AATSEEL Statement on Uladzimir Niaklajeu

Statement of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages concerning Repressions in Belarus

The American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages (AATSEEL) expresses its profound concern for the well being of Belarus political prisoners arrested for their participation in peaceful demonstrations in Minsk, Belarus, on December 19th 2010. As an association of scholars, we are especially alarmed by the fate of Uladzimir Niaklajeu (Уладзiмер Някляеў), a leading Belarusian poet and presidential candidate in the December 2010 election. On December 19th, Niaklajeu was brutally beaten by unidentified men believed to be secret police, as he was leading supporters to a rally to protest massive falsification of elections. Later that day he was abducted from an intensive care unit by men in civilian clothing and taken to the Minsk KGB prison. After 41 days in prison, Niaklajeu was placed under house arrest under armed guard, denied any outside contact, including access to the telephone, internet or any mass media.

Our appeal follows urgent statements to free Niaklajeu issued by the international literary community, including Evgenii Evtushenko, Andrey Bitov, Boris Vasil’ev, Victor Erofeev, Eduard Uspensky and others. The head of the Lithuanian Writers’ Union Jonas Liniauskas and Polish writer Czeslaw Seniuch have also actively voiced their support. Official declarations expressing solidarity with Niaklajeu and calling for the immediate release of all Belarus political prisoners were also made by the Pen Centers of Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Iceland, the Moscow Union of Writers, and the International Pen Center. We are honored to join our European colleagues in literature and philology in calling for the unconditional release of other Belarusian men and women of letters declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International: literary scholar and political scientist Alaksandr Fiaduta and journalists Natalla Radzina (“Charter97”) and Iryna Khalip (“Novaya Gazeta”), the latter two now under house arrest.

While gravely concerned with the fate of all Belarusian prisoners of conscience, we consider the brutal treatment of Uladzimir Niaklajeu not only a crime against humanity, but a violent strike against Belarusian literature and culture. Niaklajeu is a foremost Belarusian poet, whose accomplishments have secured him the status of a contemporary literary classic. He is author of more than a dozen books of poetry and several collections of prose. Niaklajeu has followed in the footsteps of modernist poets Ryhor Baradulin and Ales’ Razanau. Such books as Proshcha (“Proshcha,” 1996) and Kon (“Kon,” 2010) brought the author international acclaim.

Niaklajeu was distinguished by many literary awards, among them the Order of the Badge of Honor (for contribution to literature) (1986), the Yanka Kupala award for literature (for “Proshcha” (1998), and, following his arrest, an award of the Viktor Astafiev Fund, with a special citation “for civic courage,” Krasnoyarsk (December 2010).

AATSEEL appeals to the governments of the United States and the European Union to operate through every available channel to secure the unconditional release of Uladzimir Niaklajeu and other political prisoners and to ensure their access to proper medical care. We express our deep concern for the lives of those arrested and for the damage caused to the Slavic and East European culture by the current actions of the Belarus government.