to the best yard: your mother could scold you, and your friends would give you a cuff, but you still love them. Then you went to school. Everyone’s favorite teacher is different – one loves literature, one loves math. But everyone has at least one teacher who will be remembered for life. And this is the second circle of love.

Viktar's mother and father

Viktar’s mother and father.


Gradually you grew up, gaining experience. Within the walls of the school it seemed that the big world was dangerous, but it turned out that these strangers are not so terrible. You are 18 years old, you went to university or to work – the bureaucracy is idiotic, and the people around you are good! Amazing thing: a sausage can be bad, but the salesman is good. But I’m not in love with procedures, power or institutions. I’m in love with people. I don’t want to change them, but the conditions they find themselves in. I don’t want to change people, not even the members of the election commission. Wherever you live, in a poor village or in the capital, no matter how old you are, wherever you work, you deserve love. People who have left Belarus, are scolding the regime and the impossibility to realize themselves. But many say: “If there are other conditions, I’ll come back”.

I wanted to be specific. As a journalist, I like personal life stories. But Viktar Babaryka drew an ideal picture of speech with his mathematical mind. While we were driving through fields and forests on the way to Bobruisk, he was talking about nature.

Viktar Babaryka at the university

– Our nature is unique: the country has all four seasons. You don’t know when to take a vacation, because you go in summer and miss winter you left behind. It feels like breaking up with your loved ones. It seems like you’re tired and used to it, but when you leave it, you know, it’s not enough. There are very few of such compromise countries, where you can love everything entirely. It’s like being really in love with a woman or a man. You always find better separate body parts – nose, mouth, hands, eyes. There are countries with better winters, there are cities more beautiful, there are warmer summers – but I have been zakahany with Belarus as a whole and in combination of its body parts.

– A note about those who leave Belarus, cursing the regime, and saying that they would come back if something changes – it’s true. And I also noticed that Belarusians in neighboring countries are simply loved: especially by Ukrainians and Moscow citizens.

– This is not a question of assessing Belarusians. We are talking about our own impressions of life. I am just an ordinary Belarusian in love. It’s great if my message will encourage someone to think: it turns out that you can fall in love with us – “and I did not know”. Our perception of the situation cannot be transferred onto people. It’s the same with sellers – it’s not their fault they sell bad sausages. The seller himself is a wonderful person, you cannot demand that he stops selling. A person forced to carry out someone else’s orders or job duties does not always act according to his inner state.

– Does a Belarusian forget himself at such moments?

– He does not forget, but he may find himself in a difficult situation. Imagine, we have been hated for 26 years. A child who is not loved turns out to be a big trouble when he becomes an adult. Alexander Grigorievich himself is ruined by the lack of love that he experienced in his childhood. But it does not mean that we do not have this desire for love inside us. That’s why we shouldn’t scold a man. You need to scold circumstances and change the system in which he lived.

– For which system?

– The state must be built on the protection of the man and his interests. If it is culture, it is positive. If it is healthcare, it is protection. If sport, it is not for the sake of “I will die, but I will win”, but sport for the pleasure of standing on the podium for my country. The whole system of the state should strive for a ministry of happiness. Industry is not the destruction of ecology, but the love for nature. A speed limit sign on the road should not mean that a traffic cop with a radar is hiding in the bushes. It should be a warning – if you don’t lower your speed, you’re going into a pit. The tax system isn’t just collecting money for the government, it’s distributing it in your own favor. The entrepreneur registration paper that we sign in the state should not be prohibitive, but protective. You, as an entrepreneur, should understand that if you violate technical standards, you will harm yourself in the first place. Procedures and rules should protect you, not the abstract state from you. Even the judicial system is not a punishment, but a chance for correction. Every action of the system created in the state must be subject to improvement, love, care and respect.

Viktar Babaryka

Viktar Babaryka in the army

We outrun two strange black minibuses, and the people in the car joke that a group of hijackers is going to Bobruisk. It’s not funny for me, of course, I’m looking for my passport in my backpack and am morally preparing to end up in an isolation ward together with the candidate for an unauthorized rally. But that won’t happen until three days later, the KGB will detain Viktar on criminal charges. In the meantime, I’m still surprised by how calm he is.

– Amazing thing – the Belarusians, finding themselves in multinational teams, were the only ones who did not form compatriots in the army. Why compatriots? We know that we have cool guys around and we’re all friends. Yeah, it seems bad – we can’t unite in a community and defend our own interests. On the other hand, we never cause hatred. We have an understanding of common interest. We know that all people are worth loving, and if they are, why divide them into left and right?

A dairymaid in a collective farm should know that this milk will be drunk by a pilot of the national airline, and then by a minister who will adopt a decree on development of the dairy industry. This is called “the butterfly effect” – the small and the insignificant just don’t exist. Anything you do is the beginning of a huge chain that affects everyone in your country. And the country changes for the better when you do your job well.

People in Bobruisk gathered on the square in front of the mall. The members of the initiative groups and their sympathizers were a hundred or two hundred. Grandmothers, women with baby strollers, men. Viktar was not heard, because he came without a microphone – otherwise it would have been considered as an unauthorized meeting. Two policemen were standing across the street behind the tree and were watching silently. It was a bit of a shame that only ten people in the first circle could hear the presidential candidate, while the rest hundred read lips. People were taking live streams and Babaryka’s voice sounded like an echo of a dozen devices at the same time. In half an hour Viktar answered the questions, and we went to the nearest executive committee to submit the signatures – we had to have time to visit three Bobruisk branches before the end of the day. In the car, Viktar continued to talk about circles of love.

– Each of us has a childhood memory, where you remember yourself the happiest. Emotional intelligence is formed at a very early age, and such memories determine our fate. A man comes into the world like a blank sheet of paper. He has only an emotional perception: the warmth of his mother, a smile. Even neglected children will remember the caring hands of a nurse. These people put something into us at a very early stage, they form feelings, not knowledge. I am zakahany with Belarus because Belarusians know how to surround themselves with love since childhood. We do not have cataclysms. Everything is very atmospheric, soft and gentle. I was not born on the shore of the ocean. I wasn’t born in the mountains with their majesty. I was born in a world that is very warm and homely.

Viktar and his wife Marina

Viktar and his wife Marina

Viktar and his wife Marina. In 2017, she died tragically while diving.


The biggest executive committee in Bobruisk looks like a mausoleum. A faded billboard with photos of honorary citizens of the city, among them Lidia Yermoshina (note “Chairwoman  of Central Election Commission of Belarus) stands by the road. I thought that even under Babaryka this billboard would not go anywhere – but a tender for a good designer would be announced, because the blue police background and outdated frames do not add any honor to the natives. Viktar Babaryka went to submit the signatures with his guard. They were gone for half an hour.

– Most of Belarusians will surround you with care, as we do now when we hand out our signatures. Somebody thinks we’ve always been scared. We’ve never been! We were just letting you know that you were doing the wrong thing. Our agreement to tolerate is not dictated by our weakness. It is dictated by love. And when you’re finally convinced that a person doesn’t understand – well, tough luck! But even our guerrillas stem from a reluctance to believe that violence, war and the power method lead to good. We know that we’ll outlast all the running and the screaming. Belarusians were always freed: by Russians from Poles, by Poles from Russians. Amazing thing: we were of such value. We are not weak. We’re just wiser. Because our craving for tenderness and love is formed in childhood.

Then the early stage of nation formation begins – a period of communication with peers. I enter the teenage world, and it is important for me to understand how to treat my peers who live in other families and conditions. And here a wonderful thing happens: there are peoples for whom the first place is given to the family and the tribe, for some it’s given to the race. But I am zakahany with Belarus because for us all are good and all are our friends. I do not have an individualistic belonging to the nation and territory – neither teachers nor parents taught me this. You do not come out as an exceptional nation, but as a nation loving everyone. A vivid example of GDL (the Great Dutchy of Lithuania) – there were many peoples living there, and everyone had their own name. At any time, Belarusians were a compromise kind of people, our individuality was expressed in accepting another individuality without asserting our own right. What does an invader do? He’s planting his own history. Weak people obey and forget themselves. And we absorb and assimilate. Once, and slowly, everyone turns out to be Belarusian. And the Belarusian language doesn’t go anywhere!

Viktar Babaryka at one of the pickets

Viktar Babaryka at one of the pickets, June, 2020.


The third story is about adult life. I am zakahany with Belarus because we do not interfere with anyone’s life. We do business without conquering, squeezing, or competing. We grow organically and are ready for any association. We are unique as partners – all over the world they say that Belarusians do not let down. He may not pay, but he will know that he owes you. If he thrives, he’ll definitely give money back. I’m zakahany with Belarus because we can’t cheat for our own benefit. We respect our debtors and creditors. We don’t come to punish them. Even when they’re worth punishing, we still don’t do that.

And eventually we have the period of leaving. This is where the circle of love closes. We become those old people who take babies into their arms. We ourselves will someday become a memory for the new generation. And it doesn’t matter if we have children of our own, or if they are nephews or other people’s children. There are different old people: some travel around the world and tell us about their past exploits; some sit and mumble. And our old people want to give all their lives to those who fall into their sphere of influence. Those phrases like “eat” and “when are you getting married?” – It’s not about taking care of yourself anymore. It’s time to think about your children, strangers, dogs and cats in the yard. We’re wrapping the world around with a warm blanket. The old people are closing this inseparable circle, and I am zakahany with Belarus because I am dying surrounded by loving people in my favorite place.

Viktar Babaryka was detained three days later, on Thursday, June 18th. The articles he is charged of are not disclosed. 365,000 out of 434,000 collected signatures were submitted to the CEC, the decision on registration as presidential candidates will be taken on July 14th.

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