@BFreeTheatre #StandWithBelarus #ImWithTheBanned
When Alexander Lukashenko announced that presidential elections would take place in Belarus on Sunday 9 August 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, BFT relaunched the campaign, Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus afresh for 2020.
This is an overview of the major campaign milestones:
9 July - public launch of BFT’s dedicated microsite, I'm with the Banned
Natalia Kaliada, co-founding Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre, made an address at the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the violent crackdown on peaceful protest and assembly ahead of Belarus’ presidential elections.
10 July - I'm with the Banned video appeal launches
Stage and screen luminaries: Stephen Fry, Stephen Daldry, Emma Thompson, Michael Attenborough, Polish film director Agnieszka Holland, the co-founding Artistic Directors of Belarus Free Theatre, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, together with members of BFT’s Minsk-based ensemble, recorded video messages of support for the Belarusian people and called for urgent action from international leaders to ensure free and fair elections in Belarus.
10 July - Dogs of Europe performances return
From 10 July to 5 August, BFT’s Minsk-based permanent ensemble remounted their latest stage production, Dogs of Europe, for public performance in the lead-up to the presidential elections. Based on the novel by Alhierd Bacharevic, Dogs of Europe is widely considered one of the most important literary works ever published in Belarus offering a powerful warning of the corrupting influences of dictatorship. Adapted for the stage by Belarus Free Theatre, the production reveals how authoritarianism is contagious – how it penetrates all aspects of daily life as oppression isn’t just meted out by a national figurehead but by everyone across all walks of society.
10 July - Eva-lution launches
In the weeks following the arrest of Viktor Babariko, one of Lukashenko’s political rivals, on 18 June, BFT launched Eva-lution. Babariko was the owner of some of the world’s greatest Belarusian artworks – he purposefully bought them in the West in order to bring them back into the country; all of which were seized upon his arrest. The painting opposite (far left) is Eva by the Belarusian-born expressionist painter, Chaim Soutine; it is one of the most expensive paintings in Belarus today. Eva fast became a symbol of protest across Belarus – shared hundreds of thousands of times on social networks; her image was even printed onto T-shirts. BFT reimagined this iconic image with artistic provocations from BFT ensemble member, Yulia Shauchuk (middle) and co-founding Artistic Director, Nicolai Khalezin (far right).
14 July - Eva-lution: in solidarity with all political prisoners in Belarus
On 14 July 2020, BFT took Eva out onto the streets in an artistic action entitled: Eva-lution: in solidarity with all political prisoners in Belarus. Led by BFT’s co-founding Artistic Director, Natalia Kaliada, a dozen Belarusian women now living in the UK brought Eva-lution from the Serpentine Gallery to the Belarusian Embassy in London. Dressed as Eva – first in her prison robes, then in her black dress – they each wore a mask of her unforgettable face; and when they departed all that was left was a pile of discarded prison robes on the steps of the Embassy.
6 August - Tsar Tsar goes out on tour
From 6 August, BFT toured Tsar Tsar, an outdoor theatre production created by ensemble member, Andrei Urazau, to some of the most rural locations across the country, including isolated villages with no internet provision. Performed on the river on a handmade wooden raft, Tsar Tsar revives the time-honoured tradition of travelling theatre, a format created to engage rural audiences in theatre by taking it directly to them. Based on the popular Russian folk tale of Tsar Maximilian, an evil leader who endeavours to oppress his people before they revolt against him, Tsar Tsar is compelling theatre for all the family. After each performance BFT’s ensemble prepared food together with their audience and shared much-sought-after news from the capital.
9 August - BFT arrests
On Sunday 9 August, three members of the BFT family were arrested whilst peacefully protesting in Minsk. Nadia Brodskaya and Sveta Sugako, the Managing Directors of Belarus Free Theatre in Belarus, and Dasha Andreyanova, a member of the permanent acting ensemble (House No.5, Onyx) and film-maker – all based in Minsk – were arrested whilst exercising their basic rights of assembly and protest. Their whereabouts were unknown for more than 48 hours, and they were imprisoned for 7 days.
9 September - World-leading arts organisations #StandWithBelarus
Exactly one month on from the elections, a raft of more than 25 world-leading cultural organisations joined BFT’s Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus.
On the evening of Wednesday 9 September, the facades of Arena Stage (Washington DC), Barbican, BOZAR (Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels), Curve Theatre Leicester, ENO, Goodman Theatre (Chicago), La MaMa (New York), Leeds Playhouse, Roundhouse, Royal Court Theatre, Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare's Globe, The Old Vic, The Public Theater (New York) and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (Washington DC)lit up in the colours of the Belarusian flag, with more organisations – including the Almeida Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre, Birmingham Rep, Bush Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, Gate Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, Lazarus Theatre Company, Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Malthouse Theatre (Australia), Nottingham Playhouse, Omnibus Theatre, Savage Theatre Co, SplitMoon Theatre, Theater Artemis (Netherlands) and Young Vic – joining the campaign online throughout the day.
Stage and screen luminaries have also joined the campaign and recorded messages of support on their social media channels including Glenn Close and Mandy Patinkin.
10 September - Music video collaboration between Yulia Shevchuk and Balaklava Blues launches
Emelia C*nt was originated by Yulia Shevchuk, one of BFT’s long-standing ensemble members. Her latest track is a rap about violence in Belarus, in collaboration with Balaklava Blues.
18 September - Natalia Kaliada makes a second address at the United Nations Human Rights Council
Natalia Kaliada, co-founding Artistic Director of Belarus Free Theatre, called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to declare a state of emergency on Belarus. The UNHRC resolution was accepted.
Extract: “The time has come to declare the state of emergency on Belarus. Unprecedented levels of violence and police brutality, election falsifications and the use of torture, repression of media and public freedoms are a repeated occurrence in Belarus for the past 41 days. There are at least 500 cases of torture, 7 murders and numerous enforced disappearances are a direct consequence of 26 years of dictatorship. Struggling to retain his grip on the crumbling control over the country, Alexander Lukashenko has turned the people of Belarus into hostages of the regime”.
Autumn / Winter 2020 - BFT’s courtyard theatre pops up across Minsk
From late August, BFT took theatre out onto the streets, staging performances in courtyards across the capital three or four times every week. These performances are drawing large and appreciative audiences, including children and families.
BFT adapted Tsar Tsar, a show usually performed in and on the river, for the courtyard circuit in winter 2020.
27 October - BFT arrests
Dasha Andreyanova, a member of BFT’s permanent Minsk-based acting ensemble (House No.5, Onyx) and film-maker - was arrested for the second time whilst exercising her basic rights of assembly and protest. She was imprisoned for 14 days.
16 November - BFT wins the 2020 Magnitsky Prize for Courage Under Fire
Their win was announced by stage and screen luminary, Stephen Fry, at a special online ceremony; the Courage Under Fire Prize was previously awarded posthumously in 2019 to Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Stephen Fry, presenter of the Courage Under Fire Award:
“It gives me enormous pleasure to be announcing the winner of the Magnitsky Prize. It’s a group for whom I feel an extraordinary affinity, a group of some of the bravest, most passionate and gifted people I’ve ever come across. They are the Belarus Free Theatre, founded by Nicolai [Khalezin] and Natalia [Kaliada]…..I think what the Magnitsky Award stands for in terms of rising up and standing up against bullying and tyranny and despotism, and the manipulation of the truth, and the manipulation of populations, it couldn’t be better exemplified than by this group. I want to congratulate them from the bottom of my heart, to reiterate my deep deep admiration for everything they do”.
18 November - Natalia Kaliada makes an address at the European Parliament’s EU Magnitsky sanctions discussion together with Bill Browder, moderated by Edward Lucas.
Directed by Kolya Kuprich for Belarus Free Theatre, the short film focuses on the detention of three of BFT’s company members following August’s elections.