Belarus: ‘Our weapons are ourselves’

Last week we published an exclusive article by the writer and actor Nichola McAuliffe about the Belarusian government’s treatment of its own national theatre, the Janka Kupal, where a play of hers had been produced. The government-appointed general director came out in support of the demonstrators against the disputed presidential election results and, she reported, was summarily sacked. The theatre’s personnel all came out in his support, and now they have found their own voice, their own demands and their own plea to theatre communities and media outlets around the world for their support.

The theatre was closed and our picture shows actors and stagehands protesting outside the Janka Kupal's entrance. Now they have issued a statement via Facebook, translated – in Minsk - into nine languages including English, and we publish it here complete with the idiosyncrasies of home-made translation.

Dear colleagues, actors, directors, artists and musicians, dramatic and musical theatre staff, media representatives, art workers, public organisations and cultural initiatives around the world!

The Janka Kupała National Academic Theatre (Belarus, Minsk) believes in solidarity and hopes for your support.

We identify ourselves as “Kupałaŭcy”. It means we are actors and staff of the Janka Kupała National Academic Theatre - the first and oldest drama theatre in Belarus, which this year marks its 100th anniversary.

We also are Belarusians.

Our country is going through a very difficult period. The presidential elections were held with gross violations and confirmed facts of vote falsification. Instead of the dialogue called for by the public, the government harshly suppresses the resistance of dissenters.

People die in attempts to peacefully defend their lives and freedom, truth and justice. Thousands of detainees are subjected to unprecedented violence. Dozens of people are missing.

Our theatre appeared in the centre of events. And at the moment it is in a critical situation, as well as our entire country. History has it that the Janka Kupała Theatre (Kupałaŭski) often became the place where the fate of Belarus was fulfilled. And this time we did not stand aside. We openly expressed our solidarity with the Belarusian people.

The theatre's general director Pavel Latushko supported us and publicly condemned the falsification of the past presidential elections and the actions of the security forces responsible for the violent dispersal of peaceful protests. The reaction of the state was immediate - the Ministry of Culture of Belarus decided to fire Pavel Latushko. As a sign of solidarity, artists and theatre workers wrote massive applications for dismissal following the general director. We believe that it is immoral and unacceptable to perform plays on the stage of the national theatre in such times. At the moment Pavel Latushko is a member of the coordination council, which was created with the purpose of peaceful transfer of power. He has received threats.

The new theatre director was appointed without delay. Immediately, the theatre was closed for a sudden reason of "sanitary treatment", and after the work was stopped by order of the new management. For several days now we have been unable to get to the building of the theatre. At this time, law enforcement agencies are inside, and state television is releasing humiliating reports in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the theatre.

Representatives of the current government allow themselves to speak publicly about us in a dismissive tone, calling us fairies and offering to go to America to earn money                                                       

We do not know our future fate. At the moment there are arrests and pressure on people actively defending their rights.

We are demanding:

Release all political prisoners and detainees during the election campaign and peaceful actions related to it;

Investigate all cases of violence against protesters and random people. To initiate criminal proceedings against law enforcement officials who abused their authority; 

Enable media representatives, lawyers, and medics to access those who are still being held in detention facilities;

Stop pressure on employees who take part in peaceful protests and express their civic position;

Conduct new presidential elections with a new central election commission and admission of independent international and national observers.

We appeal to all in the hope of support and solidarity. We very much want to preserve the Janka Kupała Theatre, our home.

We will be grateful for honest media coverage of these events and are ready to assist in this. We would also appreciate any help from public organizations and colleagues from around the world - now your support is precious to us.

We are fighting for our freedom with all our might.

We have no weapons. Our weapons are ourselves.

The world must know.

Long live Belarus. Long live Kupałaŭski. Lives forever.

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