Long-distance dialogue with the guest of the Caffè Sospeso Network who has just returned to Kiev

Dear Tanya,

it was an honor and a great satisfaction to finally have you with us and to meet you in person. The promise we made has come true and we are very happy about it. Now, after the conclusion of your trip to Italy, invited by the Naples Human Rights Film Festival and the Suspended Coffee Network, we would like to have some impressions from you on the meaning of this mission.

The objectives that we had given ourselves on the eve of departure were mainly two: (1) to make known the political and social conditions in which the people of Belarus live and (2) to tell your life to the public of the Network to support your work as an activist of Human Rights through Cinema.

Then, after your transfer to Ukraine due to the persecution you were subjected to, it seemed important to us to also have your testimony on the living conditions of the Ukrainian people (especially the inhabitants of the capital Kiev), subjected to Russian occupation and bombing, and about the views you found in Italy on the Russo-Ukrainian war.

We would like to know your opinion on all this through a few questions that I ask you to answer honestly.

1) What sensations did you bring back from the trip to Italy? You have known 5 different Italian regions and received different hospitality. Did you think you would be welcomed more warmly? did you find enough attention for your story or were you expecting more curiosity?

In all the cities of Italy, I met only hospitality and empathy, the differences were only in the landscape and Italian dishes. The Italian people are very compassionate. I am tormented by the conscience that not everywhere I thanked the Italians for their help to children affected by the Chernobyl disaster. And we in Belarus have known about this since childhood. It was also important for me to feel that my values are shared by a large number of Italians. While we may have different views on the war in Ukraine, we have always shared the importance of human rights and freedom. The interest in my story exceeded my expectations. I know that the situation in Belarus and Belarus itself are not at the top of the news, especially after the start of a new phase of the war in Ukraine. Therefore, I was pleased that people were interested in what was happening in Belarus.

2) You told us the current history of Belarus and the most recent part of your life. What future do you imagine for Belarus and what do you wish for? What does your country lack most to be effectively democratic? Who and what can help Belarus become a truly democratic country?

Unfortunately, the future of Belarus depends very much on the results of the war in Ukraine. The dictatorial regime in Belarus is supported by Russia. If not for Russian support and influence, my country would have been part of the European family for a long time. The war in Ukraine began in 14 just because Putin could not control Ukraine as he does in Belarus. We can get a chance for a democratic country only if Putin is defeated. Therefore, many Belarusians are now striving to help Ukraine. But it will only be a chance, only the Belarusians themselves can build a democratic country. I believe that we can still do it – break out of the hands of Russia and become a European country.

3) In some meetings you told us that in Ukraine you feel more free, despite the war, and that the thing that matters most is to free yourself from Russian colonialism at any cost. Do you think that continuing to fight with weapons is the best solution to get out of Russian hegemony or do you think there is a possible diplomatic solution in which you can find the support of other countries, for example Europeans?

I am sure that the Ukrainians would be very happy to end the war through negotiations, however, the conditions offered by Russia are unacceptable. Russia wants to end the war leaving behind the territory, and more importantly, the citizens of Ukraine, which it has occupied. Ukraine has learned from bitter experience – part of the territories was already occupied in 2014. If the result of this new phase of the war is a new occupation, it only means that Putin will again get time for a new offensive. Ukrainians are motivated to end the war by liberating their citizens and territories so that their children do not have to fight. It is impossible to stop the war by once again giving Russia part of the territories and leaving mass war crimes unpunished. This will mean everything is just a respite until the next phase.

As for Belarus, we also have a difficult situation, as some people sincerely support Lukashenka and Putin. Of course, these are mainly officials and military. I would very much not like the representatives of the democratic forces to gain power in Belarus by force of arms. I really want change to happen through negotiations.

4) If the war in Ukraine will continue for some more years, what do you think the role of Belarus will be in the coming years? Will there be more involvement from your country or do you think it will remain an external supporter of Putin’s Russia? Do you think European countries are willing to go to war with Russia?

I hope that Lukashenka does not drag the Belarusians into the war more than he already did. Fortunately, the offensive from Belarus was unsuccessful, and from the territory of Belarus they stopped firing missiles at the cities of Ukraine. The last rocket from Belarus was fired in August 2022, I think around that time Lukashenka realized that Putin could lose. So now he tries to participate in it as little as possible. It is not easy for him because Putin is his only ally and cannot be angered. Therefore, Lukashenka makes a lot of statements in his support and says “we are with Russia forever.” But even though he really does not want to participate in this war, Putin can force him.

I think that European countries are not ready to fight with Russia psychologically in the first place. All these statements about negotiations to stop the war are nothing more than fear. Politicians want simple solutions – to reassure Putin about the Ukrainian territories and hope that during their rule Putin will not invade Europe or the political regime in Russia will somehow change. But I am sure that if Russia starts a war with Europe, then after a psychological shock, the Europeans will unite and be effective. I hope this will never happen and Russian aggression will be stopped in Ukraine.

5) Cinema cannot make war or revolution, but it can help raise awareness of peace and just causes. Do you believe that Human Rights Cinema can also be useful in a situation of armed conflict like this or not?

In Ukraine, after a large-scale invasion, cultural life continues and, of course, human rights exhibitions, performances and festivals. But we need to understand that in an acute period of conflict, people have no time for reflection and communication with people of other views. Lots of pain and suffering.

But I am absolutely sure that films about human rights can prevent conflicts. If discussion had been developed in Russia, if the media and associations had been free, we would not have seen that mass support for Putin’s actions. To some extent, there are omissions on the Ukrainian side as well. For a very long time, the state did not pay enough attention to the differences and division between the west and east of the country. Putin skillfully played on this in 14, propaganda presented the beginning of the war as a civil conflict. It was not a civil conflict, but certainly there were differences and they could have been avoided or reduced if enough attention had been paid to human rights education and discussion.

As for countries with stable democracies, I urge you not to let your guard down. Use movies about human rights to educate people. This process cannot be stopped. Each generation requires attention and education. Democracy is not something we inherit forever. We must support this process daily.

6)      Finally, your opinion about the work of the Naples Festival. Do you think the work of the Suspended Coffee Network with regard to persecuted intellectuals like you is useful or do you think that something more useful can be done by acting differently? Can the media coverage that we have activated in your regard with the Italian public help you gain the support of those who admire and appreciate you or is it of little use? If you want to give us advice to have a greater impact, we gladly accept it.

When I went to Italy, I didn’t quite understand how works the Suspended Coffee Network. But already in the process and when I left, I dreamed of doing such a program for my country. Firstly, it is support for dissidents, and secondly, it is very useful for people who come to meetings. Media coverage is a separate important part and I did not even expect that my voice would spread so widely as a result. Suspended Coffee Network – This is a very interesting form of working with the audience. Perhaps I will repeat it with pleasure in democratic Belarus. It will be an Italian franchise!

Thank you for the courtesy with which you will answer us and see you soon. Our collaboration will continue in the coming months.

Good job and good luck!

Maurizio del Bufalo