Kiryl Kalbasnikau

Verity Healey

I am Belarusian. I am a post-nationalist. I am cosmopolitan. I am twenty-eight years old so I was four when Lukashenko became president and I lived abroad for five years in Vilnius in Lithuania whilst I was studying at university. Vilnius is an ancient city and it has preserved its historical centre more than Minsk, in Minsk, we don’t have that. Also, Lithuania joined the EU a while ago. They have a different culture, although we have had things in common in the past. They speak English and they also have a democracy. 

My university was the European Humanities University, a Belarusian one in exile: it was forced to leave Belarus because it was pro-Europe and democratic. The authorities closed it so Lithuania gave it a place in Vilnius. 

I have lived with my father since I was twelve. He divorced my mother and we are not that close. My father is pro-Russian and probably he would be happy for Putin to take over. I studied journalism at university and so I understand how the media has an impact on people and I can see how my father and my stepmother are influenced by Russian propaganda. People become more vulnerable under the influence of propaganda which aims to divide rather than unite. If I argue with my father and stepmother about politics I can usually predict all the arguments they will present because they will be a repetition of the news, so my dad and I try to avoid political topics because we know we won’t change our minds on things. When we used to fight he used to say it was his mistake to send me to a pro-European university because he thinks that made me pro-European, but I always was an independent-thinking person and I always had my own point of view. The greatest thing my father did for me is not insist that I take on his views. He tried and I had to defend myself in our arguments and when we had arguments we usually ended up – not good – it was an emotional fight. There have been a couple of times I have not spoken to my dad – for three months or half a year - when I could not allow myself to forgive him.

I have thought about life. You can’t help the ones who don’t ask for help, so it is not up to the EU and western countries to help us, it is more about us deciding what will happen to Belarus. But also where does the intention start – from the outside or the inside? They are intertwined and a person might not know how to ask for help.

I am a political person, I think that people who say they don’t want to get involved in politics are involved anyway and if you don’t participate actively you are passive. And politics is always about our lives.

My path to Belarus Free Theatre is a simple story. I was working in Minsk as an administrator in Gallery of Contemporary Art “Ў”, an independent exhibition space and I organised educational projects in this gallery and helped my friends organise exhibitions and conceptual parties aimed at lowering discrimination towards groups like LGBT communities. I also used to make websites. But on New Year’s Day in 2014, I decided I wanted to be an actor. So on the 1st January, I wrote a letter to Kolya Khalezin and in a couple of minutes, he answered and said I could join Fortinbras.

My decision to be an actor came about through a very honest dialogue with myself. I never used to make New Year’s resolutions, but it happened this time that on the 1st January this is what I decided. It is risky, but the kind of art I had already been organising was already risky because it was pro-democratic and pro-freedom. Risk...look at our car as we drive and you are interviewing me! Risk is an indistinguishable part of freedom. When you decide to do anything to change the situation and go out of your comfort zone risk is always there, it is an inevitable part of growing.

How has Belarus Free Theatre changed me? I have more responsibility. Even though I was already active in civil rights, I can compare myself to how I was then and now I see that I have more self-discipline and I act with more responsibility for others. I have become more self-aware about who I am, and the tasks I have to accomplish with Dogs Of Europe have also changed me. You just grow and get more and more experience in different spheres. Belarus Free Theatre has given me good friends too, I would like to call these people family.

We can live in the world now thanks to knowledge and art. Artists are those people who think independently, who can clarify and point out the imperfections of our world. They are risking imprisonment and to be beaten for it, they are willing to pay with their freedom for a change. We need those people, the crazy guys who will shout - we have a problem here, and we need to change it - otherwise later it will be worse.