There are more and more repressed creators in Belarus. Previously, the persecution of actors, musicians, writers and artists was spot-on. Now the skating rink has gone through literally everyone who does something, not in support of Lukashenka. Those who yesterday could sing, publish books, play in the theatre now flee the country in order not to go to prison and ask for help. “Our House”, like many other protest initiatives, tries to support creative activists.
Courts for insulting officials, officials, security forces and even the president were not unusual in Belarus before. In 2011, “Our House” released material about a criminal case opened against the leader of “Lyapis Trubetskoy”, Sergey Mikhalok. The new prosecutor decided to open a case to curry favour with Lukashenka. Immediately before that, Sergei Mikhalok gave several interviews, which aroused the hatred of the Belarusian authorities. In one of them, the musician said: “He is not the president at all. He gathered “black” brigades around him and staged a genocide of the Belarusian people. It is a man who hates people and deserves a fair trial. But criminals like Lukashenka do not leave witnesses to their crimes.”
In 2012, “Our House” told about the trial of the group “Daj Darogu!” leader, Yuri Stylsky, who was found guilty “of insulting the honour and dignity” of the head of the youth affairs department of the Brest City Executive Committee Tatyana Borishchik. The essence of the problem was this: Tatiana Borishchik forbade musicians to perform in their hometown, did not contact them. As a result, the rockers told about it on the Internet, causing a storm of anger from fans. Tatyana Borishchik considered herself insulted and sued Yuri Stylsky. He got a fine of more than 88 euros at that time.
In 2015, “Our House” wrote about the trial of the owners of the Logvinay bookstore. We reminded you that in December 2014, the store where literary evenings and book presentations passed was closed. After checking, the commission took the permit away, and then he was punished for working without consent for the number of goods sold. Moreover, a year earlier, the publishing house “Lohvinau” was deprived of its license for the album “Press Photo of Belarus 2011” release. The notebook was considered “extremist”.
In 2017, we wrote about the repressions against the artist Natalia Bordak. The authorities began to pursue her in 2006. She had to leave her job before the presidential campaign and then, with family, moved to another city. Then they began to put pressure on the artist through her son. He was sent twice to the Republican Scientific and Practical Centre of Mental Health and got protocols many times. After the woman took part in Freedom Day, local ideologists abruptly stopped inviting her to literary readings, meetings and exhibitions. She also had to raise money for a CT scan in Minsk.
On July 23, 2018, we released our monitoring on repression against women in Belarus 2018. Here, we have included the stories of cultural activists who fell out of favour with the Lukashenka government because of their activities. One of them was Anna Nesterova, art director of the street theatre “Vir”. The theatre took part in Freedom Day on March 25. The day before, Anna got informed that in case of participation, she would be dismissed. After the theatre took part in the festival, Anna had to look for a new room for the theatre, and in June, she was dismissed from her position.
On September 2, 2019, the monitoring of harassment and repression for social actions and performances in Belarus 2019 appeared on the website of “Our House”. We included in the overview the detention of Belarusian musicians who were going to walk along the pedestrian streets of Minsk on March 25, 2019. The police detained Lyavon Volsky, Igor Varashkevich, Dmitry Woityushkevich and Pavel Arakelyan with musical instruments. A few hours later, the musicians were released. The monitoring also mentioned the artist Ales Pushkin arrest for the action against the Russification of Belarus on June 6, 2019. Another incident that appeared in the review was the disruption of the screening of the film “The Last Days of Sophie Stoll”, after which people planned to sign postcards to political prisoners.
On July 1, 2020, “Our House” released monitoring of the repression of cultural figures during the election campaign. We estimated that a total of 73 people were under repression at that time. Only administrative arrests totalled almost two years. The artist Artemy Troitsky, the writer Anna Severinets, the documentary director Olga Nikolaichyk stories were in the monitoring. The monitoring also included information about the arrest of the corporate collection of Belgazprombank, based on the works of Belarusian masters Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Osip Zadkin and many others. The collection was completely transferred to the state, but nothing is known about its further fate.
After the 2020 elections, we have strengthened our support for cultural figures from Belarus. In February 2021, we offered readers the monitoring of repressions against theatre figures in Belarus. Here we told about the defeat of the Kupala Theater, about what happened after August 2020 in several regional theatres. The New Drama Theater, the Theater of the Belarusian Army, the Gorky Minsk Drama Theater, film actors and even one minor actor also suffered from the beatings of the security forces.
In the same month, we started a program to support actors from two Grodno theatres – ten actors with their families came to Lithuania thanks to the “Our House” and the public association “Dapamoga”. We assisted the actors with the registration of documents and visas for moving. Together with the public association “Dapamoga”, we helped the stage workers to settle in Vilnius, provided moral and material support, necessary things in the first weeks of life in Lithuania. Thanks to a network of contacts, we managed to find an opportunity for creative development for the actors.
In March 2021, the actors met the chief director of the Russian Drama Theater in Vilnius, Vladimir Gurfinkel, and began reading plays. In April, a performance was held on Lukishki Square to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack in the Minsk metro. The actors participated not only in performances and rehearsals but also in supporting the Belarusian people. They took part in actions near the Belarusian Embassy in Lithuania and actively supported Belarusians in a protest camp on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. In addition to helping in everyday life and creative projects, “Our House” has released a whole series of interviews with actors. Another victory for us – thanks to the efforts of the “Our House” and the public association “Dapamoga”, the son of actors Natalia and Vitaly Leonov, an 11th-grader Arseny, was able to get a certificate from a Lithuanian school.
On March 12, 2021, “Our House” supported the repressed rock musician Igor Banzer. At that time, the man had already been on a hunger strike in the Grodno prison for eight days. He spent 18 days in an isolation cell participating in protest rallies. He was kept in a solitary cell and then sent to Minsk for a compulsory psychiatric examination.
On April 12, 2021, we published the story of the artist Ales Pushkin, who dumped a cart of manure in front of the Lukashenka administration building 22 years ago. Now Ales Pushkin is a political prisoner. In March, an inspection came to his exhibition in Grodno. The artist, who devoted many years to scenography, restoration of architectural monuments, and the struggle for the Belarusian language, was imprisoned for painting a picture of the underground activist Avgen Zhikhar, who fought against the USSR.
On May 16, 2021, an interview with conductor Andrey Galanov appeared on our website. He was dismissed from the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus after the anthem, “Magutny Bozha”, sounded in the theatre on October 27, 2020, before the performance. In addition, Andrey Galanov took part in recording an appeal in support of the strikers. After being dismissed from the theatre, the successful conductor appeared under peculiar government “sanctions” with no prospects in Belarus. “Our House” and the public association “Dapamoga” helped him to cross the border, paid for the first time of residence in Lithuania and, most importantly, provided him with creative work.
On June 7, 2021, we described the story of a woman who worked as a musician but had to leave Belarus. In the autumn of 2020, they and the team performed in the courtyards of Minsk at local performances. One evening, security forces attended the concert, the woman’s husband was detained, sentenced for a day. Then the singer decided to move to another country. Thanks to “Our House”, she got a humanitarian visa and came to Lithuania, received a grocery set for the first time, and also managed to return to creativity.
On August 10, 2021, we told the story of the musician Yevgeny, who was detained and severely beaten on August 9, 2020, and then spent 11 hours under torture in the police department. The security forces tortured the guy for having long hair. Yevgeny was released only 72 hours after his detention. In March 2021, he was detained again, taken to the prison in Zhodino, where the prisoners were not allowed almost anything, fed a small amount of food, tortured around the clock with lights on and constant cold. Yevgeny started having problems with the genitourinary system and got a hand injury, which is significant for a musician. “Our House” helped Yevgeny to pay for his stay in Zhodino and the services of a lawyer.
We are happy that Belarusian cultural figures continue to work, even despite the repression by the state. Our people cannot be intimidated, and their craving for creativity cannot be crushed by any persecution, punishments and fines. Even from prisons, Belarusians write poems, stories, send drawings made with an ordinary pen. We are still ready to help creative Belarusians because we know that culture will help us reach victory.