Appreciating the frailty of civil liberties

How do you jog young people into appreciating the frailty of civil liberties? Bring someone like Andrei Sannikov to speak to them. For many, an abstract concept was made real, as his story and that of his sister, Irina Bogdanova, who also spoke, unfolded at Civics last night. We started the evening seeing a ten minute film about Andrei, co-founder of Free Belarus, and in particular the consequences for him and his supporters of standing up against President Lukashenko, as they did on 19 December 2010 when they mounted a peaceful demonstration in central Minsk. The shots of the riot police beating their shields in unison and then charging at the demonstrators was chilling; Andrei had both his legs broken and was imprisoned, initially with a five year sentence for “organising mass disorder”. It was only after considerable intervention from Amnesty International and other humanitarian organisations that he was released. Granted political asylum in the UK and living now with his sister in Woking, Free Belarus, the movement for democratic change that he leads now continues to lobby for action against Lukashenko, in particular through economic sanctions. Andrei’s dignity and courage, understated and (in the best sense) modest, came over powerfully as he talked of the continuing struggle, of the links between corruption and dictatorship, of being in a Minsk jail (“horrid”), of the importance of organisations that work for human rights and of the need never to take civil liberties for granted.  Note to self is to ensure that a regular thread within our range of visiting speakers is someone who can speak from personal experience about their own struggle for liberty.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.