"I want the officials to feel that they are the masters here with us"

A television host moved to a farmstead and got involved in politics.
Ales Zaleuski pulls out on his jeep from the farmstead. He drives it on the bumpy road in the direction of the city. He has just said goodbye to his wife and children, who stayed here in the village to watch him via a live broadcast online just in a few hours.
Ales' wife Ala, daughter Anastasia, and son Roma watch Ales give a speech from the big stage at the rally of a presidential candidate Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya in Vaukavysk. They are worried about their husband and father, but he comes home soon to his farmstead in Valozhyn district.
No one could have imagined Ales Zaleuski, a journalist and the "face" of Belsat TV channel, settling in a remote village far from city life until recently. But today, this is the reality. However, he is an activist here too.
foto Verasen
Але ў рэальнасці Алесь проста застаўся без працы.

— Усе калегі казалі мне: «Ты круты, топавы журналіст», аднак ніводнай прапановы не было. Я актыўна пасылаў сігналы, зарэгіўся на міжнародных парталах, і праз нейкі час праца знайшла мяне.

Прыйшла прапанова зрабіць матэрыял для Discovery Chanel. Паралельна Алеся запрасілі рабіць тэледэбаты перад парламентскімі выбарамі. І, як прызнаецца журналіст, у выніку мінімум раз на месяц мае замову на нейкі цікавы праект. Зараз супрацоўнічае расійскім YouTube-праектам Аляксея Піваварава.
- When we still lived in Warsaw, we thought about moving to Belarus and building our lives there. - Ales says.
The Zalewski family was lucky enough to find a picturesque farmstead, and they immediately decided to settle there.
- The desire to live in the countryside was so great that we borrowed money and moved here as soon as possible. - Ales admits.
We wanted our children to get to know this world with the beautiful nature surrounding them while they were still small. We wanted to be close to each other as a family and have our kids' attention on what's important, not distracted by the sounds of cars.
- We lived here from early spring to late autumn with small kids and no facilities but the water in the well. It's even hard to imagine now how that was possible.

Now that a couple of years have passed, the Zaleuskis can reflect and admit it was a rather desperate move.
- We were like crazy back then, and probably we would not go for it now.
Фота Verasen
Political activity
We sit on the porch of a restored country house, surrounded by green hills and patches of forest. It seems serenity is spilling all over us like a fog. Suddenly the phone rings, Ales apologizes, says that the conversation is important, and goes out into the yard to talk.

The 2020 presidential election campaign is to blame. At first, Ales joined Viktar Babaryka's initiative group, collected signatures from the villagers, traveled around the country with Babaryka, and moderated meetings in the regions. And now, when Viktar Dzmitryevich has been removed from the election race, Ales travels around the Belarusian cities and gives speeches onstage at the rallies of Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya on how to protect one's voice during elections.
Foto babariko.vision
- My kids became my main motivation. I wanted to show them that their dad was doing something to change the country. I wanted to wake up in the morning, and when the children asked me, "Dad, where are you going?" I could answer: "I'm going to engage in politics." And I would not be ashamed of it - Ales explains.
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Once upon a time, there was a castle in the village, which was a part of the same defense system as Kreusky castle. Little seems to have changed here in the recent centuries. But our conversation revolves around the topic of changes. I question Ales, what the main change he expects is:
- I would like local officials to keep their positions and to finally stop being humiliated. This would require giving them autonomy.
- I want them to feel that they are in charge of this land here together with us. To feel that the main person in the village council is not the chairman of the district executive committee, but us. And the chairman of the village council should care about our interests, - Ales explains with a glint in his eyes and adds:

- I want this election to show that we are not enemies, that we are together in this. It is obvious to me that if people become free, they will be happier. In the village council, at the collective farm, or in the kindergarten. After all, people are unhappy at work because there are a lot of unnecessary things they must do, and not just in terms of bureaucracy but just pointless things that make no sense.
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Moreover, the locals welcomed the journalist's family with open hearts.

- Everyone here wants to help you. They see that we live here, that we are each other's neighbors.

However, it's hard to spot neighbors on the farmstead, except for hares and roe deers that show up on the hill in front of the house from time to time. But the locals still live here, albeit in small numbers.

- The oldest resident of our village is the elderly man Kasich. He can barely walk, but he walked half a kilometer to see with his own eyes how we settled here.

- And the first indication that we've got it alright was that the log for cutting firewood was standing in the same place where the previous owner had it. - Ales says.

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The road
It is far from easy to get to the Zaleuskis' farmstead. There is a bumpy but still asphalt road from the village council, but the last 700 meters are a usual field road with rain-washed pits. And if it is still okay to drive down the hill to the house, going up after a rain is probably possible only with all-wheel drive.

- The road is a phenomenon that has grown in size as a result of us moving to the farm, - Ales says. - In fact, local roads are seasonal.
- Officials want to help, and they try to help, but the fact is they simply do not have the resources.
Фота Verasen
Until a proper road is made, Ales fills the pits with sand and mows the road himself.
I notice that there is no fence around the house. Only a high thicket of French willow forms a high fence where the apple orchard ends.
Фота Verasen
- I was looking for freedom, - Ales says, - but came to live in an authoritarian country. However, this farmstead had no fence originally. And this fact became a sign for me that this is a place of freedom, a place of strength. Apparently, free people lived here.
- And we like this life without a fence, without borders.
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