- “We will definitely find you … and we will hang you, side-by-side,” the main Belarusian government newspaper, Sovietska Belarus, wrote on 27 December 2020.reetheatre.com)
“Death threats were always part of our life … but this is the first time the main columnist of Sovietska Belarus is using such language,” she told EUobserver from London last week, where they have lived for almost 10 years after receiving asylum and UK nationality.
- British citizenship and international awards are not enough to make Belarusian dissident Natalia Kaliada and her husband Nicolai Khalezin feel safe after a high-profile death threat.
Kaliada, a former diplomat, and Khalezin, a journalist, are co-founders of Belarus Free Theatre, which puts on anti-Belarus regime plays around the world.
They also lobby for Western sanctions against regime financiers.
And these include Russian oligarchs, such as Mikhail Gutseriev, whose family also lives in London, and whose intimate links to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko were recently exposed by British newspaper The Telegraph.
“Clearly, we’ve become a target … it’s getting more tense,” Kaliada said.
“We have British citizenship, so in that [Sovietska Belarus] column, they’re threatening citizens of other countries and the UK needs to take responsibility,” she told EUobserver.
“People somehow continue to be killed and poisoned here [in Britain],” she added, referring to previous Russian murders and attempted murders of Russian émigrés in the UK.
“The [British] government needs to understand the threat is also coming from smaller dictators than [Russian president Vladimir] Putin to citizens of their country,” Kaliada said.
A British foreign office spokeswoman told EUobserver: “The UK condemns the intimidation and persecution of Belarusian political opposition figures by Lukashenko’s regime,” in reaction to the Sovietska Belarus threat.
“We continue to call for a genuine and constructive political dialogue between the authorities, the opposition, and civil society to resolve this crisis peacefully,” she added, referring to pro-democracy protests in Belarus.
“I only hope the economy of Belarus is pretty weak, but if he [Lukashenko] previously found €1.2m for this type of thing, knowing that he has billions in his personal fortune, you never know,” Kaliada said.
She spoke after EUobserver revealed that Lukashenko, back in 2012, put a small fortune in a secret account to finance assassinations abroad.
“Knowing what Lukashenko already did to our friends … we feel like anything could happen,” Kaliada said, referring to the vanishing of four opposition activists in Belarus in 1999 and to what she called the “staged suicide” of eminent Belarusian journalist Oleg Bebenin in 2010.
Kaliada already came close to losing her life.
She was about to fly from Minsk to London to stage a play in the run-up to Belarus elections in December 2010 when it happened.
“It was 5AM when we got to the airport and some people dressed in black came over to me, just before boarding. They took away my passport and my boarding pass and said: ‘Do you understand you’re the leader of a terrorist group? Do you understand you’ll disappear now?’,” she recalled.
“They took me down several floors and into a dark corridor and I thought to myself: ‘They’re going to shoot me in the back of the head now, like they do with the death penalty [in Belarus]’. But I tried my luck and said: ‘Guys! It’s a bad idea to kidnap me on the way to London right before elections. If I vanish now, you’ll get into trouble and your boss, Lukashenko, will be in such deep shit, you’d better let me go’,” she said.
The men-in-black made some phone-calls, then let her board her flight, which had been held up for an hour over the incident.
But Kaliada has vowed to continue her opposition despite the risks. “It’s in my DNA,” she said.
She also paid tribute to pro-democracy protesters in Belarus, who have kept up demonstrations for over 150 days after rigged elections in August, despite police sadism and the onset of winter.
“I have no words to express how brave they are,” Kaliada told EUobserver.