March. A crowd of five people are bouncing to music and frost in front of the doors of the TNT club: as the club is overcrowded they are not let in. Spring (summer, winter) drops fall on my head, an acquaintance gives me a light; he knows he will then return into the club and have a couple of bourbons; I know I will go home.

Maryia Bialkovič
Maryia Bialkovič

“I want to play music, music drives people! March 25? What are saying about? Corrupt guys who get money for reporting to those who send them the money while other guys serve their detention terms? I don’t damn need it! Anyway, as soon as we take to street, I will protest too.”

He knows who ‘we’ are, but I don’t know.

According to one of the versions, we are Belarus, Minsk is the capital of Belarus, Zybitskaya Street is a street with the highest concentration of bars in Minsk. Also, Belarus is an IT nation developed by a former head of the main ideological department at the Presidential Administration and founder of the BRSM, a pro-Lukashenka youth movement.

“Everything here exists mostly for us,” my friend, an IT worker, is trying to shout over a remix of a ‘80s hit. “Only five percent of well-off people can visit such places regularly.”

We are at recently opened Spirit Bar on 6 Zybitskaya Street. It is a 1990s-style bar, where you can even play games on a Sega console, if you remember what it is. Come in and close the door behind you: it’s as good as in your childhood, but now you are allowed drink.

“I talk to many people. They are socially active, but they think ‘at least everything is okay here.’ They don’t see opportunities to make radical changes themselves. For four years I have been working at Wargaming, I have never seen any hot political discussions. All guys are smart, most of them see what’s going on. But they never get involved. Our guys have withdrawn into themselves. A friend of mine believes that ‘if you are smart, you can earn your grand a month.” But no, you can’t. This sector is too isolated from the rest.

We are warming beer glasses in our hands, listening to very loud music.

“If the screws are tightened on IT workers, they won’t live worse, they’ll just leave Belarus.”

They wait for protests from conditional workers of a conditional tractor plant. The workers will be followed by conditional ‘we’. After that you perhaps won’t feel shame when looking at your passport. As of now, you can hide from your shame in Facebook.

The evening is coming, a rebel’s heart is beating
The belt is ready for a fight.

July. The Belarusian Facebook feed looks like a gathering of Belarusian emigrants. Some emigrate but stay in the country. You see photos of summer houses and flower beds from human rights activists, photos of football games from journalists, photos of cocktails from young activists. Some took a serious approach, and we see Czech beer, Polish ham hocks and American burgers. You can visit Belarus from time to time, noting that there’s nothing like Zybitskaya Street even in Washington. Everything seems so real from the other shore. But it’s not the reality, it’s a metaphor.

Sometimes the feed is interrupted by the question like “Where can I download an inner emigration guide?” The main thing is to surround yourself by beauty, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Until recently, falafel was a rare thing to indulge yourself with in Berlin but not at Minsk’s Kamarouski Market; draught ale and stout available everywhere in London for centuries have been sold in Valadarski Street, down the country’s most famous jail, for a year. Kastrychnitskaya Street is called Vulica Brazil, or Brazil Street, like a large street art festival of the same name. Emigration is now available in close proximity to metro stations. You can leave civil society for tribal style belly dancing, move to a remote village for birdwatching, get drunk with a sorrel cocktail in Zybitskaya Street – it contains a double gin.

Sometimes it happens so that smoothie, sushi and falafel become enemies – in the periods of great social changes. To be more precise, enemies are people whose artistic images interrupt the Facebook feed full of arrests, violence and names of political prisoners. Well, they could have waited for a week or so. It took your mind 9 days, or 15, or 30 – depending on a jail term you get – to travel from denial to acceptance. Everything is back as usual. One day of protest is like existential political death.

Anything but a war.

By the way, Ukraine undergoes a serious food service transformation. Don’t doubt that you’ll have to update half of your updated cafe guide when you visit Kyiv next time. Places like The Fitz – with a chandelier that already became an attraction – now open in Odesa, which has never been considered as a sea resort in Ukraine. It’s needless to say about Kramatorsk, a small town where both people and the plant don’t work. It has become a regional centre after the war ended there. A cocktail bar opens at a former billiard hall at Rodina cinema theatre.

“I don’t understand everyone’s admiration for Lyubimy Dyadya,” a famous producer tells a famous photographer as they are moving through anger and Kiev traffic jams. “It’s a place for our MPs.”

Our MPs don’t go out anywhere. They organise inspections for strange reasons that give mutually exclusive results, as it was during a night raid on Zybitskaya Street in June 2017, when a sort of curfew was imposed on several bars – they were ordered to work only until 11pm, but the order was later removed. But it’s okay. A year ago, people were beaten during a similar inspection by riot police.

Because you shouldn’t forget where you live. Of course, you can forget it, forget inspections, beatings and almost 1,000 detained people during a peaceful rally on March 25, but don’t forget that the man in the presidential palace has hangover too and needs silence and calm.

November, 2–0 degrees in the street, High-Tech Park Decree 2.0 and the March of Angry Belarusians, 20 years of inner emigration to rooms with round tables and road maps. It’s a coffee break, civil society is put on pause – this pie is good, but where’s cream? Rooms in glittering hotels are for fans of undisguised casinos, conference rooms are for fans of disguised lunches. Divide and rule.

A police officer is upset because he can’t ride a motorcycle in this weather, but he doesn’t notice dozens of people freezing and standing with their legs wide apart. A nurse pushes a crawling pregnant woman towards a lift and doesn’t notice she can’t walk due to pain. The minister of transport doesn’t notice that bus fares rose. I don’t notice that my chair creaks – and get surprised when a neighbour tries to burst into my apartment screaming, “You are bothering me!”

You can make sushi at home, some even make falafel and sorrel cocktails with a double gin at home, because it’s cheaper. The further we go, the more silence and calm we need. We want not to notice anything and want others not to notice us. The further we go, the more I need my inner emigration. After all, the door can be safely locked from the inside.

Subscribe to our mailing list: