Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus

Жыве Беларусь – Long live Belarus!  Mick Jagger

The Facts

BFT’s Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus is an ongoing campaign that first began in 2007 to help raise awareness on specific issues around freedoms in Belarus.

BFT Life Patrons, Tom Stoppard and Václav Havel, together with Mick Jagger were the first public figures to record video messages of support for the Belarusian people, championing their right to freedom and democracy.

Over the intervening years its supporters have included: Steven Spielberg, Harold Pinter, Sigrid Rausing, Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman, Glenn Close, Mandy Patinkin, Vivienne Westwood, Kim Cattrall and Ian McKellen.

World Musicians in Solidarity with Belarus

BFT was introduced to Mick Jagger by Life Patrons, Tom Stoppard and Václav Havel. A meeting was arranged on 26 July 2007 whilst Jagger was on his European tour performing in Poland. After this meeting Jagger said Belarus must become a part of free Europe and expressed solidarity with the people of Belarus recording a video message saying, Freedom of speech and democracy should prevail.” He ended his video with the words “Long live Belarus” and “Жыве Беларусь” in Belarusian.

Jagger then agreed to be the Patron of the campaign World Musicians in Solidarity with Belarus, which was launched by BFT in partnership with DJ Laurel. Jagger also said that he would only perform in Belarus when there was no longer a dictatorship. Ten days after the concert, the BFT ensemble together with audience members were arrested and kept in detention – some for as long as 15 days.

BFT has pioneered its own unique way of transforming audience members from passive observers to active participants, often by presenting its work in unexpected locations. Solidarity Parties formed the backbone of the World Musicians in Solidarity with Belarus campaign; the first was at the 2006 Munich Festival where DJ Laurel played in a Solidarity Party with Florian Keller. Other world-leading DJs who have participated in the campaign include: Jazzanova, Clara Hill, Bonobo, Nickodemus, 7 Samurai, Crazy P, DJ Format, Dom Servini and Stac and Rob Luis.

Other musicians who have supported the campaign include: Laurie Anderson, Polish band Maleo Reggae Rockers, Ukrainians Kozak System and two Belarusian groups Amaroka and Lyapis Trubetskoy, Italian Oscar-winning composer Niccolo Povani, the Pet Shop Boys and Neil Tennant. All have found themselves banned by the Belarusian government for supporting this campaign.

Against Internet Censorship and Freedom of Information

On 1 July 2010, journalists and artists joined BFT’s Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus, gathering outside the Belarusian Embassy in London to protest against internet censorship that came into force in Belarus that month. The decree No. 60 claims that authorities have the power to monitor and block websites providing information from certain sources; the EU described it as a “Step in the wrong direction.”

Numerous artists and protestors, led by Tom Stoppard, including: Mark Ravenhill, Howard Brenton, Alan Rickman, Laura Wade, Caryl Churchill, Henry Goodman, Henry Porter, Simon McBurney, Simon Stephens and Lyndsey Turner handed a petition to the Belarusian Ambassador, calling for an end to the curtailment of freedom of expression in the country.

The letter read: “We urge you to allow the people of Belarus the right to express and share their opinions freely, whether this is on the internet or not. We urge you to use your powers to prevent any further repression of citizens who hold alternative, and oppositional, beliefs to you. We urge that the practice of physical abuse and intimidation against any citizen, including those who dare to hold alternative and oppositional points of view, be stopped. Finally, we urge you to protect the right to freedom of assembly in accordance with Article 21 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which Belarus is a state party.”

BFT friend and Trustee, Samuel West, also performed a rousing extract from Generation Jeans. He said, The purpose of theatre and the purpose of the internet is the same: to connect people, to bring them together as a collective entity, an audience, a world. Repressive regimes are rightly frightened of the internet for its ability to put free thinkers in touch with one another and give them inspiration and strength; it’s not us and them out there, it’s all us. We must oppose any withdrawal of these freedoms as anti-thought, anti-freedom, anti-human.”

His partner Laura Wade, also a friend and Trustee to BFT, added: “This decree is potentially a disaster for the Free Theatre of Belarus. For them, the internet is a lifeline – a way to find their audience in Minsk and beyond, but also to stay connected to a global network of friends and supporters. I believe that the Free Theatre, a group of passionate and brave theatre makers, have something vitally important to say to the world. We must make sure that they can.”