On 31st May, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) premiered Nicolai Khalezin’s play Error 403 about the murder of Belarusian protestor Alexander Taraikovsky in August 2020. It was performed at Vaba Lava Theatre in Tallinn, Estonia and attended by Belarus’ President-elect Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Estonia’s president Karsti Kaljulaid and former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves and the Estonian foreign ministers Eva-Maria Liimets and Urmas Reinsalu and special guest Tommy Cash amongst others.
Tikhanovskaya’s visit and the premiere of Error 403 come as Estonia takes up the presidency of the UN Security Council. Especially since the state-hijacking of Ryanair Flight FR4978 at Minsk Airport by Belarusian authorities and the enforced detainment of opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega, Estonia has taken a strong and principled position on sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko, the unauthorised so-called “president” of Belarus and his regime. They have been calling on the EU block and the UK particularly to prevent the regime’s corrupt schemes (Belarus still siphons corrupt money through London’s financial centre) and to prohibit Lukashenko from absolving responsibility for his country’s continued descent into crisis and human rights atrocities. The visit focused on ways in which to pressure the regime, for Belarus to overcome this emergency and how to continue to support independent Belarusian media. After she met with Tikhanovskaya and stressing the need for European sanctions to have as crippling an effect on the country’s cash flow as possible, President Kaljulaid said; “Our meeting today reassured us that powerful, effective sanctions are in the interests of the people of Belarus and indeed are expected, they will have an impact on the residents of the country, and on the European companies operating their and their business, but that is a small price to pay compared to the price the Belarusian people have already paid.” Kaljulaid also promised to make Belarus a focus of the UN Security Council and to be prepared to act promptly, should it be needed.
The premiere comes at a time when the Minsk authorities are still trying to cover up the memorial to Alexander Taraikovsky with salt, paint and rubbish. Taraikovsky was an unarmed protestor who was gunned down by law enforcers on August 10th 2020, the day after the fraudulent presidential election. Leaked audio later revealed Nikolia Karpenkov, chief of GUBOPik, a special police unit in Belarus, to admit that he was shot by police – contrary to the official line that an explosive device detonated in his hand. Khalezin’s play, however, does not focus on Taraikovsky as the main protagonist but imagines the policeman who fired the fatal shot. On a program for the ETV + Channel, “Actual Camera”, Khalezin commented that, “It seems to me it is more important to focus on those who do this (the shootings and torture). Because those who suffer live in understandable logic, they are fighting for freedom. But why did this police officer fire at an unarmed demonstrator? What is he fighting for? We are now trying to somehow understand this because they are also Belarusians and we need to live with them further.”
Part of the research for the play involved communication with representatives of law enforcement agencies. Khalezin further comments: “They are not initially villains but for some reason, they turn into villains. This is also the question, how to protect Belarusian society from such future transformations.”
After seeing the show President Kaljulaid commented: “Error 403 is difficult viewing. To us too, not to mention those whose loved ones or those who have been beaten, tortured and illegally imprisoned by the Belarusian regime.”