In 2020, people who had never previously participated in any opposition activity, and in the civil society activity in general, got under the wheel of repressions. However, it is their contribution into the culture of the protesting Belarus that became one of the most influential ones. Among them there were DJs and showmen. Here are the two most famous stories.
Story of the “DJs of Change”
On August 6, 2020, the opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, after she had been denied to hold a meeting in the Park of Peoples’ Friendship in Minsk at the last minute, stated that she, together with her supporters, would visit a city festival “Kaleidoscope of Creativity” held at Kyiv Square instead. After the information about that had spread on social media, a lot of supporters of Tsikhanouskaya went to Kyiv Square, too.
During the performance of an accordionist Vitaly Varanko, unexpectedly a song of the Soviet dissident Viktor Tsoy “We Long for Change” started playing. Sound engineers Kiryl Halanau and Wladyslaw Sokolowski, standing behind the DJ’s desk, confirmed to the journalists that they played that song deliberately, because they wanted changes in the country and were ready to get fired from their jobs for that act. People present at the festival met the song of Tsoy with applause and shouted “Well done, guys!” After that, a representative of the district administration warned the DJs that they disrupted the holiday, and called the police.
On August 7, 2020, Centralny District Court of Minsk passed the verdicts on Kiryl Halanau and Wladyslaw Sokolowski, the DJs who unexpectedly played the song of Viktor Tsoy “We Long for Change” in Minsk on August 6, 2020. Court hearings of both the DJs were held concurrently.
The young people were charged with hooliganism under Article 17.1 and with disobedience to legitimate demands under Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus. Kiryl Halanau was found guilty of both offenses and sentenced to 5 days of arrest for each, 10 days of arrest in total. Wladyslaw Sokolowski was sentenced to 8 days of administrative arrest on the charges of hooliganism and to 6 days of arrest on the charges of disobedience with legitimate demands. By means of partially combining the sentences, the final punishment handed down to him was 10 days of arrest.
According to the police report, read by the judge Yulia Hustyr at the beginning of the hearing on Sokolowski’s case, the defendant “in the presence of a large number of people, with intent to disturb the public order and normal activity of the directorate of ideological work under Centralny District Administration of the city of Minsk, deliberately disrupted a festive concert by turning off the sound during performance of artists and by turning on a composition which did not comply with the format of the event”.
As for disobedience with legitimate demands, during the detention, Sokolowski, according to the police report, “attempted to escape, was swinging his arms, behaved arrogantly and provocatively”. The DJ himself called those records in the report “an absolute lie”.
When asked by the judge, why he had played the Tsoy’s song “We Long for Change”, Sokolowski replied: “A meeting had been scheduled to be held at that time, and they used us as a plug, to occupy the location. That rose my indignation, I did not want to participate in that action. It was indecent, illegal and contrary to my beliefs. I wanted to support Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, I had no intent to disrupt the concert.”
The court lasted from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. with several breaks. During the hearings, the lawyers of the defendants, Siarhei Zikratsky and Mikhail Bandarchuk, demanded several times to submit into evidence footages from the police video recorders and surveillance cameras. They also demanded to summon the district administration to question them on the issue of the program of the event, when it had started and ended, and if there really had been an attempt to disrupt it by playing a song when it was officially over.
On one of the motions, the court stated that there were no grounds to satisfy it, as there was enough evidence. As for the motion to submit a footage into evidence and to demand documents from the executive committee, the court satisfied it.
On August 17, 2020, when both the DJs were released from the detention facility, it became known that Wladyslaw Sokolowski was beaten there by the Deputy Interior Minister, Alexander Barsukov.
Sokolowski was serving his sentence in the Minsk detention facility in Okrestina lane. Five days out of ten he spent in a solitary confinement unit. According to the DJ, on the third day of arrest “some big shot” came to his cell: “The big shot said: “You tuned on the music? You want change? So many people went out in the streets, so much blood because of you. Just get ready, you are going to get imprisoned for about 10 years.” Then he hit me twice and went out. When he was leaving, he said: “Why is he here like in a sanatorium? Do as it should be done.”
After that, it became very cold in the solitary confinement cell, and they stopped reclining the bunk for the night. After the DJ was released, he recognized the “big shot” that had visited him as the Deputy Interior Minister, Alexandr Barsukov.
Sokolowski also said that after his arrest he was first put in a cell with 40 other detained persons, almost all of them were covered in blood.
“I stayed there for 10 minutes, and then they sent me to another cell. I stayed there till the end of the day. People there looked a bit better. On August, 14, the same big shot (Barsukov) came. They took me to the corridor, he talked to people in the cell, promised to release them. Little by little, people in the cell were replaced with other people, finally six were left. They were also released later”, he recollects.
Sokolowski added that Siarhei Matskoit, detained at Kyiv Square in Minsk, was in the same cell with him: “His leg was broken after a cruel detention. With that broken leg, he spent 9 days in Okrestina street (at the pre-trial detention facility), because doctors did not insist on his hospitalization”.
On August 26, 2020, mass media informed that after their release, the sound engineers Wladyslaw Sokolowski and Kiryl Halanau left for Lithuania. As it turned out, the Embassy of Lithuania had offered help to the sound engineers Wladyslaw Sokolowski and Kiryl Halanau on August, 6, right after their detention.
“As soon as we were released from the delinquents’ detention centre, the Embassy contacted us again. We decided to take the proposed assistance”, Sokolowski said. The DJ confessed that he was scared to be imprisoned in a Belarusian jail for a long time. The sound engineers arrived to Lithuania on August, 22. A day before that, Sokolowski was taken to the central office of the MIA. The press service of the ministry stated that “they had talked to him, and he had left”.
On August 6, 2021, exactly a year after the famous playing of the song, Kiryl Halanau told the DW mass media how he together with his colleague had made that decision and talked about the basic reason of the Belarusian tragedy. In particular, he said:
I am confident that I did everything I could on that day in order to stop the madness or at least not to be a part of it. And I believe, that if other random people with an adequate perception of the events were put in the circumstances of that day, the result would be very similar. To be objective, everybody I talked to on that day understood what was going on, and nobody wanted to participate in it. However, every person was passing on the responsibility for what was happening on somebody else and was sure that their main task was to decide nothing, regardless of the office they held.
Of course, there had been a lot of things in Belarus I wasn’t satisfied with before that day, but I lived with that, as many others, I tried to adapt. However, working at another official event, that neither its organizer, nor the audience, nor the artists needed or were interested at, I even felt some sort of joy that I had the experience of observing it. It should not have lived till the 21st century neither according to the laws of economics, nor to the social rules nor to common sense. However, all that has been put on stream, and I am a living witness to this absurdity.
Story of Dzianis Dudzinski
Before the year 2020, Dzianis Dudzinski was a successful man in Belarus: he was famous as a Belarusian TV presenter, correspondent, showman, actor, frontman of DaVinci band, and also a traveler and a tourist guide.
On June 24, 2020, Dzianis Dudzinski supported the shop Symbal.by, selling white-red-white symbols, and condemned actions of OMON (the riot police) operatives detaining Minsk dwellers standing in the queue to the shop the day before. He also paid his attention to the fact that an unknown person in civilian clothes was filming the queue of the buyers standing in front of the shop.
On July 8, 2020, it became known that Dzianis Dudzinski was fired from the Belarusian TV and removed from conducting the «Slavonic Bazaar» together with Katsiaryna Rayetskaya after his post on social media about absurdness of detaining people standing in a queue to the shop of Belarusian souvenirs Symbal.by. The director of the shop, Pavel Belous, was sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment on May 11, 2023, for “organization of group actions that seriously harm public order” including allegedly appeals to usurpation of power.
On August 12, 2020, Dudzinsky together with other previously fired employees of the National Television and Radio Company of Belarus organized a rally near the TV building to protest against censorship.
On September 3, 2020, Dudzinski and his colleague, Dzmitry Kakhno, were arrested for the term of ten days. They were accused of participation in an “unsanctioned activity”. (Later, in October, Dudzinski was fined for the sum of 675 BYN, equivalent to $270 at the moment, for the same thing).
A day later, before a mass protest rally against Lukashenka, the Belarusian state television showed a video message of Dudzinski and Kakhno. On the video, both the presenters were speaking in a monotonous way, using stamps, characteristic of a court minutes. In his message, Dudzinski said that he wanted to “warn by his example all those who were planning to go out to illegal meetings, actions and marches, about consequences.”
“There will be consequences, the consequences will be. And the consequences won’t be mild, as you might think. Do not commit illegal acts”, he said.
On September 14, 2020, in a YouTube video, Dzianis Dudzinski spoke about the details of his detention and how that video message shown on the state TV had been shot.
On June 2, 2021, allegedly a tax inspection came to the home of Dudzinski. Immediately after that, on June, 8, he and his wife, Katsiaryna Rayetskaya, left for Kyiv.