“I am ashamed there are people like that in our profession”

A Baranovichi policeman on the protests and the actions of his colleagues

27 August 2020, 16:06 | Intex-Press
Source: Svaboda.org

A policeman, on condition of anonymity, told Intex-Press how preparations for dispersal of the mass protests took place, what the tactical objective was, what is happening on his team now, and why he plucked up the courage to have this conversation.

The policeman notes that he decided to give an interview because he wants people not to paint all police officers with the same brush: “In any structure there are both normal and abnormal people.”

“They did everything so we would know what awaited us”

In the month before the elections, we had weekly training sessions. We went out into the field in uniform, where we were given master classes either by representatives of the Brest City riot police or by armed forces.

This was highly unusual for us. These classes were close to combat training. Possibly even worse. Tires were set on fire around us, stun grenades were thrown, we were gassed. In short, they did everything so that we knew what awaited us on city streets.

Additionally, there was also intense brainwashing. I think only a person with a strong psyche did not fall for the propaganda.

“After the news from Pinsk, we expected everything”

It all started with the voting results announcement.

Many officers on duty at the polling stations talked about early voting, in which government employees and the military were forced to take part by the state. Observing all this and the mood of the people, I understood that Lukashenko’s victory in the current situation would be impossible. But when I saw the high figures for Lukashenko, I realized that this time people would not just “swallow” the results, and that what had happened would have consequences. And that is exactly what everyone saw after the elections.

On the evening of 9 August, people in many regions took to the streets, and we were told that in Pinsk the townspeople had attacked the district police office, and that seven policemen had been hospitalized.

Because of this, we already expected everything from the public. We thought, since this is happening in Pinsk, it will be even worse here in Baranovichi.

“They even called in those who were on vacation”

On the evening of 9 August, all of those who had a shift that day were forced to stay in the department. They even called in those who were on vacation or had a day off. They didn’t let anyone out. We sat in the assembly hall and awaited orders from leadership.

After a while, they sent us into the town to maintain public order, and they named the people who would go there. Some went to the square, some were in the reserves, and some sat in the department in full uniform and awaited assistance from other regional centers, because we didn’t have enough units in case of a standoff with crowds.

The work in the reserves was to acquaint people brought from the square with specific offenses, warn them, and then let them go. That is, initially there was no talk of police sanctions for unauthorized mass events.

“We thought we would just stand around, people would shout for a while and disperse”

On the square itself we had our guys all armed with shields, and those from other towns, as well as conscripts from Baranovichi, Ivatsevichi and Brest.

Standing in the square, we silently watched the people. We all understood perfectly well that there were some people in the crowd who deliberately provoked us to use physical force, but there were also peaceful citizens who came out to express their opinions.

None of the law enforcement officers coming out to the square thought that there would be detentions. We thought that we would just stand around, people would shout for a while and disperse. But when they started throwing cobblestones at us, we realized that conversations with people would not work.

Personally, I didn’t want to run anywhere or detain anyone. And none of the guys standing with me wanted to do this either. After all, many had acquaintances, friends, and relatives there.

We always had and continue to have a negative attitude to the beatings of people. Excessive use of force is an official misconduct, for which the perpetrators must be punished accordingly.

“It seemed that everything happening was a dream”

I don’t know who gave the order to seize people. At least I didn’t hear it.

When we started to dislodge the crowd, at some point the soldiers ran and began detaining the protesters.

Many of us were at a loss. We were shocked. I looked at my buddies and saw bewilderment on their faces. It seemed to me that everything that was happening was a dream, that this could not be happening in our country. So, as usual, you watch TV and think, “No way, this would never happen to us.” And when you see it with your own eyes, when it happens next to you, then the situation is perceived differently.

We also began detaining people. There were those among the policemen who ran up to citizens and yelled at them to just run away. There were also those who did not bring a single detainee back to the station.

Many of us were worried about these detentions. I do not want to shield internal affairs officers, but some of those who stood in that crowd should have been detained for provoking peaceful people to fight. Because we saw the citizens there who had no desire to attack the police, they were unarmed and went out to the square to express their point of view. But it was not difficult to recognize the provocateurs either.

“We don’t raise this topic at work”

After 9 August, many began to contemplate quitting, because they understand that everything they do is wrong. But, on the other hand, they want to stay in the service, because they like the profession itself – they committed to it by choice.

After all these protests, the police split into two camps: those who believe that these actions are wrong, and those who are sure that everything is right. Therefore, at work, we try not to raise this topic, to avoid an argument.

Now, there is strong pressure exerted on people in uniform and on their families. And I think this is unreasonable. The ones who committed the offense must be held responsible for it themselves, and not their family or loved ones. In addition, I’ll repeat myself, you should not paint everyone with the same brush.

I would like to apologize to all the people who, in one way or another, suffered at the hands of security forces, for all the pain they experienced. I am ashamed that in our profession, previously respected and appreciated, there are people like that. And they, I believe, must answer [for their actions] according to law.

I don’t want people to think that all police officers are animals. I want my statement to help people’s attitude towards police to change for the better.