"Only as time passed did I realize that I was traumatized"
"Only as time passed did I realize that I was traumatized"
Maksim Shved is a Belarusian documentary filmmaker, the author of ''Pure Art''. In the summer of 2020, Maksim was in Minsk, working on a new documentary about the presidential election. On August 10, he decided to continue shooting the film but was detained and spent 5 days in Zhodzina prison. The most traumatic experience for him was his detention and stay at the district department of internal affairs, he could not believe that people were capable of treating others like that. The realization of the trauma came much later and is still in the process of forming.
Being in prison was not so traumatic. You could even say that the experience was interesting for me as a documentary filmmaker. I spent those five days quite intensely. But the time from the moment of detention, being taken to the police station, to being taken to Zhodzina — those were the most terrifying moments.

I can't name specific examples of exactly what impressed me so much — it was all a blur. It's like a thrill ride: you only have time to open your mouth in the beginning and then you come out of it at the end and go: "Phew! It's all over" — all that remains is the feeling, as if something grabbed you by the stomach. That's all that's left inside. The rest of the memories are like blurry flashes to me. The thing is, what I saw there is so out of place in my picture of the world and, in principle, in what one person's attitude towards another can be, that I remember those events like a movie with me in the leading role. It's hard to believe that this is my new reality: something I couldn't imagine, something I didn't expect to encounter. When you read something about the Holocaust, about wars, you feel empathy and logic come into play. But when it happens to you, it's on a completely different level. It's not even how people treat others that's shocking, it's that it happens at all. The memory tries to expunge this information, and the brain denies its validity.

When I saw the pictures on the Internet with the portraits of police bosses on the wall of the station I was taken to, I even made a screenshot. For me this was some evidence that the place really existed, that I really saw it, it happened to me...and that they were hanging on the wall...I spent almost all night there and one of the attractions was to look at their portraits.
Zhodzina (prison) is not the most comfortable place to be. Thirty-six completely different men, whom I might never have met on any other occasion. The forced companionship was, in its own way, very fascinating. Of course, there were some grim moments, too. Toward the end, some inmates began to be released, others were still left inside, all at random. The day before we were released we did not know if we were going to be released or not, and we did not know where the other people were going. The last people who stayed in our cell, including me, had a hard time psychologically staying in the dark, those 24 hours of waiting really broke us down. I watched as guys, who were cold-blooded, calm, and all five days had very calmly reacted to any situation, really lose it. Three out of five really panicked. A man who lay on the bed suddenly jumped up, started screaming, banging on the door, wailing. I watched as the person became really hysterical. I had never seen such manifestations before.

Immediately when you come out, you get out of a very bad and unpleasant situation. It ends, and you think that's it — you're on the bright side, it was just a bad dream. At first, you don't think about any kind of mental state analysis at all. As soon as I got home, I lay down on the bed, on the big, soft bed... Alone, with no strange man next to me. Of course, it was happiness. Just a bed, but what joy in life! In fact, there was a logic to it: you had just been, literally three minutes ago, in jail and didn't know when you were going to get out. No one explained anything, no one told you anything. How will you get home? Will there be anyone waiting for you outside? And then you get out, everyone is there. And all that former gloomy entourage disappears in an instant, at the snap of a finger. It's just that instantaneous flip-flopping from one reality to another is so overwhelming that you psychologically find yourself in a much more comfortable situation. What's there to complain about? It's okay!

But time passed and it was only later that I realized I was traumatized - I had been in a particular unpleasant situation and I treated it very lightly and calmly. Even when I was telling people about it - I was telling it lightly. And then, as time passes, something still clicks in your head and won't let you rest, you keep mulling over all the images from the experience – I don't think even now I've fully realized it.
I sometimes read about what is happening now to other prisoners in the Zhodzina prison where I was. I understand that their conditions are much worse. I simply compare and realize that I am, you could say, lucky that I slept on a mattress and not on the metal bars or on the floor, that now the guards don't let inmates sleep during the day, and I could do it. That's how I compare my experience and think I'm so lucky or something.
There's another thing that comes into play. I'm a man. Being a man implies not complaining, you don't want to look pathetic. So when you talk about your suffering, you are already in the vulnerability zone: you open up, you trust... as if you were "not a real man.
I wondered why that was, where did this comparison with other prisoners come from? But then again, it is one thing when you're sore in a couple of places, have a small bruise of some kind, your hair's been dyed. But when a person's ass is just black, black and blue, and they can't really lie down, sit up, can't do anything — of course you can see that they are definitely more hurt than you are. So when you get out and volunteers ask if you need help, you have these images in your head, and you can't say anything about yourself. There are people who have suffered, and they need help! And you... well, yes, it's not like your typical weekday, but it's all bearable.
Then, of course, you realize that, yes, it's not just about the bruises, but it's also about what's going on in your head now.
I am quite actively involved in protest life, often out of professional necessity. For example, last weekend I filmed a story with a character, that is, I involuntarily participated, got in the very center of events. But sometimes I go out just like that — without a camera, without characters, without anything — to show my civic stand. It's always easier to watch the protests when I'm there than to read about them in the telegram chats. I think in reality it's not as shocking as it is online.

It's impossible to stay at home, it's hard to read everything online, so going out is the best solution, which requires less energy. In the streets, you're not running all the time, you're walking, you can stop at a coffee shop, take a break of some kind. You might not even get into an extreme situation at all. The Internet, on the other hand, shows combat bulletins. That's why everything there is very selective, more aggression pours out than in real life.

But no matter what, going to a protest is always an internal struggle. First of all, I look around now. I never did this before, but now I do it all the time. A running person can be very intimidating for no particular reason. While in the past you wouldn't even pay attention if you saw someone running after a trolley bus. Now it feels like the person is running away from someone. And in general, on any day, in any area, in the dark, in the light of day – an overall prudence of some kind has emerged. I still worry about unfinished projects, or that it's my fault someone might get arrested. When you're shooting a character, you're responsible for yourself and the character, so there's more responsibility in that sense.

I like it when protests take different nonviolent forms. I made a film about special art ("Pure Art"). I was interested in a strange artistic phenomenon — when communal workers paint over all the inscriptions and graffiti on the walls of towns in Belarus, you get these multicolored dim rectangles on the buildings. Previously, they were often found in the more run-down parts of the city — and I love those places, I love taking pictures of them.

But now the whole city is covered with protest signs, and, accordingly, with these rectangles and squares. In many of them, you can really guess the inscriptions "Long Live Belarus" and "3%" and so on. It pleases the eye, because you can see for yourself how all the usual tools of the regime gradually cease to work.
This phenomenon existed because of the cult of cleanliness and order. I understood that it was not just cleanliness and order, it was a way for the authorities to show their presence. Many people liked it, especially visitors, who said that Belarus is very clean. But I didn't, for me it's kind of a hospital sterility. And now it is crumbling.