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Crossing A Blue Line: Belarusian Teen Forced To Apologize For Slapping Police Statue

The famous police statue in Minsk and Belarusian Interior Minister Igor Shunevich
The famous police statue in Minsk and Belarusian Interior Minister Igor Shunevich

Belarusian policing is to be treated with respect.

That's the lesson learned this week by a 16-year-old student from Minsk who was forced to apologize to a statue of a tsarist-era policeman he had playfully slapped in the face.

The student, identified by police only as Arseny, was caught delivering the incriminating blow during a stroll through the city center on November 14. He then turned and smiled to a tracksuit-clad pal.

But if he thought he’d get away with the act, he was mistaken -- the ever-vigilant staff of Military Detachment 5448 was trailing close by.

The slap was captured on camera and the clip posted to the website of the Interior Ministry.

In the video, a police car promptly pulls up by the roadside to confront the unsuspecting youth. The camera zooms in on the Interior Ministry logo -- two intersecting swords behind a star-adorned shield -- as a tense soundtrack plays.

"We detained the delinquent in question, interrogated him, and drew up a report," a police representative says.

The following day, Arseny is shown back at the statue, which depicts a 19th-century police officer with a trimmed beard and a steely-eyed expression, to offer his heartfelt apologies. "This statue has its own history, and my actions could have desecrated it," he says in the clip. "I am genuinely sorry."

For the Interior Ministry, the episode was a triumph of law enforcement that exemplifies a proud tradition of service to the Belarusian people. "He thought everything would go unnoticed," the ministry wrote in its statement. "How naive.... Military detachment 5448 reacted instantly and professionally."

This is not the first time the statue, which was unveiled in March 2017 to mark the centenary of the Belarusian police, has been vandalized or used for political stunts.

In March 2017, the artist Vyacheslav Kasinerava received a fine after he threw a hangman's noose over the statue to protest against police treatment of political protesters. This March, members of a local lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) group were disciplined for placing a rainbow-colored pot of flowers beside the statue

The statement expressed cautious hope that people would think twice before attempting to besmirch the reputation of Belarusian police in the future.

"Perhaps his words of apology to the policeman," the ministry said of Arseny, "will help him rein in his plucky foolhardiness and repair his relations with the law."

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    Matthew Luxmoore

    Matthew Luxmoore is a Moscow-based journalist covering Russia and the former Soviet Union. He has reported for The New York Times in Moscow and has written for The Guardian, Politico, The New Republic, and Foreign Policy. He’s a graduate of Harvard’s Davis Center and a recipient of New York University's Reporting Award and the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Journalism Award.