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“With such knowledge you will imprison everyone”: political writers’ case

Sergey Shiptenko. Photo: Kristina Melnikova/ EADaily

Monday, on January 15, in Minsk where City Courts hears the case of political writers Yuri Pavlovets, Sergey Shiptenko and Dmitry Alimkin, interrogation of state expert Alla Kirdun is to be continued. In cooperation with her colleague Alesya Andreyeva, they earlier prepared an expert opinion claiming that articles published by the political writers contained “signs of extremism.” The experts worked as part of the Republic Expert Commission at the Ministry of Information. The political writers were arrested on the basis of the Commission’s expert opinion. Later, the two experts (despite protests of the Defense) conducted a linguistic examination within the investigation and again “found signs of extremism” in the articles of the political writers. On Thursday, state expert Galina Gatalskaya – she prepared the psychological part of the expert opinion - was also summoned for questioning.

Expert Alla Kirdun was summoned for questioning on January 9, but she was absent because of what the judge called sickness. Instead, her colleague and co-author of the expert opinion Alesya Andreyeva was summoned for questioning that remained incomplete as on the next day, the expert submitted a medical note on hypertonic crisis which she experienced in the evening of the first questioning at the court. Later, on January 10, Alla Kirdun finally arrived at the court.

Kirdun’s questioning started with the judge’s speech saying that doctors of historical studies, professors, and leading experts in linguistic analysis of texts for extremism (namely, Yelena Galyashina) did not find any “signs of extremism” in articles of the political writers. Yuri Pavlovets’ lawyer Kristina Marchuk recalled that her client has an expert comment prepared by Russian expert Olga Kukushkina, who did not find “extremism” in his articles either. Noteworthy that both Kirdun and Andreyeva said at the court they used Kukushkina’s method to analyze the articles, since Belarus lacked its own method at the moment when the political writers were arrested. According to Gatalskaya, this method is being developed currently.

On the same, lawyers asked questions to Kirdun saying that the text of the expert opinion contains loosely fictionalized account and interpretation, including expressions taken in brackets, which could not be find in the original articles of the political writers. The defendants and the defense have qualified it as falsification.

Sergey Shiptenko’s lawyer Maria Ignatenko read out an extract from the linguistic part of the expert opinion on the article by Artur Grigoryev “Ethnic nationalism on the Ukrainian model: Where does Belarus go” prepared by Kirdun and Andreyeva and ascribed to her client. The extract reads: “From author’s statement that the Republic of Belarus moves towards the model of ethnic nationalism on Ukraine’s example, a conclusion has been drawn - through logical and semantic consequence - that there is a threat of military conflicts with Russia.” The lawyer demanded explanations of how the experts arrived at a conclusion that the author allegedly speaks of the threat of military conflict of Russia and Belarus. “This is an expert deduction,” Kirdun answered referring to the same method of “logical and semantic consequence.”

“Expert deductions” from the method of “local and semantic consequence” were present also in the analysis of Pavlovets’ text. From Pavlovets’ statement that Belarusian language is used by only 1.5%-2% of the population in Belarus for inter-personal communication, authors of the expert opinion drew a conclusion that the Belarusian language is “actually dead.” Pavlovets’ trilogy on Belarusian identity contains neither the phrase “actually dead” nor such deduction. He just expressed the fact that Belarusian language is used by a small part of the population, giving neither positive nor negative assessment of it. Later, lawyer Marchuk submitted to the court a series of surveys, including foreign ones, confirming Pavlovets’ words.

The Defense has repeatedly stated that in their articles, the defendants referred to facts only. Earlier, Candidate of Historical Sciences Alexander Gronsky, who testified in the court, confirmed assumptions in the texts for which the defendants are blamed for are true. For instance, Tadeusz Kościuszko is a Polish, not Belarusian historical figure.

In response to lawyer Maria Ignatenko’s question if the true facts can be assessed as negative information, Kirdun said the facts corresponding to reality are neutral. Asked how she identified that the facts brought in the articles of political writers do not meet historical reality, expert Kirdun said she is not competent to assess historical facts. The lawyer tried to verify how the expert could assess the facts as neutral or negative if she cannot determine their historical credibility. However, the judge waved these questions.

Linguists (Kirdun/Andreyeva) claimed that Pavlovets allegedly uses “tricks to distort information expecting that the audience has no credible information and is not able to think critically.” The author says that the Belarusian people identified themselves as part of the Soviet people, not as a separate ethnicity before the start of “perestroika.” The experts, in turn, refer to the population census of USSR in 1989 where, as they say, most of the residents of the Soviet Belarus (77.86%) identified their nationality as Belarusian. However, Pavlovets wrote about the period before the start of perestroika i.e. before 1985. Meantime, the experts bring the data for 1989, the end of “perestroika,” to confirm their thesis.

Earlier in response to the lawyer’s request to specify the audience that according to Alla Kirdun lacks “critical thinking,” Kristina Marchuk named the Russian audience.

According to Pavlovets’ lawyer, her client did not insult anyone by his assumptions and facts, since in Soviet Union, they declared development of the “Soviet people.”

Besides, during the trial, Kirdun demonstrated lack of even “background knowledge” of history claiming that “perestroika” in USSR started in 1991. This aroused indignation of political writer Shiptenko who could not help saying, “With such knowledge, you will plant one after another.” In response, the judge reprimanded him.

For conclusion, lawyer Ignatenko asked expert Alla Kirdun whether the experts analyzed Shiptenko’s article where he quotes President Alexander Lukashenko as saying the following about the Belarusian language: “The people who speak Belarusian can do nothing but speak it, because nothing great can be expressed in Belarusian. There are two great languages in the world – Russian and English.” Kirdun answered that while preparing their expert opinion they could not find the original source of that quote and doubted its credibility (meantime, the quote is quite popular).

On that day, the trial was held in a nervous situation. The judge often announced brakes, and in the first half of the day, the court was evacuated because of potential fire (though no signs of fire were noticed). The judge did not let the defense to deviate from the texts of the expert opinion, often interrupted and waved questions. When one of Kirdun’s answers prompted a laugh in the court hall, the judge promised to put everyone out of the court hall if that repeats.

To be continued

Kristina Melnikova, Minsk

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