The Day of the Imprisoned Writer


This is a photo of the KGB in Minsk, Belarus. When I lived there 10 years ago I never took a photo of this building. My friends told me most likely somebody would come to take my film (yes, I hadn’t moved on to digital yet). I took this photo 3 years ago. Maybe I figured things were not so bad, or maybe the years away had made more more naive.

I was lucky enough to be part of the audience at this event for The Day of the Imprisoned Writer as part of the Dublin Book Festival:

It was recorded for RTE Arena so should be on the radio at some stage, though I’m not sure when. It will be well worth a listen.

The first story, read by Anne Enright, was this one:

Although the ‘end’ of her story was told in the title it still hit me in the gut when it was read.

Iryna Khalip read a section of her book, detailing how her mother had to prove that she was physically and mentally capable of looking after to her grandson while Iryna was under arrest.

When I went to work in Belarus, part of my teaching contract stated that I could not get involved in Belarusian politics/protests and I could not discuss politics in the classroom either. My immediate thought on reading this was that I wanted to find a protest to join. Predictably, I didn’t. In the immediate years after leaving I regularly read the website to follow what was going on in the country, though less so as the years have passed.

Many of the friends I got to know don’t live there any more; they live in America, Canada, Germany, Belgium, England, Austria and here in Ireland. With those who are left, I usually discuss ordinary life, not politics.

In Iryna’s words: “If you are obedient, if you are not interested in the political situation, if you stay away from the oppositional websites, if you stay away from opposition rallies, if you don’t speak about the political situation, then you can feel enough comfort.”

It is easiest to do nothing and live in relative ease, but it is not a way to live a whole life. We have to be grateful to the people like Iryna who are brave and continue reporting even when it is dangerous.


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