Aksana Haiko, Frau mit Automat; Foto: Evgeny Bgancev

5 Tage Belarus, #1 – 2022

“And yet the energy of last summer has not disappeared. It has hidden and waits. The country has changed, we will never be the same again. For those who have entered the stream of revolution, there is no going back.” 
Artur Klinau (Eight Days of Revolution: A Documentary Journal from Minsk, Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin 2021). 

“White spot” is what historian Thomas Bohn once called Belarus. Since 9 August 2020, Belarus is no longer a white spot. After the rigged presidential election, thousands took to the streets and protested peacefully. The regime responded with brutal police violence, imprisonment and torture. Pictures of the peaceful protests of thousands of people with flowers, the Belarusian colours, with songs and spontaneous meetings and their violent dispersal went around the world.

Despite all the violence, a courageous, non-violent and decentralised self-organised protest movement emerged in the weeks after the rigged presidential election, supported by all social classes. Women were at the centre of the protest, creatively challenging state power time and again. Belarus showed that a new post-Soviet generation had grown up here, whose commitment to democracy, equal rights and a say in the matter should be seen in the broader context of European and global emancipation movements. From the beginning, artists were significantly involved in the protests. Even in the run-up to the election, the arts supported and promoted democratic processes. Independent art venues formed free spaces where civil society met. The young scene that developed here emancipated itself from the canons and traditions of the Soviet era and exchanged new artistic formats with international colleagues.

The big mass protests are history for the time being. The regime systematically purges and destroys all civil society involvement. Independent institutions and media are banned.

This makes it all the more important not to lose contact with civil society actors and artists from Belarus. Many actors have left the country in recent months and are now working in exile in Vilnius, Warsaw, Kiev and also in Germany. They continue to work and think about the future of their country.

For “5 Days of Belarus”, HELLERAU invites protagonists of the independent art and culture scene, but also actors from NGOs and civil society from Belarus and from places of exile of Belarusian artists to Dresden in a series of events lasting several days with performances, lectures, talks, readings and workshops. In this way, HELLERAU would like to fill a knowledge gap about the situation in Belarus, provide deeper insights, make historical and social connections clear and establish encounters. 

27.04. – 01.05.2022 
5 days Belarus 
With Aksana Haiko, Sviatlana Haidalionak, Olga Podgaiskaya, Marina Naprushkina, Julia Cimafiejeva&Alhierd Bacharevic, Olga Shparaga, Igor Shugeleev, Alexander Marchenko, Belarus Free Theatre a.o.  
Contributor to the programme: Johannes Kirsten  

Funded within the framework of the Alliance of International Production Houses by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony. This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget passed by the Saxon State Parliament. 

So that the world does not forget Belarus 

The poet Julia Cimafiejeva (*1982) and the prose writer Alhierd Bacharevic (*1975) are among the best-known authors from Belarus. Julia Cimafiejeva’s “Minsk.Tagebuch” and the poetry collection “Zirkus” have been published in German, and Alhierd Bacharevic’s essay collections “Sie haben schon verloren” and “Berlin, Paris und das Dorf” have both been published by edition.fotoTAPETA Berlin. Bacharevic’s opus magnum “The Dogs of Europe” will be published by Voland & Quist. Both authors have been invited to a reading and discussion at the “5 Days of Belarus” festival. The dramaturge Johannes Kirsten spoke with Alhierd Bacharevic. 

Alhierd Bacharevic, you and your wife, the poet Julia Cimafiejeva, have been in Graz as “Writer-inExile” since the end of November 2020. That was exactly one year ago.  

The term “Writer-in-Exile” is a bit “awkward”: both parts are important, but people often ignore the “Writer” and only the exile evokes interest. Fortunately, that is not the case with us. We have achieved a lot this year as Literat:innen. We came to Graz at the end of November 2020, psychologically very injured. What we experienced in Minsk is a great trauma. Our literary work helped us to get through it.

The past year was also a year of numerous interviews: Julia and I gave more than 70 interviews to Western and Belarusian media. We have been living in safety for a year now. For us, there are the best conditions for writing and living in Graz, so our most important mission now is to tell the world about Belarus, about the current situation, but not only about repression and terror, but also about the Belarusian language and culture. We were invited everywhere. The interest in Belarus was greater than ever before. Does it always have to be like this, that the world is only interested in a country when there is fascism, terror and violence in that country? We do everything so that the world does not forget Belarus. Sometimes you have to shout when the world doesn’t hear us. Some of our lyrics are cries. But last year, Julia’s brother and his wife were also arrested in Belarus, just for playing music at the 2020 street protests. They face several years in prison. Now we write letters to them in prison. A new, very sad genre. It’s been a long and very eventful year.  

Has your writing changed?  

Everything we wrote this year was and is dedicated to the events in Belarus 2020-2021. We cannot focus only on our personal experiences as we used to. Too much pain, too much anger, the wounds are too deep. We are currently writing more essays, more journalism, more poetry, because we can better express our emotions in these forms. It’s not a good time for fiction. To write novels, events have to be forgotten a little. But in Belarus everything is changing very quickly at the moment. We remember everything too much, nothing is forgotten. When we read the news or think about our compatriots, it hurts. I’ve noticed that since a year ago I’ve been using the word “we” much more often in my writing. We feel much more unity with our readers right now. And I feel myself losing irony, my saving and healing irony. It’s really bad. How can literature be without irony? But how to write ironically about Belarus now, I don’t know yet. Belarusian literature always laughed at the state, but now we hate this regime. I agree with Julia when she says that Belarusian literature today could become the literature of contemporary witnesses. Julia’s “Minsk. Diary”, for example, describes our everyday life in Minsk in the summer and autumn of 2020, and also our life in Graz when we left Minsk. A poet has written a diary about everyday life-and I, the novelist, write a lot of poetry and journalism. We choose new genres for ourselves to express ourselves and write letters to our political prisoners-it is a big challenge for every writer.  

In the summer of 2020, people lost their fear for a brief moment. Now fear is back again. How can you get rid of the “fear stone” Julia Cimafiejeva writes about in a poem, once and for all?  

Fear is very natural for a person, it turns on the mechanism of self-preservation. Not only for a person, but also for a nation. On the one hand, the collective fear of Belarusians during Stalin’s repressions and during the war contributed to our preservation as a nation. On the other hand, it helped the regime to hold on for so long. Julia’s poem is actually a very painful reflection of this theme. Fear sits deep within us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it. Fear for oneself and for loved ones chases thousands of Belarusians out of the country today. But in exile they preserve the idea of Belarusian freedom, the idea of a new, a different Belarus. History continues not only through the bravery of the people, but also through their fear. That is how I understand this poem. In the summer we overcame our fear, and then the fear came again. Especially because we are human beings. It is impossible not to be afraid. It is important to embrace one’s fear. Intimidation is the policy of the powerful. The response is silence. Not fear. But one can be afraid and continue to resist even with fear.  

Is everything that was achieved in the summer of 2020 lost today?    

Today there are no more mass protests, but the protest lives on in the consciousness of the people of Belarus. Life as before is impossible. People no longer believe the state and propaganda. Any political, social, cultural activity in Belarus is now strictly forbidden. All NGOs have been destroyed. There is a moral unity of Belarusians against the dictatorship, an incredible interest in culture and language, and a strengthening of national identity. In the summer of 2020, Belarusians recognised themselves and saw how many in Belarus are supporters of change, despite all the propaganda incantations. For decades, this regime was sure that people were indifferent and not political. But in the summer of 2020, Belarus was seen by the whole world. These are the most important achievements and accomplishments of the revolution.  

What should a future coexistence in a Belarus without Lukashenko look like? 

Unfortunately, a Belarus without Lukashenko does not necessarily mean a free country. New criminals may take his place. Our task is to prevent that. Of course, we dream of a democratic, European country without violence, of a parliamentary republic with a strong self-government and without a censoring Ministry of Culture, of a country open to all that comes to terms with its past, of a society that understands its historical responsibility. 

I am afraid   
I am at home.  
I received my fear as an heirloom – 
a family relic,  
a precious stone,  
passed on  
from generation 
generation to generation.   
from: “The Fear Stone” by Julia Cimafiejeva 

Julia Cimafiejeva & Alhierd Bacharevic 

Who, if not us. When, if not now. 

By Marina Naprushkina  

Mama proudly points to the white chrysanthemums in the crystal vase. From the demonstration, she says to me. You know Aunt Lena, she never misses a single protest. Lena has a sister. She’s really an activist. She just said: What do you mean, you’re not coming? Of course I went.  

I’m scared. And how. But I know: I can’t NOT go. Do you understand? My kids make me a sandwich in the morning and say: Mum, take it with you in case you don’t come back home tonight. I ask you, is this normal?  

Video description #1  
Evening light, in the yard of the prison building. Around twenty men in black clothes and police uniforms with batons in their hands. They are waiting. Some of them are wearing masks. People run into the picture, being herded out of a car, one by one. They run with their hands behind their heads, head down. As soon as one person comes running into the picture, the uniforms beat them with batons. Head down, asshole! Run, asshole, faster! Come on, bitch, faster! People scream, blows can be heard again. On your knees! On your knees! Screams. The beaten scream in pain. Just before the wall, one of the beaten falls to his knees. About 30 people run through the “corridor”. All of them? No, here come the elite! Seconds later, another person runs into the picture. Head down, damn it! Run, you asshole! On your knees! Scum! Here it is, here’s the bitch, cattle, hit it, an encore please! It’s hitting. Faster, more, come on! Vitaĺ, are there any more? The recording stops here. 

Aunt Tanya 
There will be no gravestone for grandfather this month. I couldn’t get hold of anyone at the workshop. Then I found out that the two workmen were arrested the night after the election. One is in hospital, beaten, two ribs broken.  

If you see barricades, OMON forces or possible provocations, don’t be driven into a corner. Scatter through the courtyards, choosing detours and neighbouring streets. There are ten ways to get to Partyzanski Avenue! Download the city map to your device beforehand! Be careful, move in large groups and don’t get kidnapped by unknown people in masks. In case of blockades, look for a diversion! And don’t forget masks, hats and spare mobile phones.  

Picture description #3  
Several people are standing in the street blocking traffic. They have stretched a banner across the road: 5 dead, 13,550 imprisoned, 450 tortured, 73 political prisoners. AND YOU ARE AFRAID  

From the chat  
I’ll call you later. Both hands full with umbrella and flag.  

Marina Naprushkina (*1981 in Minsk) is a visual artist, activist and writer. In 2007 she founded the Office for Antipropaganda and in 2013 the New Neighbourhood/Moabit initiative. In 2015 she received the Sussmann Artist Award, in 2017 the ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture. For “5 Days of Belarus” she is developing a performative work. The text excerpts are from “Who, if not us. When, if not now” by Marina Naprushkina, published in: Belarus! The Female Face of the Revolution, edited by Andreas Roste, Nina Weller, Thomas Weiler, Tina Wünschmann; edition.fotoTAPETA, 2020