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Maria Kalesnikava: an Advocate for Freedom in Belarus – Raise the Voices

Maria Kalesnikava is a Belarusian musician and political activist, who is a member of the Coordination Council Presidium which was formed in 2020 as a result of 2020 Belarusian post-election protests.

Two actions have changed the life of Maria: the first one – to endorse the opposition candidate for the president in the 2020 presidential election, and the second one – to tear her passport in order to thwart the plans of intelligence agencies to expel her from the country. The first action made her the leader of the Belarus protest movement, second – brought her to jail.

“It is clear that I want freedom for the Belarusian people, the concrete expression of which is new fair elections, but for me this is also a very personal story….. [current authorities] really want us to be afraid, but we have nothing to fear, because we do not break the law and act strictly within its framework. I understand that in the current situation it sounds ridiculous, but we will not give them pleasure to see how we huddled under the sofa and do nothing.”

Before entering politics, Kalesnikava was a musician – flutist, conductor, and tutor. She was a member of the orchestra and traveled across Europe with the concerts. In 2007 she moved to Germany for permanent residency and there she worked as a musician, art curator, and organizer of the cultural and art events and exhibitions. Despite the fact that she lived in Germany, she always thought about her motherland and had strong connections with her country, for the last three years she has worked simultaneously in two countries.

“Because I have a very specific personal goal – people who are close to me should be set free. And I know that I will not be able to be in cozy Stuttgart (in Germany Maria studied playing the baroque flute – approx.) Or anywhere else, knowing that they are here in the KGB pre-trial detention center or in other prisons”

In 2017 BelGazPromBank which was chaired by Viktar Babaryka decided to organize the new cultural hub – Ok16 and invited Maria to become the head of the hub. At that time Maria Kalesnikava said that the main aim of such art centers is to attract young people to openly talk about social problems, to visit art events, and to spend funds on culture. She was a supporter of the concept a2b – art to business, according to which art and culture should be connected and sponsored by business.

On May 12 Viktar Babaryka announced his run for president, several prominent figures in Belarus endorsed him including Sviatlana Aleksievich. Maria became the campaign manager of Babaryka’s presidential campaign.

When on June 18 2020 Viktar Babaryka and his son were arrested under the charge of “performing actions which contain the destructive effect on government”, Maria left without a candidate but didn’t lose faith. On July 17 2020 Maria, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and Veronika Tsepkalo (wife of another opposition candidate who had also been forced to fled the country) announced the establishment of a united campaign with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as a candidate.

After the election when Veronika Tsepkalo and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya were forced to flee the country, Maria became one of the members of the Coordination Council and leader of the protests.

“Legally, we understand this (organize a new election – ann.), but we do not know how to make the authorities start a dialogue with their own people…. I hope that everything goes to the victory of good over evil, and we all understand that this is a long process, the process of building a civil society, its mechanisms and tools, and it has just begun. This will all last a long time, I have no illusions. It will be difficult for all of us and there is a lot of work ahead.”

On September 8 along with members of the coordination council Anton Rodnenkov and Ivan Kravtsov, Kalesnikava were tried to be taken out of Belarus to the territory of Ukraine, but Kalesnikava tore her passport and got out of the car, after which she was detained. On Wednesday(September 9) it became known that she is in the Minsk jail No. 1. On September 12 she was moved from Minsk to the jail located in Zhodino.

On 16 September, the Investigative Committee of Belarus charged Kalesnikava with “actions aimed at undermining Belarusian national security” using the media and the Internet. She faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Amnesty International recognized Kalesnikava as a prisoner of conscience and demanded her immediate release.

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