On 19 March 2006, presidential elections were held in Belarus. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security organisation and international election monitor, said that the election “failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections” and most western observers declared the election rigged as in previous years. Thousands of protestors gathered in October Square in Minsk and more than 1200 of them were arrested and thrown into jail.
The Plays: Being Harold Pinter & Generation Jeans
Being Harold Pinter takes the playwright’s 2006 Nobel Prize speech to frame scenes taken from his work. It was first performed outside Belarus at the 2007 conference, Artist and Citizen: 59 Years of Performing Pinter, in Leeds after which Harold Pinter participated in the post-show discussion. It was BFT’s first-ever performance in the UK. The esteemed theatre critic Michael Billington wrote that Being Harold Pinter “reinforces the global resonance of the British playwright’s political works.” Nicolai Khalezin recalls the time BFT met Pinter: “He told us that Britain was a dictatorship, too. We listened in respectful silence, and then we told him about our situation. He had to agree we had a far worse dictatorship.” Pinter became a significant supporter of BFT and waived the royalties for them on any work of his they then produced.
Generation Jeans, written and performed by Nicolai Khalezin is a homage to the Belarusian Jeans Revolution which began in September 2005 when protestor Nikita Sasim was attacked for waving a national Belarusian flag, leading him to take off his denim shirt to make an improvised banner. Faced with this unexpected development the police were unsure how to respond and from that moment on, says Khalezin, “denim became a symbol of freedom and resistance.”
Stop Violence! brought together some of BFT’s most notable supporters – including Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Vaclav Havel (all Life Patrons of BFT) – to amplify international attention towards police violence and brutality in Belarus.
The campaign logo was printed onto T-shirts and distributed across Minsk; it became a familiar symbol across the city of non-violent resistance.