On 12 October, during the March of Pensioners, Galina Aleksandrovna [patronymic name – Ed.] read a poem on camera – and out of the blue she became famous. The sharp words of the poem melted the hearts of thousands of Belarusians. TUT.BY met with the woman who at the age of 76 is dreaming about jumping with a parachute, uses Telegam, reads poems at her local tea parties charming everyone with her unbelievable cheerfulness and glow in her eyes. This interview is about the protests of people of age, her personal political views and optimism.
I never hid my political views. Nor will I do that now
“Let’s meet at the Red Cathedral,” Galina suggests a place where we can chat.
She lives in one of Minsk’s suburbs, Senitsa, but every Sunday she does her best to be at the church service. On weekdays, twice a week, Galina collects her great-grandson from school. The rest of the time she is all to herself and her books which she is used to from her young age. All in all, Galina has two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I am a rich grandma in this sense,” she smiles. “They all have to be raised and taught.”
When we were looking for Galina a lot of people wrote us that she is a former teacher.
“No, I am far from it,” Galina laughs and tells her story in a nutshell: born in Belarus, in 1960 she finished secondary school and left for Ukraine – at that time her elder brother and sister were living there. She worked for two years which allowed her to be enrolled in becoming a design engineer, and left for Bukhara – one of the oldest cities in central Asia in Uzbekistan.
“It was my choice to go there. I found it so interesting, I read so much about The Great Silk Way. To tell the truth, it all turned out very prosaic.”
Galina lived in Bukhara for about 10 years. There she met her husband with whom she returned to Belarus after the disastrous earthquake of 1976.
“Different things happened in my life, I worked in different places and retired as an accountant. So I am far from being a teacher,” she smiles.“It’s just when I was reading Okudzhava’s poems at our local tea party, everyone somehow thought I used to be a teacher.”
Galina retired over 20 years ago, in 1999. She says that is probably when her personal political views started to form.
“I retired, I had a lot of free time, my grandchildren were still small and at that time I read in a newspaper that our ex Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir was arrested and remanded in custody for 8 months. In 2000 the trial began and for its 4 months duration I kept going to the hearings, listening and seeing how ridiculous the accusations sounded and how the case itself was a case of a non-case. In 2001, when the election campaign started, I joined his initiative group as a volunteer collecting signatures in his support. To be honest, he did not get the required minimum of 100 000 signatures. But that very trial made me to think.”
“When the authorities ruined the memory of Masherov [famous and beloved by Belarusian nation political figure – Ed.] by relocating the avenue named after him to another place explaining this decision as ‘the veterans wanted it’, this turned everything upside down for me. Then I asked myself ‘Which veterans? The ones who were freezing with Masherov in pit houses or were under bullet fire with him? Or the same veteran who carried the wounded Piotr on his back for 20 kilometers?’ After that even the most ignorant person should have seen the reality. I never used to hide my views. Nor will I do that this time either.”
After trial, a lot of people wanted to pay a fine for me
Galina lived at her dacha [summer house – Ed.] in Stolbtsy region “away from COVID-19” all summer. On 9 August, I decided to return to Senitsa to cast my vote.
“I voted for Tikhanovskaya. If all potential candidates had been registered, I would have voted for Tsepkalo. Why? I heard about him in the beginning of the 90s when he graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations and returned to Belarus to work as a Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Years later he created Belarus Hi-Tech Park.”
Why did you vote for Tikhanovskaya? Seniors were likely to say: “What is her experience? What does she know?”
“She wouldn’t have run for the president if her husband hadn’t been arrested. He was deprived of his flag and she just picked it up and moved on. Who else was there on the list? Kanapatskaya got 44 votes in our electoral district, Dmitriev – 64, Cherchen – about 30. Few to no one knows them. Whereas Tikhanovskaya was like a symbol of protest.”
What about Lukashenko?
“Lukashenko has been a pensioner for six years already. People do not want to extend his contract. At the end, we have a contract system! Enough is enough! It’s about time for young people to have their say and their rule. Lukashenko is 66 and he has been in the same position for 26 years. This is not right, it is nonsense in terms of normal country, as far as I feel it,” says Galina.
On 10 August, she was planning to return to her dacha but decided to stay for another day to finish some household chores. That evening she went for her nightly jog [yes, Galina jogs on a regular basis!] which ended with a ride in a paddy wagon, followed by a visit to a police station and an administrative charge at the end. How is that even possible?
Galina explains: “There were about ten people at a stadium. Some were jogging, some were returning home, there was a woman with a pram. Suddenly the police appeared to detain some young man: when they were coming down the hill, one of them said. ‘Take this one’. After that, another young guy who was walking with his father, was detained. All I could think at that moment was “now they will take them away and beat them up”. So I rushed to one of the policemen and asked him ‘Why are you doing this to them? What have they done? Where are you taking them to?’. Well, I then followed them to the paddy wagon, too.”
You are a brave person.
Not sure. At that moment I had only one thought: it could have been my son or my grandson. I had no fear whatsoever.
“On the night of 9 August, when polling stations closed, voters started gathering outside our local polling station to see the results of the voting. There were around 250 people. We were happy with the result. At our polling station Lukashenko got 27% and Tikhanovskaya – 59%. Therefore, we hugged members of the electoral committee and happily went home. However, the police report stated that I was taking part in a mass meeting the day after the results of the election were made public. Surely there was no need to discuss them as I was satisfied with my local results! Why call it mass meeting if there were only around ten people there?”
Two weeks later Galina stood trial. She was preparing for a fine, that’s why she asked to schedule the hearing closer to the day of her pension. She got away with a warning that time.
“Back then I was bombarded with messages, ‘If you need help, we’ll pay your fine’. But why waste people’s money?”
How did your family react when they found out about your trip in a paddy wagon?
They were really surprised and asked me to be more careful.
All in all, says Galina, this year turned her life upside down. As well as the lives of 97 percent of Belarusians, laughs the woman.
Earlier, her daily routine used to look like this: read books, sometimes catch up with friends or go to the cathedral or dacha.
When did matches become part of your daily routine?
“I read on the internet that pensioners were arranging a match. I thought then, ‘Oh, I also need to get there’. The next time I did. There were a lot of people there on 12 October. I was walking in the front of the procession and when we turned at Victory Square, I saw that the tail of our column was somewhere at the City Circus. There were a lot of people and the feeling was amazing!”
Were you surprised that so many people gathered together?
“There was nothing surprising. That first time people just didn’t know about the match, this time they read, just like myself and decided to come and join.”
Why do you think people, including the elderly, are protesting?
“I personally want my grandchildren, great-grandchildren to live a different life. I don’t want them to leave abroad. My grandchild, for example, left for St. Petersburg to study and after graduating he is unlikely to come back because there is no future for him here. Even though they should be living here, it is their land.”
I got a message form my grandson: “Nanny, you’re awesome!”
Two months ago, Galina got a smartphone. She says that she had been reluctant for a long time, since she was happy with a basic mobile phone. “My granddaughter showed what and how to press and from then I am handling it by myself. If I don’t understand something, I turn to others for help.”
Galina found a chat room for pensioners in Telegram and in that chat she saw a poem which later would be called “The Anthem of Pensioners”.
The author of the poem is Tatiana and she lives in Samara:“I was inspired by Nina Baginskaya. But when I saw the woman reading my poem, I just burst into tears. I didn’t expect it to become so popular. I don’t really want to be famous because of this poem. All I want to say is that my both granddads are Russian, one granny is Ukrainian and the other is Belarusian. All my friends and myself are following the situation in Belarus and admire Belarusian people.”
The poem is in Russian, we are currently working on its translation
Galina wasn’t planning to read the poem at the Pensioners’ March. Initially she was planning to learn it by heart to read it later at a tea party in Senitsa.“I didn’t manage to learn it by heart and I put a piece of paper with the poem into my pocket. Then at the match I decided to read it.”
Galina didn’t expect to become so popular on social media because of this poem.
“When I returned home from the march I got a message from my grandson, ‘Granny, I watched your video where you are reading the poem! Wow!’. Children said I got popular and laughed at me. But again, reminded me to take care.”
You have been reading Nasha Niva since the 1990s, now you use the internet. Many people of your age would probably only watch TV. What about you?
“I haven’t watched state TV for a long time. Myself and my husband bought a Russian TV package which includes a lot of programmes about nature and science. Well, and regular channels of course. I can’t stand watching Russian TV shows, the likes of Solovyov, Sheinin, Skabeeva. When I was watching programmes about Ukraine and it didn’t concern me much, they seemed to be saying fairly normal things. But when they started talking about Belarus, it became impossible. Watching and listening how they distort facts makes you think twice.”
I want to jump with a parachute with my grandson
People of your age, in Germany for example, or the Netherlands, travel, while you attend the matches.
“I am so jealous of them! I haven’t been abroad except for Poland in 1999. That year the Pope was visiting Warsaw and it became my first visit abroad, if not taking into account Ukraine as a foreign country, my brother used to live there. My next foreign trip was in 2011 to Jerusalem. Those are all of my travels. I would really love to travel. To go to Turkey or Egypt, to lie in the sun is nothing, whereas to travel the world and see how people live I would find much more interesting. Well, I have no money,” she laughs.
But isn’t it unfair?
“Of course. When we lived in the Soviet times where could we go? Only to Bulgaria, Checkoslovakia, Poland. But back then, they used to say that Bulgaria wasn’t ‘abroad’. If I had money I would for sure travel. I have a good pension, by our standards, but I have to spend a third of it on medicines.”
Do your children help you?
“I am living on my own, why should they help? I don’t buy clothes. All I need is medicine and food. Entertainment? Sometimes I would go to a concert, Philarmonic tickets are not that expensive. Pensioners can get a ticket for BYN 5 [~$2/€1,7 – Ed.] to the Opera and Ballet theatre. They are doing us a great favour. The seats are in the balcony but sometimes you can get a good seat downstairs.”
Galina has another dream: to jump with a parachute together with her grandson.
“He is studying in St. Petersburg to become an engineer-pilot. He went through a strong competition to get a scholarship – 12 people per place! I want to jump with him but to do this he has to jump 500 times first, at the moment he only jumped 100 times. That is why I will have to live for a long time.”