Irina Krasovskaya (Belarus)

“If I think about them too much I start to dream of revenge so then I have stop myself because I know revenge will destroy me.”

On 16 September 1999 Irina Krasovskaya’s husband, businessman Anatoly Krasovsky, was abducted and murdered by the security forces in Belarus. No one has ever claimed responsibility and Anatoly‘s body has never been found.  Ever since then Irina has campaigned extensively to raise awareness for the plight of all those who have been “disappeared” during the dictatorship of President Alexander Lukashenko.  Irina has now re-married and is living in America.  Irina and Anatoly’s story is the inspiration behind the play Discover Love, created and performed by the Belarus Free Theatre.

I knew something was wrong because Anatoly’s cell phone was disabled for a long time and that had never happened before. He was in Minsk with a politician friend, and I hoped they were just in the metro or at the sauna as they had planned.  But after midnight when I still had heard nothing I panicked and began calling round local police stations, hospitals and morgues. No one knew anything. By morning I was destroyed. I knew this had to be political because Anatoly had disappeared with a prominent opposition politician.

And so began the long years of not knowing. It was a very stressful situation and I had no choice but to just get on with my life and take care of my family. Many people tried to give me advice but I was alone with my problems. I couldn’t talk to my mother because she was old and had bad health; I couldn’t talk to my two daughters because I didn’t want to worry them; and I couldn’t talk to my friends because how could I tell the same story over and over again.

I saw everything around me as grey. I’d look down and see only grey asphalt at my feet. I couldn’t stand straight to look at the world around me It was a complete physical reaction. But then about three years after the abduction, one autumn afternoon in Minsk, I was suddenly able to look up and see colour again, the colours of the red and yellow leaves. “My god they are so beautiful,” I said to myself. That’s when I could breathe again. But I  was not the same –  pain is still inside me, sometimes bigger, sometimes lighter but is always with me.

We tried to find the truth about all the “disappeared” by raising public awareness. I met with many international political leaders to bring attention to these cases and to give the families a voice. We tried all legal methods inside and outside the country. We wrote hundreds of letters to Belarus authorities, asked thousands of questions, but all to no avail. Again and again we were told that the secrecy of the investigation meant they couldn’t tell us anything.

My own personal belief is that my husband and the politician were kidnapped together, then bundled into two separate cars and killed in Minsk that same night. But I don’t know what happened to them next.  No bodies have ever been found.

There is no strong proof that President Lukashenko was involved in the crime but I also know that in Belarus nothing happens without his approval. My anger is very personally aimed at him because he destroyed not only my life but also the life of my country by taking it back to an old soviet-style dictatorship. The main feature of this society now is fear, and the disappearances have created a new wave of fear.

I’m not very angry with the person who pulled the trigger because they were just following orders. The real perpetrators are those who still hold top positions within  Government (I can see their faces and I know they are married with kids. If I think about them too much I start to dream of revenge so then I have stop myself because I know revenge will destroy me. I cannot allow myself to bleed and die inside.

It’s easier to forgive when you don’t know who has hurt you because then it remains abstract.  But in my case I know exactly who the perpetrators are. If you know who did it, but there is no acknowledgement and no accountability, then forgiveness is not possible. Forgiveness requires justice. The perpetrators need to be punished, imprisoned and publicly convicted. With justice I could forgive and then I could start to put the perpetrators far away from my mind. My future forgiveness also depends upon the government apologising and acknowledging that they participated in this crime. Then they need to promise to create conditions where these kind of crimes won’t be committed again.

Until I can bury my husband the pain and trauma will remain. I’ve read a lot about grief but grief for the families of the disappeared is unlike any other kind of grief because hope keeps re-emerging and hope can turn you crazy. I no longer talk to the wife of the politician who was abducted with Anatoly because I cannot tolerate her belief after all these years that her husband may still be alive. Hope is not helpful to me anymore and therefore I do not want to be exposed to it.

My task today is to keep the memory of my husband and the other “disappeared” alive and to do this I will keep collecting the evidence, and I will keep waiting for justice.