Thursday

21st Jun 2018

Investigation

Belarus underground culture defies KGB goons

  • The Belarus Free Theater in Minsk - non-existant according to officials, but celebrated around the world (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Underground culture is flourishing in the heart of Belarus despite regime attempts to establish control.

In public, the residents of Minsk consume a cocktail of Western pop culture and lumbering propaganda: concert posters for rockers Megadeath and jazz-man Kenny G adorn city walls alongside notices of operatic-military stage performances in the country's National Theatre.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

Meanwhile, the likes of 27-year old Maryna Yurevich stage - illegaly - world-class plays in a tumble-down house in a north-Minsk suburb.

She belongs to the Belarus Free Theatre, which last year took first prize at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for its play A Reply to Kathy Acker: Minsk 2011 about homophobia and prostitution. In Thessaloniki in 2008, the troupe took the European Theatre Prize.

"The Greek minister of culture called the Belarus ministry of culture to congratulate them ... Our ministry told the Greeks there is no such thing as the Belarus Free Theatre," Yurevich recalled.

Back in Belarus, Yurevich and her fellow artists risk arrest at the hands of the thick-necked and black-leather-jacket-clad brigades of the state security service, the KGB.

"When people come to see us perform, they bring their passports," Yurevich told EUobserver in a cafe in Minsk situated across the street from the KGB headquarters.

They bring their passports because if they are snatched by police, formalities for getting released go more quickly. Three years ago, the KGB descended en masse and arrested everyone at its theatre-cum-house, including audience members. Six actors now live in exile in London.

Inside the home of the Belarus Free Theatre, the roof looks like it is collapsing at one end. The performers knocked out a wall to make a big open space. About 60 people can fit in, most of whom sit on the floor. Performances are free but audiences give donations.

In the back, a small shack is used to stage plays in summer. Yurevich says nobody lives in the house, except two rats who constantly eat through wires.

Yurevich graduated from the Belarus state university of culture and arts in 2007. She found her first acting gig in the Belarus military theatre but could not stomach the constant World War II re-enactments. The troupe used to tour provincial army bases where she danced to hip-hop in front of bored cadets.

The military theatre director, Alexey Dudarov, wrote four plays about the war. Yurevich described them as "horrible" but nobody dared say it out loud. Dudarov also directed a fifth play - Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet - which barely got past KGB censors, who said it was against Belarusian "values."

'We are all free here!'

For his part, Lukashenko introduced a blacklist of artists and musicians in the crackdown after his own piece of political theatre - his fraudulent 're-election' on 19 December 2010.

The Belarus Free Theatre is on it but so are dozens of other artists, including singer and writer Lavon Volski, who is banned from giving public performances. "The first time we were banned we became depressed. Now it's normal," he told this reporter in November. His songs have since become the unofficial anthems of the fragmented opposition.

Elsewhere, young people organise clandestine shows in private homes, in cellars - anywhere away from the eyes of the KGB.

In October last year, this reporter attended one event in the attic of a house in a Minsk suburb. Headlining the show was popular hip-hop group, Vinsent. The band, headed by a 22-year-old front man, raps in Belarusian while kids as young as 15 in the audience throw around the banned white-red-white Belarusian opposition flag.

"We are all free here!" Vinsent yelled in Belarusian before dimming the lights. People went nuts when the music began.

EU ambassadors trickle back to Minsk

All EU ambassadors are returning to Minsk in a bid to improve deteriorating relations with Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, in power for the past 18 years.

'Lukashenko put cucumbers in my trunk'

Belarus' former leader - Stanislav Shushkevich - says Lukashenko is an "arse-kisser" whose power will wane if the EU imposes economic sanctions.

Analysis

Greece facing post-bailout challenges

Creditors are expected to agree Thursday on a final loan and debt relief measures for Greece. After eight years on an international lifeline, the country will remain under close surveillance - but will have to find a new economic model.

News in Brief

  1. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  2. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  3. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  4. EU adopts posted workers directive
  5. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI
  6. May passes Brexit bill after rebels accept compromise
  7. Pope: populists 'creating a psychosis' on migrants
  8. MEPs want to restrict use of antibiotics

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us