On December, 10, the International Human Rights Day, the Belarusian PEN Centre and Radio Liberty announced the winners of Frantsishak Aliakhnovich award for the best work written in prison. Ironically, as the award is often called ‘prisonous’ its founders would like it to become a thing of the past as soon as possible.
The jury state that in the course of selection procedure they were guided by artistic values of the books rather than the description of prison’s grave realities.
In 2013, Ihar Alinevich‘s book On the Way to Magadan based on his diary was published. The jury recognized Mr Alinevich as the first winner comprised some writers who had experienced prison first hand.
‘Firstly, this book is second to none talking not only about all the books about the man in prison written in Belarus but about world literature in general. Secondly, it was published before the rest and made a greater emotional impression on people. Thirdly, the author’s courage counts,’ Uladzimir Niakliayeu, a poet and ex-political prisoner, says.
On the Way to Magadan is well known not only in Belarus, but also abroad. It has been translated into several European languages.
‘As many as three books have already got to Butyrka [the largest detention centre in Moscow], and people have to wait a bit to borrow it. Prisons’ walls are equally solid in Russia, Spain or Ukraine, they say. Maybe, they are even stronger in Belarus than in other countries,’ Valiantsina Alinevich, the winner’s mother, says. Mrs Alinevich received the prize on behalf of her son; the woman repeatedly voiced support to him, which might well have led to her facing problems at work.
The award was named as a tribute to Frantsishak Aliakhnovich, a Belarusian writer, journalist and Gulag survivor. His experience provided a basis for his 1934 book of In the Claws of the GPU.
Ihar Alinevich was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment in a high-security correctional institution being adjudged guilty of arsoning the Russian Embassy building in Minsk. He did not plead guilty to the charge.