MAKSYM SHVED
— Belarusian documentary filmmaker, author of the movie "Pure
Art" («Чистое искусство»). In the summer, Maksim was creating a new documentary in
Minsk about the presidential elections. On August 10, 2020, during the shooting of the film,
he was detained and held in Zhodino for 5 days.
.


Staying in jail itself wasn't so traumatic for me. I might even say that this experience was interesting for me as a documentary filmmaker. I spent these five days quite intensely. Though from the moment of detention and getting to the police precinct and to the moment when we were taken to Zhodino — those episodes were the most terrible.

I can't name specific examples of what impressed me the most, because everything was like in a daze. It's like an exciting ride . You've just opened your mouth at the beginning, and then — at the end — you came out with a feeling: "PHEW! All that behind". There is only this feeling left, as if something grabbed you by the stomach. Moreover, this is that feeling which lingers inside. The rest of the memories are like blurry flashes to me. The point is that the things which I observed there do not fit into my picture of the world to such an extent, and generally into what the attitude of one person to another can be, so that I perceive these events as if I had watched a movie with me in the starring role

It is hard to believe that all this — things you could not imagine, you did not expect to face — is your new reality. Here you are: reading abstractly about the Holocaust, about wars — your empathy and logic seem to start kicking into gear. However, when it happens to you, a completely different level of perception turns on. What is shocking is not even how people treat others, but that such things even happen. Therefore, the memory tries to repress this information, while the brain denies its credibility.
When I saw on the Internet photos with the leadership's portraits from the wall of the police precinct where I was staying, I even made a screenshot. It seemed to me that this is some kind of evidence that this place really exists, that I really saw it, that all this was happening to me in reality... Аnd that these photos were hanging on the wall... I stayed there almost all night and looking at their portraits was a sort of entertainment.
Zhodino is not the most comfortable place to live. 36 completely different men, whom I would have never seen in another situation, — this specific type of forced communication was precisely what was very exciting. Of course, there were also some dark moments. In the end, they started to release some people, others stayed locked up, — it was completely random. One day before we were released, we did not know at all whether they would release us or not. Moreover, we did not know where the rest of the people were taken.

For the last ones who remained in our cell, including me, ignorance was psychologically difficult; these days of waiting broke us very much. All those 5 days I watched how the guys, more cold-blooded and calm, who used to react to any situation in the most balanced way, suddenly, three out of five really, started to panic. For example, the man is lying, lying, lying, then jumps up, starts shouting, banging on the door, wailing. I watched a person have a real mental breakdown. I have never seen such expressions before.

Immediately when you get out, you get out of a very bad, unpleasant situation. It ends, and you think that this is it, you are on the bright side, and that it was just a bad dream. At first, you definitely don't think about doing any analysis of your mental state. Once I returned home, I laid down on the bed, on a large and soft bed... alone, without any strangers. Yeah, of course, it was happiness. Just a bed, but what a delight!

Nevertheless, in general, here is the logic: literally three minutes ago you were in prison and did not know when you would get out. No one explains anything, no one tells you anything. How will you get home? Will somebody meet you? Then, when you get out and everyone meets you, all this former gloomy entourage disappears at the snap of your fingers.

You know, this instantaneous switching from one reality to another — that you psychologically find yourself in such a more comfortable situation — is so overwhelming. What is there to complain about? Everything is fine!

But time passed and just then I realized that I am traumatized: I got into a specific unpleasant situation and took it with ease and calm. Even when I was telling about it, I did so simply, unceremoniously. Then, over time, something clicks in your head, anyway, and haunts you. You keep belaboring all the images from your past… I think that even now I still haven't fully realized everything.

Sometimes I read what is happening to other prisoners in Zhodino prison, where I was. It is obvious that their conditions are much worse. I just compare and understand that I was lucky to sleep on a mattress, not on the grate and not on the floor; now the guards do not allow sleeping during the day, but I was allowed to. This is how I compare my experience and I think, was I so lucky or what?
There is also this thing that turns on: I'm a man, after all. Being a man demands no complaining. You don't want to look miserable. Therefore, when you talk about your suffering, you are already in the zone of vulnerability: you open up, show trust,... as if you were "not a man".
I thought, why so? Where does this comparison with other prisoners come from? Nevertheless, again, when it hurts in several places, you have a small bruise, your hair was dyed — this is the one thing. But when a person has a completely black ass, blue-black, and he cannot really lie down, he cannot sit, he cannot do anything, — of course, it is clear that he has definitely suffered more than you. Therefore, when you go out and volunteers ask you whether you need help, it immediately brings up these pictures in your head. You are just not able to say anything about yourself. There are people who look completely different, who have been through enough pain — these are the ones who need help! And what about you... well, yes, it doesn't look like your usual weekday, but it is all tolerable.

Later, of course, you realize: it's not actually only about the bruises, but also about what is happening in your head now. And here am I, telling everybody: "I'm fine, everything is okay, I don't need anything". It is a little embarrassing to raise that topic once again. It is difficult.

Yet, in general, I monitor the situation as a whole in order to be aware of what is happening, what it is coming to, how "the screws of protest are tightening". The attitude towards imprisoned people is a part of the whole story. As far as I understand, now everything has become much worse in jail. I phoned a friend who was detained twice: at the very beginning and now, recently. I was very interested to find out the difference. He said that this time, everything got much worse. Still, I analyze and listen to stories also in order to know in general what to do if I go to jail again and what to prepare for?

I am quite active in protest life. Often — due to professional needs. For example, last weekend, while shooting a story with one character, I unwittingly participated in it myself, I was in the thick of the action: clashes, bombings, encirclement. However, sometimes, I go out freehanded — without a camera, without characters, without anything — just to show my civic position. Watching the protests while being there is always easier than monitoring Telegram chats. I guess that in reality, it is not as shocking as on the Internet.

It's impossible to stay home, it's hard to read all those things. Therefore, going out is the most optimal solution that requires less energy. In reality, you aren't always running: you are walking, strolling, you can go to a coffee shop — take some coffee, take some kind of a breather. You may not end up in extreme situations at all. It seems that on the Internet only battle reports are covered. Thus, everything is very selective there; more aggression comes out than in real life.

You can pay attention to certain things, make them positive by yourself while being in the field. The most pleasant things are when you meet distant acquaintances. You understand that a person shares these disturbing moments with you, you feel that this is an insider — 'your' person.

In a sense, I really like what is happening now. It corresponds a lot to the lifestyle that interests me, but, unfortunately, other people are forced to lead it. I really like walking, strolling. I go for walks with different friends in different districts very often. These Sunday marches... due to these marches, I feel that I am not alone in my promenades! The whole city is walking with me! I know many routes, many districts...
When I see a lot of people, I am sincerely glad that this is our common habit. Many people, interesting and real people, share it with me now.

But, despite everything, joining the demonstration is always an internal struggle. Well, above all, I've simply started looking around. I never used to look around before, but now I do it all the time. A running person, per se, can be very scary. Previously, no specific thought emerged when you saw someone running towards a trolleybus. Whereas now there is a feeling that he is running away from someone.

And in general, on any day, in any area, in the darkness, in broad daylight, — some kind of common cautiousness appeared. I am still worried about unfinished projects or that because of me somebody can be detained. When you film a character, you are responsible for both yourself and them. In this sense, the responsibility has increased.

I like when the protest transforms into different non-violent forms. I made a film about special art ("Pure Art"). I was interested in one strange artistic phenomenon: when public utility workers paint over all the graffiti and writings on the walls of Belarus cities — kind of multi-colored dull rectangles appear on buildings. Previously, that was more common in the more marginal districts of the city . And I love these places, I love to photograph them.

But now the whole city is covered with protest graffiti, and, consequently, with those rectangles and squares. Through many of them the writings "Жыве Беларусь", "3%" [literally — "Long live Belarus", "3%" is a reference to the low ratings of A. Lukashenko according to polls conducted by independent Internet media before the 2020 elections] , etc. — can be really made out. It encourages me because you can see clearly, with your own eyes, how all the usual tools of the regime gradually stop working.

This phenomenon existed because of the cult of cleanliness and order. I understood that this is not just about cleanliness and order; it is a way for the authorities to show their presence. Many people liked it, especially the tourists, they say: look how clean Belarus is. Thought for me — it is not; it's some kind of hospital sterility. Moreover, now it is collapsing. Sunday events at Roma's memorial [crackdown of those who came to the Roman Bondarenko memorial on November 15, 2020]... The authorities are very annoyed when there is no order, even such a trivial one as a clean street or a wall. They assert themselves this way. That was a vulgar act of cleaning up.

A long time ago, I told about my dream in an interview, that we will win simply through this artistic way. Everyone will go on the streets and write their own opinions on the wall, and this will be enough for the system to collapse. That, of course, was a fantasy, I understood that it was impossible, but now I see something similar happenning in reality! There are so many writings on the walls. Cleanliness and order as a manifestation of power is definitely not our cult anymore.

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