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Volha Kalackaja Read a Poem by Margaret Atwood in Her Last Word in Court

Last update: 23 March 2021
Volha Kalackaja Read a Poem by Margaret Atwood in Her Last Word in Court
Nasha Niva (nn.by)
The trial  in the case of translator Volha Kalackaja accused of malicious hooliganism under paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 339 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus took place on March 23.

The investigation has determined that Volha slapped the journalist of the state TV channel STV Ryhor Azaronak (Grigoriy Azaryonok) at least once during a mass action on November 15, 2020. The incident occurred at the Pushkinskaya metro station in Minsk, where residents of the city gathered to honor the memory of the artist Raman Bandarenka, who died three days earlier after a clash with unknown people in his neighborhood.

State prosecutor Valeryja Taratajka demanded two years of restriction of freedom at home for the defendant although the victim Ryhor Azaronak has not applied to the police, refused to complain to Kalackaja and wrote a petition to terminate the criminal case against her, and the parties reconciled in the courtroom. The prosecution speaks of a “double object of criminal encroachment“: they say that Kalatskaya attacked not just a media person, but also the norms of public morality.

Kalackaja’s lawyer had demanded a lighter sentence for her client because she takes care of her elderly mother, who turned 90 in March 2021.

During the hearing,  lawyer Jury Stashkevich asked to include in the case the appeal of PEN International to the judge, calling for a merciful decision. In the statementPEN International notes Volha’s high linguistic qualifications, her translations of fiction and nonfiction books from Belarusian into English of world-famous works by Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, William Golding, and Tennessee Williams.

Volha Kalackaja read out her last word, in which she once again returned to the moment when she “violated the physical boundaries” of Azaronak:

“On November 12, 2020, the beaten Raman Bandarenka  died. I was grieved and deeply empathized with the mother who lost her only son. I think my friends and family felt the same way.

On November 15, I decided to go to the Western Cemetery, to the grave of my dead father (…) Near the Pushkinskaya metro station, I saw Azaronak talking to the people. He was asking: “Why did you come here? What do you know about him?”

What is Raman  Bandarenka’s middle name?

What is Raman Bondarenka’s middle name?

What is Raman Bandarenka’s middle name?»

When Azaronak got no answer, he asked: How can you grieve for Bandarenka if you don’t even know his middle name?

You don’t need to be a philologist to understand that this is a rhetorical question. The message is clear: you are lying that you are grieving. And that is, we have not sympathized with those who died in subways if we have not known their middle names? I was so outraged, so offended by the lack of normal human empathy, that I couldn’t control myself. I was in a state of extreme emotional distress. Do I regret it? I regret it. After all, because of this incident, I – the only daughter – can not take care of my mother”.

Kalackaja called on the High Court for mercy and a sentence that will not restrict her freedom so much that she will not be able to urgently go out at a late time or at the weekend to get medicine for her old mother or take her to the hospital:

“I’m not good at asking for help, but you also have parents who will eventually become old and helpless.”

Kalackaja also thanked the journalists and writers and all those who have supported her during her imprisonment. In particular, the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who has called on the Belarusian authorities for the immediate release of the translator.

At the end of her speech, Kalackaja read a poem from the famous novel by Atwood “The Penelopiad”, which was published in Belarusian in 2018 and which she translated together with Maria Martysevich. It is symbolic that the novel ends with a trial, and the poem is the last word that is addressed to the ghost of Odysseus, the ghost of the maids he killed:

we had no voice

we had no name

we had no choice

we had one face

one face the same

we took the blame

it was not fair

but now we’re here

we’re all here too

the same as you

and now we follow

you, we find you

now, we call

to you to you

too wit too woo

too wit too woo

too woo

Margaret Atwood. The Penelopiad. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.