Belarusian PEN Center awarded the 2007 Ales Adamovich Prize to Paval Sevyarynets. The political prisoner, famous for his christian-democratic views, writes weekly essays for Nasha Niva under the common title “Letters from Forest”. On 15 February the State commission refused to release Sevyarynets before the appointed time because he allegedly “did not enter the path of improvement of his villain character”. This is the translation of the exempt from Paval's recent “Letter from Forest”, published in today's issue of Nasha Niva.

Every day in the village of Alyoshcha two or three freight train cars are loaded. They will go to “Yawropa” – and namely Italy, Hungary, Baltic countries. For a cubic meter of round timber – birch, asp or fur-tree – 20 to 30 euros are paid at the European market. Despite the active trade, the “Polatskles” concern balances on the verge of bankruptcy, loans money from banks to pay out salaries. Every month Maloje Sitna is shaken by rumors claiming that the concern will soon be shut down.

Timber harvesting is one of the fields of Belarusian economy, which is directly threatened by the possible lifting of European trade preferences from Belarusian export due to the abuse of the rights of trade unions in the country. Surely, such terms as “the workers' rights”, “accident prevention”, and “decent salary” are empty values here. But the official reaction to the European accusations has already appeared in Alyoshcha. By order from the authorities in the city of Polatsk, the lists of the “Maloye Sitna trade union leadership”(!), “timber production community workshop committee”(!), and the “public inspectors”(!). The trade union leaders, workshop committee members and the public inspectors, who have just learned about their posts from the mysterious papers which appeared of the walls of the cabin, burst into laughter. “Look, Pyatro, you seem to be an inspector or something!” “Hey, Paulauna, you are a trade-union-group-org yourself!” “Ugh, don't call me names…”

Paval Sevyarynets, former (1998-2004) leader of the unregistered “Young Front”. He was sentenced to a labor camp two years ago for organizing the protests after the 2004 referendum. Now he lives in a labour camp (which the common folk calls “the chemistry”) in Maloye Sitna, in a northern part of Belarus, working in severe conditions at timber harvesting.

“Yawropa!” – gladly breathes out the mustached “chemist” Mikola with high temples. “That's it, we are going west now. We will get 20 “euriki” an hour, like them in Germany”. “Yeah, right”, the crane-operator Ivan doubts, “Yawropa… Here you can pay either “euriki” or “tigriki”, the people will spend them for booze in any case. Yawropa – it is when a person aspires to something”.

The remark of the crane-operator from Alyoshcha deciphers the opposition slogan “Belarus – to Europe!” much more correct, than the official propaganda, and much more capacious, than the opposition strategists. The person is the key. The Belarusian citizen. And its aspiration or not- aspiration.

The aspiration is the essence of the historic European phenomenon. Strong, on the edge of capability, aspiration to freedom, justice, creativity. To the spiritual discovery. To the perfection. To the God, after all. When you see the Ukrainian and Moldavian democrats, see the happy Romanians and Bulgarians on television, even Georgia, which storms the gates of the European Union, you see right away: they aspire. Quite the contrary, a Belarusian, in his late forties, is marked by low spirits, apathy and lack of faith.

It may sound like a paradox, but this “aspiration” is the most burning issue for today's Europe, especially its western part, which Americans like to call the Old. The attractive and majestic sites of Paris and London, Rome and Madrid are more and more often colored in the shades of flabby self-conceit, apathetic consumption, spoilt decadence, and, as a result, the helpless inability to face the global challenges. Sometimes, in my leisure time, I look into the eyes of Europe – “Euronews” channel, and notice the strikingly familiar and limpness and indifference, so characteristic of the older generation of Belarusians...

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