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A Jail Cell in Belarus

PUBLISHED: December 12, 2011


Dimiter Kenarov making phone calls from his hotel room in Minsk.

Dimiter Kenarov making phone calls from his hotel room in Minsk. He was arrested by the KGB days later. (Jason Motlagh)


[During the reporting of his story for the Fall 2011 issue of VQR, special issue co-editor Dimiter Kenarov was arrested by the KGB and held for five days. What follows are his notes in a tiny cell.—Ed.]

The jail cell is about 3.5 meters long and 1.3 meters wide. There is a bunk bed, a cold water faucet, and a squat toilet. The walls are painted a deep psychedelic green and the floor is a mixture of red boards and bathroom tiles. At the far end of the cell there is a window with two sets of iron bars, an iron grate, and two glass panes. A high wall with razor wire on top is the only view.

Every morning I am awoken by the rattle of keys and bolts, and the loud bang of jail doors. The sound grows louder and louder as the guards move methodically across the cellblock, getting closer to my cell, cell number 11. I quickly get out of bed and put on a pair of pants. When my door finally opens, I’m ready.

I go out and, face turned against the wall, I wait for one of the guards to rummage through my cell. He carries a large sledgehammer, which he uses to check for hollow surfaces in the floor. After a few moments I’m allowed to go back. The cell door slams behind me, the keys turn, and the bolts slide violently back into place. Gradually, the clatter of iron against iron grows fainter, until the morning inspection is complete and the cellblock is quiet again.

I munch on some leftover bread and cookies, which one of the cops has kindly brought me. I brush my teeth; I use the toilet; I listlessly sit on the bed. The one and only meal for the day—borscht, bread, one meatball, and a bowl of oatmeal—will arrive in the early afternoon. There is little to do until then.

To pass the time, I have borrowed a book from the jail library, a collection of novellas by Alexander Mironov, a Soviet writer of adventure stories in a socialist realism vein. The book itself is a sad floppy affair, with half of its pages missing. Probably somebody before me was out of toilet paper. I read for a while about the Soviet Union’s conquest of the Arctic Ocean, about brave captains of icebreakers and sly German spies. When I’m done, I climb on the empty top bunk, close to the barred window, and light up a cigarette. I smoke and stare at the wall with the razor wire…

[For the full story of how Kenarov wound up in prison (and was released in time to finish the Fall issue), read “A Threat to the Public Order.” And be sure to read the rest of the issue, online now for free.]

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