In September, the Belarusian House in Warsaw will be 13 years old.
became a political emigrant in 2010.
He was a public activist, a deputy of the Mastovsky District Council, in 2004 he ran for the House of Representatives, in 2010 - for the Horadzensky Regional Council of Deputies.
He was registered as a candidate, but the regional KGB headed by
opened a criminal case.
Ales left for Ukraine via Russia.
I wanted to stay there, because the language is close, and there were many friends there.
But Viktor Yanukovych
came to power
Zarambyuk decided to go to Poland, where his sister, who was expelled from the Belarusian university after the Square in 2006, was studying under Kalinowski's program.
The idea to create a Belarusian house appeared in Warsaw - there were different generations of emigrants from Belarus, they did something, but there was no community center that would unite Belarusians, says the activist.
"And then it happened on December 19, 2010, Ploscha.
At that time, there were terrible repressions in Belarus (although they cannot be compared with 2020).
And at the end of 2010, together with our Polish colleagues from the "Freedom and Democracy" foundation (who since 2006 have been engaged in the program of repressed Belarusians, closely cooperated with "Vysna"), we organized a representative conference in the Polish Diet dedicated to repression and political prisoners.
Then all the presidential candidates were imprisoned by the KGB.
Wives of political prisoners came to Warsaw, the speaker of the Seimas participated," says Ales Zarambyuk about the very beginning of the work.
Belarusian activists in Poland helped families of political prisoners, organized street actions.
The City Hall of Warsaw allocated an apartment in a tenement in the center at 13 Vejska Street for an office. Now the editorial office of the "Nexta" channels works there.
Meetings in the Belarusian House
"The Belarusian House appeared in that room.
True, some thought that it would be a house with small rooms where you could stay for a few days.
At the opening were
(former head of the administration of the Polish Prime Minister, now a minister),
(deputy chairman of the European People's Party).
The main goals then were: the release of political prisoners;
development of local initiatives and NGOs within Belarus;
building and strengthening of new structures of the Belarusian diaspora in Europe and the world," recalls Mr. Zarambyuk.
The first three years focused on political prisoners, education and diaspora
They also worked with the diaspora, which was few at the time - 10-15 people gathered for the events.
They also began to engage in education for public activists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and youth from Belarus, organized seminars, trainings, and organized internships for target groups, the activist says.
"The task was to involve Belarusians in the European agenda and to bring society closer to European values, because we are a European nation, we have common heroes with Poles and Lithuanians:
Vytautas the Great
Thus, in the first 3 years of activity (2011–2013) of the Belarusian House, the focus was on the release of political prisoners, informal education and strengthening of the diaspora," Zarambiuk summarizes.
As for political prisoners, in that wave of repressions and the so-called "thaw",
were the last to be released .
At that time, the Belarusian House organized the project "The third sector: be legal", which consisted in the legal registration of Belarusian NGOs in Poland.
It was necessary to explain to the Polish society at that time why such a situation happened in 2011 with the human rights defender Bialiatski, who had to receive help for repressed people on accounts in Lithuanian and Polish banks.
Artur Finkevich registers NGO "New Belarus", 2014
Instead of small border traffic, there is no visa for foreigners
Since 2014, the Belarusian House has started working on the so-called small border movement - the law on visa-free entry to the border zone of Lithuania and Poland for Belarusians, and to Belarus for Lithuanians and Poles.
The relevant documents were signed by the presidents of Poland, Lithuania and the Belarusian side.
"But the so-called Belarusian parliament stubbornly did not want to ratify this document.
Activists of the Belarusian House and partner NGOs conducted an information campaign on both sides of the border, sent petitions to the State Border Committee, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, local authorities in the border regions, traveled and explained the benefits of small border traffic for residents of Belarusian border towns.
However, despite three years (2014–2016) of hard work, it was not possible to convince the Belarusian side to ratify the agreements on small border traffic," Zarambiuk concludes.
The then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus,
lobbied for a visa-free regime.
Foreigners could travel to Belarus without a visa, but visas were still required for Belarusian citizens to Poland and Lithuania.
"However, this is a joint success of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Belarusian House - the country must be open!
It was a fantastic feeling of satisfaction.
In Hrodna and Brest, infrastructure began to develop (with the help of European Union funds), and the influx of foreign tourists led to the opening of new cafes and hotels, new jobs in the field of tourism and new orders for craftsmen.
Then they began to develop Lidchyna, Navahradchyna.
Tens of thousands of foreign tourists went to Belarus.
The program works even now, although few people want to visit today's repressive and militarized Belarus," Ales continues.
"There were years without money, none of the donor organizations wanted to finance us"
Since 2016, the main priorities of the activities of the Belarusian House have been education and the strengthening of educational initiatives in Belarus: youth and student exchanges within the framework of the "Erasmus Plus" program.
Activists were invited to Białystok, Bielsk, Biała Podlaska, Warsaw - they showed how local self-government, the education system, local cultural institutions work there, how small and medium-sized businesses develop, how Poland went through the transformation process and what Polish society has achieved in economic and political directions thanks to democracy.
And then came hard times, admits Mr. Zarambyuk.
"2017-2019 were the years without money, almost none of the donor organizations wanted to finance the activities of the Belarusian House.
Meetings on the territory of the new building of the Belarusian House
The West actively cooperated with
, Western experts, and together with them politicians, considered our dictator a "defender of independence", and they even said that we are harming the Belarusian House... I remember very well how one of the diplomats convinced us in July 2020 to stop supporting the repressed in Belarus and to stop our activities aimed at holding free elections and the right of Belarusians to peaceful protest.
In 2017-2020, the majority of Western donor organizations did everything to ensure that the Belarusian House did not exist," Zarambyuk recalls.
He claims that activists then worked in the public field for free, and had to earn a living in other Polish companies.
Paid services were set up in the Belarusian House to maintain the activities of the organization.
"After the surge of economic emigration, the marches of the homeless in 2017, they started organizing courses - unfortunately, not Belarusian, but Polish for Belarusians.
Earned from legal consultations.
That's how we survived - those were very difficult years," says Zarambyuk.
A luxurious gift from the Prime Minister of Poland - the keys to a new building
From the spring of 2020, the Belarusian House had to return to the activities it started in 2011 — supporting political prisoners, helping the repressed.
"We began to collect money for the repressed and their families, on June 6 we organized the first action in support of political prisoners in front of the Belarusian embassy, and on June 30 - a march of solidarity with Belarusians, 3 thousand people came to the monument of
In August, they started fundraising on a crowdfunding platform, and quickly collected more than 100,000 dollars for the repressed.
They started accepting the wounded - it was the end of August.
The Polish embassy urgently issued visas, we organized a sanatorium for them in Lower Silesia in the area of Dushniki-Zdrój near Wrocław.
In part, these were not activists, but ordinary people who simply took to the streets to defend their choice and were injured.
People were severely traumatized both physically and mentally.
They wanted to get medical help first.
Treatment procedures, three meals a day, massages - people had to come to their senses," says Ales about the beginning of work with the repressed.
At the end of August, the Prime Minister of Poland
Mateusz Morawiecki came to the office of the Belarusian House.
At first, he wanted to invite Belarusians to his home - because he knew what was happening in Belarus, he wanted to help.
Meeting with the Prime Minister of Poland Matevus Morawiecki (in the center).
Also in the photo are Stjapan Putila, Anastasia Kazhapenko, Jan Rudzik, Ales Zarembyuk, Raman Pratasevich, Minister Michal Dvorchyk.
"And we say: come to us, see for yourself how we work.
It was very unexpected for us!
A very open, sincere person.
He himself has a very tortuous fate.
His father is a well-known Polish oppositionist,
, who hid from the Polish state security authorities for many years.
The son actually grew up without a father.
When he was 15 years old, the teenager was forcibly stolen near the church, taken to the forest, forced to dig his own grave - they say, if you don't tell us where your father is hiding, we'll shoot you and you'll lie here... That's why Moravetsky himself was well aware of the repressions and well remembered the times of repression in Poland, including a personal example.
In 1983, he was brutally beaten by Polish riot police (ZOMO) - as they were beaten in Belarus in August 2020.
Instead of 15 minutes, the Prime Minister spent almost an hour with us and promised to help.
Because I saw what was done in our office then, how many people were working, there was nowhere to breathe," said Ales.
Literally a few days later, on September 9, 2020, during Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya's first visit to Poland, Moravetsky gave her the keys to the building at 6 Krynicka Street, for the Belarusian House.
In 1939, the
family built a villa on Krynickyka Street for themselves according to the project of the famous Polish architect
The war started, the family did not have time to live there.
And after the war, this building was the residence of the French ambassador.
"When Nicolas de Lacoste, the French ambassador to Belarus, visited us, he mentioned in pure Polish that from 1967 to 1970 his father worked as the second secretary of the French embassy in Poland, and he went to Sunday classes here.
Until 2015, it was the residence of the ambassador of Tunisia.
And then until 2020, the building was idle," says Ales Zarambyuk about the history of the new office.
They returned to the activity they started 13 years ago: helping political prisoners
The main activity of the Belarusian House in the last three years is to help repressed, political prisoners and their families: visa, legal assistance, Polish language courses, financial assistance to families who remain in Belarus.
During these two and a half years, the Belarusian House has provided assistance in various forms to repressed Belarusians in the amount of about 400,000 dollars, says Zarambyuk.
In his opinion, apart from Poland, no other EU state has adopted a specific program to support Belarusians.
Warsaw Mayor Rafal Tszaskowski, Ales Zaramliuk and Pawel Latushka
"Only Prime Minister Morawiecki accepted the program "Solidarity with Belarus", allocated 50 million zlotys (about 11 million euros).
Thanks to this help, it was possible to save hundreds and even thousands of people from repression.
However, the European Union did not do this: it has programs aimed at supporting education, business, but today the number one issue is transfers of political prisoners to prison, which cost a lot of money, assistance for lawyers, support for the families of the repressed.
In my opinion, in today's conditions, if the dictator does not want to go to any negotiations, we can do two things for political prisoners: help the prisoners themselves with money in handover, help the relatives of the repressed, because they are in a very difficult situation: they are exhausted, they take loans, loans .
We cannot free them, but we must at least somehow improve the conditions there, behind bars.
Therefore, there should be a separate fund for the support of political prisoners.
This is the number one question today," Ales Zarambyuk is convinced.
"Islands of freedom" still remain in Belarus
The head of the Belarusian House in Warsaw assures that the work continues inside Belarus as well - with initiatives and people who stayed there.
After all, changes must take place in Belarus.
Meetings on the territory of the new building of the Belarusian House
"People there do not engage in politics - it is impossible.
But they simply survive together, integrate in this common "prison".
Many were intimidated, driven under the plinth, but they did not change their views, they rallied.
"Islands of freedom" still remain in Belarus.
Many deliberately do not leave.
People understand that it is important to survive in that darkness.
Survive and maintain connections, mutual support, solidarity.
It seems to many that there is nothing in Belarus, the majority of conscious people in emigration are not, and people in Belarus also need support.
Our second task here is to organize support for public initiatives and activists within Belarus," says the head of the Belarusian House in Poland.
"We are in a democratic country, where society, state bodies, and donor organizations control it"
There is a lot of criticism directed at the Belarusian House from all sides.
Belarusian television is investigating who is financing it.
There are many people who are dissatisfied that help is not provided to those who need it.
, who previously worked at Nexta, also accused the Belarusian House of financial fraud, calling
fantastic sums in an interview with propagandist
Marat Markov .
Ales Zarambyuk says that in September-October 2020, the team reacted very strongly when someone accused it of fraud or lack of transparency.
"And then we decided for ourselves: either we will imitate and give up, or we will not pay attention to statements and accusations and just do our job - responding to all these complaints in parallel," he explains.
Press conference in the Belarusian House
Ales showed several complaints.
And my answer to the complaint of the Belarusian activist who wrote to the mayor's office that they refused to accept her next statement.
Although that lady received financial assistance from the Belarusian House.
And he assured that the Belarusian House is regularly inspected.
Recently, the ZUS (Zakład Ubezpieczeń Społecznych), the Office for the Protection of Personal Data (Urząd Ochrony Danych Osobowych) and even the Polish Border Service (Straż graniczna) were checked - where they also apparently wrote a denunciation.
But all inspections of the Belarusian House passed flawlessly, no violations were detected.
As for the aid program, there are clear rules, where it is prescribed by point who we can provide aid to and what criteria these persons must meet, the head of the Belarusian House assures.
"The rules are transparent.
We work only with repressed persons who provide evidence of repression.
Both this year and last year, our employees uncovered a number of cases where people tried to submit forged documents to receive assistance or visa support.
Since August 2020, we have helped a total of 400 thousand dollars.
This is financial, legal, medical assistance, sanatoriums — both from collected and grant money.
At the first stage (August - October 2020), we gave people money in cash, because they often came with only one backpack.
In total, 95% of financial aid payments to the Belarusian House are non-cash.
It's easier for us and better for auditing.
In addition, each payment is monitored by the crowdfunding platform, except for the checking authorities.
They collected 100,000 dollars for us, but this does not mean that they were given to us immediately.
We send a document, they make a transfer of up to 4 thousand dollars, we help, make a report, present financial documents, and only then the next amount arrives.
We are in a democratic country, where society, state bodies, and donor organizations control it," says Ales Zarambyuk.
"The Kalinovsky regiment support center is working.
And about foreign mercenaries - a lie"
Belarusian television "investigated" the fact that the Belarusian House in Warsaw is the coordinator of sending volunteers to Ukraine.
The Russian and foreign press wrote about it.
According to the Spanish newspaper Vanguardia, mercenaries from Spain, the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Georgia, and Croatia were sent to the front through the Belarusian House.
Ales Zarambyuk denies this.
He says that when the war started, they met with Belarusians who fought in Ukraine since 2014.
And very quickly they decided to create a support center for Kalinowski's regiment, which is still operating on the first floor of the Belarusian House.
"And about mercenaries is a lie.
This is the Kalinovsky regiment's aid center, where people who want to support Ukraine's struggle for its territory and for the independence of Belarus come, voluntarily sign up and go to the Kalinovsky regiment.
Thus, Belarusians voluntarily defend Ukraine and the honor and dignity of us Belarusians.
I can assure you that no one is forcing anyone.
I will tell you more: on the contrary.
When people accepting applications see that a person doubts that a person has a family in Belarus, they try to dissuade him.
And the guys are going because they understand the threat to Belarus from Putin's Russia," says Zarambyuk.
"Poland is an example of what can be done in 30 years, if there is democracy and a hard-working, ambitious people"
If there are changes in Belarus, will the Belarusian House remain in Warsaw?
According to Ales Zarambyuk, if democracy is established in Belarus, such an institution with rich experience, many years of history and contacts should continue to work with Poland.
After all, Belarus will need some time to carry out reforms.
"First of all, we will need the experience of the countries of the new Europe that joined the European Union in 2004.
We have very good contacts here with universities, organizations, self-governments, and politicians.
Exhibition in the Belarusian House
Poland is a good example of what can be done in 30 years, if there is democracy, hardworking and ambitious people.
Belarusians are also a hardworking people.
And we will need to imitate and implement these best examples of reforms in Belarus very soon," Ales Zarambyuk suggests.
In his opinion, everything should be done so that people who left the country get an education in Europe, return to Belarus if possible, and motivate them to return.
And it will be difficult - people put down roots abroad, children integrate very quickly.
"And we need people not with Lukashenka's mentality, but with a Western mentality.
I see the future of our organization in building such bridges — first of all, through Belarus to Poland, and secondly — through Belarus to the countries of the European Union, the United States, and Canada.
We will need their know-how, procedures, everything they have managed.
Poles used to imitate the experience of the Germans and the French and went there.
We will have to take thousands of Belarusians here and further to the West to show concrete examples of how Poland has changed in 30 years.
The Poles succeeded, and we Belarusians will succeed too," Ales Zarambyuk is convinced.