“Till the very last moment Edik was sure that it would not affect him”: Interview with the girlfriend of Eduard Babariko

This is a translation of the article previously published in The Village Belarus on the 20th of June, 2020.

While Viktor Babariko and his son Eduard are in the detention facility of KGB, his team has submitted the documents to the Central Election Commission to register Viktor as a presidential candidate. A wave of protests against the detention of Babariko took place across the country yesterday — Belarusians lined up in live chains, chanted “release” and beat people back from riot police.

Eduard’s girlfriend — Alexandra Zvereva, who is engaged in crowdfunding platform Ulej, answered our questions on the Babariko family, rummages and apolitical youth.

How did you meet Eduard? When did he introduce you to Viktor, under what circumstances? Did you get along right away?

Edik and I met back in 2012. We first met on December 1 and have not been apart for a single day since then. Sounds cheesy, but that’s how it is. On December 31 we were celebrating New Year’s Eve with his family. That’s when I saw his mother, father and sister for the first time. I was doubting whether it was a good idea: to celebrate New Year, which I consider to be a family holiday, with the people I would meet for the first time. My friend expressed a very compelling argument: if everything works out between Edik and yourself, you will have to meet his family anyway, and doing it during a celebration is the best idea. Everyone is happy, having fun, and no one will pay much attention to you. It was a strong argument.

I remember a small cosy pink house (this was the last New Year’s Eve, that Edik’s family celebrated in their house on the Tsna river). The first person I met when I entered the house was Edik’s mom. I was absolutely struck by her because she was in a stunning flying dress and smiled a lot with a sincere, happy smile. I think that in order to understand what kind of person Viktor Dmitrievich is, one should visit their house any day of the week and look at how his wife smiles. If someone tells me that this does not say anything about a man, I will probably turn around and leave. Because it does say pretty much everything. Back then I did not know what Viktor Dmitrievich was doing workwise. Rather, perhaps Edik mentioned that he worked in a bank, but I hardly attached any importance to this.

Edik has a really wonderful family. For me, it was and still is an example of what I would like to have in the future. I always told Edik that this is the only thing I am jealous about: that there is this place where he can go any moment and there will be two people who love and accept him unconditionally.

Edik’s sister was living in London, at the time we met, then she moved to Sydney. I regularly met with Viktor Dmitrievich at their house, we went on vacations together, dined together, but I can’t call it a close connection. We were quite close with Edik’s mom. We used to call each other, chat in the kitchen, I shared very personal things with her a couple of times. She was wonderful. Viktor Dmitrievich is one of the most (if not the most) smart and interesting people I have met. He is incredibly charismatic, and when he tells some stories at home, you can listen to him for hours. He is very decent, very sincere, and he is incredibly kind.

How did you react to Victor’s decision to run for president and Eduard’s decision to help him?

When Edik told me that Viktor Dmitrievich was going to run for president, I asked how he (Edik) had let him do it. The classic phrase “well, you know” in this case is transformed into “you know what country we live in”. Edik’s father took a very courageous step. He gave up his good and calm life because he sincerely believes in Belarus, in himself and in his ideals. And that’s really all that drives them. And I understand that for most people it is much more difficult to believe in this state of things than in any conspiracy theory that will be broadcasted to the masses.

I said that if it was my father, I would have barricaded the door, ate the keys and would have done everything to talk him out of this step. But Viktor Dmitrievich is not my father. He is Edik’s father. And he raised a strong and courageous son who supported his father’s decision and worked hard 16 hours a day from the very beginning. If the question is how I reacted to Edik’s decision to help his father, then I don’t even know what to answer. It goes without saying. No one even considered any other options.

What do you think about the charges? Did you expect things to turn out this way? If so, at what point did you start preparing for it?

Now I’m waiting. Mostly for news. Somewhere deep down, a little — for a miracle. At the same time, I’m scrolling through the news, replying to a million messages, trying to write about what is happening on my Instagram and Facebook. When I found out that Edik and his father were detained, and there is a chance that I will be the next one, I picked up my phone and started writing an Instagram post. There was a lot of information on Facebook and not much on Instagram. I wanted as many people as possible to know what was going on. At that moment this was the only way I could help Edik.

It’s hard to say anything about expectations. I think no one has expected such fear from the authorities and such scale of actions caused by this fear. Even Victor Dmitrievich himself. After all, he already quoted one of their conversations with Edik, when Edik asked “are you aware of all your sins?”, And Viktor Dmitrievich answered “probably not all of them” (I emphasize: this is a joke, and in this case it has nothing to do with violations of the law) . You see what is happening now. And this is provided that Viktor Dmitrievich is an absolutely law-abiding person. If it were otherwise, he would not have acted as he had. And what charges have been brought against him now? “Exerting pressure on witnesses”? This show is happening provided that there is nothing to dig up. Imagine if there was?

Nevertheless, Viktor Dmitrievich considered his detention to be a potential extreme measure to prevent him from running for presidency, that is, he assumed that such development of events was possible. Especially after they began detaining the bank employees and his friends. Until the very last moment Edik was sure that this would not affect him. He said that his hands are clean and his detention would be the height of cynicism. Well, here we are. At this very height. Yesterday, when my friend asked me to leave my home, and I refused to do so, arguing that there was nothing to detain me for, he asked, “was there anything to detain Edik for?”. I understand: no, there wasn’t. My friend added, “Well, so do not add any unnecessary worries for him, there is more benefit from us while we are free.” And I understand that he is totally right.

Are you expecting a rummage? Did you prepare for it somehow?

Edik is the closest and dearest person for me. We have been together for seven years. Now he is under arrest. Is there any option where I could respire? Certainly only one: when he is released and this whole nightmare ends.

I do not need to prepare for rummages. There are no gold bars and paintings worth a couple of hundred thousands dollars in our apartment. Not even a safe. A TUT.BY journalist “caught” me near the entrance to the building, started asking questions. It started raining, she asked about the apartment and I offered her to come in. We got in and she said “Does the son of a former banker live here?” I told her that as soon as I saw Edik, I would certainly forward her remark to him. Then the photos of the house were published on TUT.BY and someone wrote in the comments “were you too shy to show the house from the inside?”.

I assume that if it was necessary there would be no hesitation. The house also does not have marble, fretworks, nor gold toilets. Marina Yuryevna was taking care of it, and she had a good taste. The house on the Tsna river was actually quite modest. Believe me, some of my peers have apartments that look way more rich. Another point: until recently, the family had two cars — two old land cruisers. Not a Bentley, not a Maserati, not even a Mercedes. Two Toyotas. This is not to the fact that people lived poorly, but to the point that Edik’s parents had completely different values. There was “Chance“ (International Children’s Charity Foundation), there were other projects. Marina Yurievna helped abandoned animals and those who sheltered them.

Eduard and yourself are not married. By law you will not be able to see him whilst he is in detention. Have you thought about it or discussed it previously?

It’s funny that it is first time in my life when I realise that marriage brings certain advantages. Until now I haven’t seen any practical point to have that (marriage) stamp in my passport. No, we have not discussed it previously. Anyway, it’s not the worst thing for me. If I wasn’t able to see him now, but knew he was windsurfing at Bali it would be a different story. But he is in a cell now. Of course, I would want to share the burden with him, hold him and tell him that I am with him and we will get over it. But even more than that I would not want to play a Decembrist wife role — I will try to do everything in my power for him to be home at the soonest opportunity.

How do the public support you? Are you feeling pressured by the authorities?

When I phoned my friends yesterday and asked them to come they dropped whatever they were doing and were at my place in 20 minutes. We were staying there from 2 pm until 8 pm and we ordered some takeaways. I had fallen asleep when my friend took my laptop away from me, and was waiting for me to go to my room to get some sleep. His girlfriend was determined to feed me with an omelette for breakfast, my other friend brought my favourite curd cheese pancakes. I am very lucky with people around me and I am very grateful to them. I am not even mentioning all those people that approach me on social media, including those I have never known before and express their support and offer any help. I am asking just one thing now: share the information and apply to participate in local electoral committees. Sharing a link to the ‘Honest People’ platform. At this stage this is the only thing you can do to help Edik and Viktor Dmitrievich.

The authorities did not put any pressure on me. By the way, I still believe there are honest and decent people working there as well. Maybe they are craving changes too and are scared too.

Did you come across any haters? Or are you only getting words of support?

I didn’t get a single negative message, only the words of support, very kind and sincere ones. I am grateful to everyone who messaged me, even if I didn’t get back to you.

Did you expect such a great deal of attention to you?

I don’t feel any special attention, people are just writing to support me. I don’t see it as any particular attention. Yes, there were few people where you could see from their messages they have a greater interest in this story, but this is not what bothers me now.

Were you interested in politics before?

I can’t say I had no interest at all — that would be bizarre, as it is one of the factors affecting your life in some way. But I wasn’t close to details of it. In general politics as well as economy is not something I understand well, but I find it interesting to read or listen about it. In this regard I was very lucky to have met Edik, because he knows literally everything. E.g. we have watched The Big Short together, I loved the movie, but there were gaps in understanding — all those ‘bulls’, ‘bears’, AAAs and BBBs. So I asked him to explain how the stock exchanges work and he did explain and in an easy to understand manner and it was very interesting. To me it is an indicator of a person with intellect. You know, there are people who overuse all those complicated words but there is no meaning in what they say. To me a clever person is the one who can explain complex things with simple words. Edik has got it from his father.

What do you think about youngsters who say they are apolitical?

As I said to be truly apolitical one would need to live in a hippie village and stroll naked on a beach, this way you will have politics as far as possible from you. But if you live in a flat that you pay for, you have a paid job, you pay your taxes and you want your taxes not to be used to build castles, but rather have a public park gym near your house, good parking or have little cosy coffee shops, not only in the city centre, but on the outskirts next to your house as well so that you can go and have a breakfast with you family there — all this involves politics. That’s why when someone says they are apolitical I think of two scenarios. The first one being they are lazy to think for themselves and the second one they live in Belarus and hence see no point in it. Ok, there can be a third one when you are very young and very much into something or someone else, then it’s all cool. I just wonder whether any of those people will read this interview.

Do you regret Eduard getting into all this?

It’s Edik’s decision. To me the important thing is that he wouldn’t regret. I am almost sure that he doesn’t yet.

How can people help you?

I was writing about it in details here.

What do you believe will be the outcome?

I believe it will not be as before. People awoke, they have a hope, they know realistic stats. Belarusians they don’t want to be little people, they don’t want to be beggars, they don’t want to hate those who are richer than them. They want an opportunity to peacefully work and be fairly paid. Money means opportunities. Opportunities to get education, travel, take unpaid leave if you need to and not to worry how to make ends meet. Money gives an opportunity to be useful for the community and help others. A human nature works in a way that a person first needs to satisfy their own ambitions and needs. Once those are met they make the next step. Someone living in poverty cannot donate for good causes (however poor Belarusians are impressive — no matter how bad things are for them they still manage to help others), cannot organise festivals, gift books, repatriate arts. Only rich people set up charity funds. Yes, I am hinting at that known story. But prior to it I was of the same opinion.

When I went to school my grandfather used to say that only rich people should go into politics. Because if you are well off you will not try to gain benefits for yourself. Your goal will be to do something for people and give something to others. I concur with grandpa to this day.

This is a translation of the article previously published in The Village Belarus on the 20th of June, 2020.

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Voices from Belarus

Voices from Belarus

Stories of people hoping for a democratic Belarus. Created, translated and moderated by a collective of independent authors.