A couple of days ago, I read about how “Europe’s last dictator”, Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus, ordered the grounding of a Ryanair aircraft carrying 26 year old Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. The plane, which had been in Belarusian airspace, but was about to land at its original destination of Vilnius, Lithuania, was actually closer to Vilnius than Minsk, but because it was in Belarusian airspace, the pilots were forced to divert.
Supposedly, there had been a bomb aboard the plane, which had originated in Athens, Greece. That was the excuse given as the aircraft was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and forced to make a sudden U-turn, heading back to Minsk. But no bomb was ever found on the airplane. Aleksandr Lukashenko, a brutal strongman who has been in power in Belarus since 1994, simply wanted to arrest Roman Protasevich. Protasevich, who is Belarusian, but has been living in Lithuania in exile since 2019, is accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder. As the airplane was about to land in Minsk, Protasevich told fellow passengers that the death penalty faces him. Or, he could spent over twelve years in prison. In Belarus, Protasevich is considered a terrorist, and has been put on a terrorist list maintained by the country’s security service, which is still called the K.G.B.
I have never been to Belarus. I do know someone who went there, back when I was in the Peace Corps in Armenia, which is also a former Soviet country. I have always been fascinated by the former Soviet Union, since I grew up at a time when Americans were taught that the Soviets– especially the Russians– were people to be feared and hated. Having spent time in the former Soviet Union, I know that there are many good people there. Still, there are obviously problems with leaders who are corrupt and want to remain in power indefinitely… and perhaps even reclaim territories that had declared independence in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart.
The whole COVID-19 pandemic and all of the hassles surrounding air travel nowadays has already made me leery of traveling by air. I know I’ll eventually have to at some point, but for now, I’m definitely wanting to avoid it. After reading about this situation, I’m even less inclined to fly. There were 170 people on that flight, all of whom were completely innocent. They were forced to be a part of Lukashenko’s audacious nabbing of Protasevich. I’m sure many of them were terrified during that situation… or at least annoyed by the forced delay.
Airlines, noting that this incident might be bad for public relations and their bottom lines, are taking action against this attack. Both Greece and Lithuania are part of the European Union. Belarus is not. And the powers that be do not take kindly to aircrafts being “hijacked” by a wannabe dictator. European leaders are taking action by imposing sanctions against Belarusian authorities “violent repression and intimidation of peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists.” Airlines, for their part, are now reassessing traveling over Belarusian airspace or flying into or out of the country. That will have an effect on the country’s economy.
I realize that an event like this is pretty unusual. I doubt it will ever happen to me on a flight… although you never know what will happen, these days. I think I would rather stick to driving. Although it’s slower and statistically less safe than flying is, at least I have some control over where I might be forced to go.
I still think I would be interested in seeing Belarus someday, although I kind of doubt I’ll ever be able to. I think Russia is interesting, too, but I don’t like to reward countries with tourism dollars if they have policies that are inconvenient or unwelcoming. I doubt they miss my dollars, anyway. Besides, there are so many places to see where I can drive and they’re happy to see me and my money.
Bill just told me that he might be able to get his second Moderna shot a day early. In Wiesbaden, there’s going to be a walk in clinic for second vaccines. He’s due to get his on Thursday, but if he can do it a day earlier, that’s all the more chance that any side effects he might suffer will be over by the weekend. Meanwhile, I keep waiting for June 9th. Last night, I was looking at our favorite Stuttgart hotel. Maybe if we manage to get down there to see the dentist, I’ll go whole hog and book the suite. Sure, it’s expensive and decadent, but we’ve been locked down for ages… and since we haven’t been spending money on travel or restaurants, there’s a lot in the till. Of course, it might be better to sock it away for our old age… but I was reminded last week that old age is not guaranteed for anyone.
Anyway… I wish Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega well. I’m sure they must be terrified. As a fellow blogger who sometimes pisses people off, I can understand the fear. But the world needs people who aren’t afraid to write the truth… or even their truths. Writers are powerful people. That’s why there’s that old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” On a much smaller scale, I’ve been pressured not to share things on my space… I know how that felt for me.
Nothing I have ever written was dangerous to the point at which I could wind up in prison or be killed, but there have been people who have not liked it when I’ve written my opinions. However, I have learned that there’s great value in sharing things, even if people do get pissed off… especially when the truth is being shared. I have never read anything Roman Protasevich has written, but his situation is chilling for anyone who expresses themselves. And we can’t abide leaders doing things like hijacking planes from other countries, simply because they want to silence someone who is aboard.
I see that now, Protasevich has appeared in a video, stating that he has been treated “fairly” by Belarusian authorities. I can’t help but wonder if that statement was coerced, especially given the reputation of Belarus’s leader, and the unorthodox and illegal way they forced a commercial airplane to land so they could detain Protasevich. My guess is that he was to either make that positive statement about Belarus, or face dire consequences. Indeed, Protasevich’s father, Dmitry, has been stripped of his military rank. He and his wife, who is also Roman’s mother, left Belarus as of last August. They feared being pursued and potentially held hostage due to their son’s activities. Dmitry Protasevich describes Aleksandr Lukashenko as a “vengeful” person who does not want his activities broadcast on the world stage. Realizing that the government would “stop at nothing” to silence their son, Roman’s parents fled their homeland. But they still regard him as a hero.
Anyway… while I, too, admire Roman Protasevich for fighting the power, I don’t want to deal with being detained. Writing is brave, and I try to be brave… but I don’t like the idea of being hijacked by a wannabe dictator. So I’m going to stick to the E.U. for now… and drive.