Nasta Bazar is an activist from Belarus who travelled a difficult path of emigration: from Belarus to Ukraine and then to Poland. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” continues to tell about women who contribute to changes in society. We talked to Nasta about her work in different countries and how she sees new Belarus.
– Tell us about your activist path: what have you been doing in Belarus?
– When I lived in Belarus, I didn’t call myself an activist. At that time, I tried my hand at business and created “Family Farmstead” – a co-working space for adults with children, aimed primarily for mums. It was 2016-2018, but back then, such an idea wasn’t as common as it is now.
Mums could come there and not be alone all the time with their child. Adults could socialise there, work. We held various events, exhibitions, lectures. There was also a separate space for children, where they could play independently with a nanny.
Mostly freelancers came to us, who had the opportunity to work while the child in the next room was busy with the nanny. On the basis of this space, I helped various non-governmental organisations, organised collecting things for vulnerable groups. But I didn’t feel like an activist.
At the same time, I created a “farmstead school” – a non-formal education project for children.
– Why did you leave Belarus? And how did you start activism in emigration?
– The year 2020 happened. After the women’s marches, I left with my children to Ukraine, as it was dangerous to stay in Belarus. The woman I later married also left.
When in Belarus I created projects for women with children, I knew through my own experience what motherhood is and what problems one can face.
It is the same with emigration: if I have travelled this path and know where to shorten this path, where it can be made easier, why not share it? I started to help a lot of those who were leaving Belarus. Some were planning a departure and some were arriving with one backpack. It is clear that it is a traumatic experience and adaptation is needed.
In the summer of 2021, I opened a “Belarusian hub” in Kyiv, which aimed to accumulate resources in one place. There were a lot of events, meetings where people could get acquainted, share information and help each other. It was that someone travelled further from Ukraine and left their things, or Ukrainians or Ukranian women brought and gave theirs. Those who had to leave Belarus could come and take what they needed.
In December 2021, my family and I decided to move to Poland. There were several reasons for this decision, but the main one was that it became unsafe for us to stay in Ukraine. The issue was that I have a wife, and we are a lesbian couple. Unfortunately, there were quite homophobic attitudes. Besides, there was a non-acceptance from part of the Belarusian diaspora.
In Ukraine, there are many organisations that support the LGBTQ+ community, and they give more opportunities than in Belarus. We did not encounter homophobia at the domestic level, but we often saw articles in the press about attacks on LGBTQ+ women.
Once in Kyiv I was at an action in support of Polish women when Poland was trying to introduce new amendments to the law on abortion. And we, together with Ukrainian activists, were standing in a triple police cordon, because many opponents of the action had come. There were aggressive men running around and shouting. It was physically scary.
Therefore, overall, we didn’t feel safe, and we decided to move to Poland.
– You have lived in different countries: Ukraine, Poland. What is your impression, where the rights of women, vulnerable groups are more protected?
– I believe that every country has its advantages and disadvantages. In Ukraine I was not happy with a lot of things in terms of bureaucracy, but I really liked the people and the projects they created. They are very cool. We chose Poland because the language is very similar to Belarusian and it is easier for children to learn it.
Poland, unfortunately, is on the list of homophobic countries. Same-sex marriages are not allowed, and abortions are banned, which, in my view, is a complete violation of women’s rights. However, the attitude towards LGBTQ+ individuals in Poland is incomparably better than in Belarus or Ukraine. There were no three rows of police cordoning off the Pride parade here, and I didn’t feel any threat. It was a real celebration. But by law, my wife and I cannot have the same rights as a heterosexual couple. For example, when I go to the doctor with my wife, I don’t know what to say: is she my wife, colleague, or partner? Because I don’t know if the doctor will accept us or not. Or you take your child to the class and you don’t know whether to say that my wife will pick him up, because will we be admitted to the class then? And this fear always remains, although we did not have such situations in Poland.
In part, I feel comfortable here, I don’t feel homophobia at the everyday level. It is definitely better to live here than in a dictatorship like in Belarus. That is why we live where we can and wait for the moment when we can return to our homeland.
– In your opinion, has the attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community changed in Belarus after the events of 2020?
At this point, I myself am very curious if attitudes have changed…. I’m very proud that in 2020 there were women’s marches and a queer column on them. They gave impetus to other protests by vulnerable groups: marches of the elderly, marches of people with disabilities. And this, in my opinion, is very important because during revolution, people usually say: “We’re going to win now, and then we’ll deal with your issues”. But then nothing changed, and this happened in many countries. So I am very happy that we have made ourselves heard: women, LGBTQ+ community, and other vulnerable groups.
One of the common homophobic slogans is, “How do we explain LGBTQ+ to children?” In the LGBTQ+ column in 2020 in Minsk, there was a slogan: “How do we explain special purpose police detachment to children?”. And I don’t have an answer to that question. This summer, I was one of the organisers of the Belarusian column at the Pride parade in Warsaw. After that, there was hate directed towards me; but nevertheless this hatred is less every year. Perhaps people are finally starting to understand that LGBTQ+ individuals are just like everyone else and should have the same rights. The problem lies not with them but with the dictatorship.
I would like the voices of women and vulnerable groups to be stronger. If I come to a free Belarus and it’s still unsafe for me there, it will be very painful. My goal is a free democratic Belarus where I can live with my wife and openly say she is my wife without fearing physical harm, job loss, or bullying of my children.
What is the current situation with vulnerable groups in Belarus, considering the law on LGBTQ+ propaganda and childfree? Is it possible to monitor it in the current conditions?
– There is a legal default in Belarus at the moment, so apart from new laws, it is difficult to have any rights and expect justice.
A new law providing for administrative liability for LGBTQ+ propaganda is currently under consideration.
It’s known that LGBTQ+ propaganda doesn’t exist because one cannot become an LGBTQ+ person due to external factors alone. For me, the story of administrative liability sounds like “let’s fine for promoting tallness or blue eyes”. The same goes for childfree-it’s a choice that doesn’t violate the boundaries of others, and I don’t see why that choice can’t exist?
It seems that in Belarus, all people are objectified: “You must be incubators, you must give birth”. And this applies only to women? Let’s remember a propagandist who likes to shout that all fighters have fled. He has neither children nor a wife. Does this law apply to him? He’s almost 30, and he has no family. Isn’t he promoting childfree? Of course, according to the state, he is not. But if a woman does not want to give birth and openly declares it, she violates the law, and there will be pressure on her.
All of this is another lever of impact on vulnerable groups. It is important to understand that during a crisis, vulnerable groups always suffer even more. Because it will be more difficult for a person with a disability to be forced to leave than a person without a disability. An LGBTQ+ person will have a harder time in prison than a heterosexual person.
If anyone thinks this isn’t about me, it’s about LGBTQ+ people, it’s not true. The state can do anything. Today a law will come out about LGBTQ+ propaganda, and tomorrow a law will come out that women can’t wear trousers.
Sometimes, with those who are against LGBTQ+, we share many common values: the value of family, relationships, motherhood, or fatherhood. The only difference between us is that same-sex couples cannot have children. But let’s look at how many children we have in orphanages. They had both a mother and a father, but somehow they end up in an orphanage?
Personally, I became an open lesbian only when I left Belarus. I lived with my partner in the same house for almost a year, but I didn’t publicly talk about it. There was an incident when she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and they didn’t take me because I was nobody to her. I am sure that if I were a man and in the status of a partner, not even a husband, they would have allowed me to go with her. And this is a story about a basic right that we don’t have. If I had stayed in Belarus, I would have been more closed, hidden more, I would be playing someone else’s role. I think people in Belarus are forced to live like this, not just LGBTQ+ individuals.
AAgain, back to the law. If anyone thinks it’s only about LGBTQ+ people, a study by the Committee Against Torture investigation says that people perceived as LGBTQ+ had the worst treatment during arrests. But it could have been just a heterosexual man or woman, only because, for example, the girl had short hair or didn’t look feminine, or it was a man who takes care of himself and does a manicure—just because of that, they were read as LGBTQ+ and treated worse.
So I still have a rhetorical question: do people really think that such a law only concerns LGBTQ+?
What are you doing now as an activist?
After February 24, 2022, I started providing support to people who are moving due to the war in Ukraine. Within a month, the problems that usually remain invisible became apparent. One of them is sexual violence. There was evidence of a large amount of sexual violence during the war. My colleagues and I initiated a campaign that raised 60,000 euros for medicines, which were then distributed to various hospitals in Ukraine. It was very important, not to mention the strong information campaign. In April 2022 alone, I gave about 22 interviews on this topic in four different languages. It was important for me to talk about it, to make the problem visible.
Now I am also part of Olga Gorbunova’s team—representative for social issues of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus. Her goal is to voice social issues, work with vulnerable groups, and currently, the main priority is working with political prisoners.
How do you envision the new Belarus? When the power changes, what needs to be remembered in legislation?
In the new Belarus, we need to work on both sides: with people and legislatively. Even if a law on same-sex marriages appears, but the level of homophobia in society remains the same, what’s the point of that law? If people will be fired from their jobs because of their orientation, or beaten up in the street.
Or, for example, a law against domestic violence. It may be adopted, but if society still believes that women are always at fault, women won’t even seek help.
Of course, first and foremost, the death penalty should be abolished, and all political prisoners rehabilitated. And then, I would really like us to have a law on same-sex marriages.
I would very much like everyone/everyoness to be important, to have not only responsibilities but also rights. You have to do what you believe in. Unfortunately, these three years have shown us that justice is a utopian thing. However, this does not mean that it should not be fought for.