“To Squeeze a Slave out of Oneself, Drop by Drop.” Review of Belarusian Culture in Socio-political Crisis: July 12-18

Photo: drawing by Antanina Kanavalava, @v.pashtouki
To be a decent person, love one's country and people, develop culture and promote the highest values – humanism, respect, freedom – is not a crime but something to be proud of. And we are proud.

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Persecution, Convictions, Cultural Policy

Ivan Citoŭ, photo by

Vadzim Hulevič [Hulevich], a musician and programmer, is a suspect under Part 2 of Article 289 of the Criminal Code – an act of terrorism, a sentence of 8 to 20 years in prison.

Ivan Citoŭ [Tsitou], choirmaster of the National Opera and Ballet Theater, was forced to leave the theater and Belarus. He used to walk around the city with national symbols, for which he was first fined and then deprived of the right to stay in Belarus because he is a Russian citizen.

The Ministry of Justice is inspecting the activities of the Union of Belarusian Writers. The organization had to prepare a large array of documents for several years in a day. The Belarusian Language Society received such a request too.

On July 14, over 20 human rights and other non-governmental organizations throughout Belarus became subjects to search and arrests – the Belarusian School Society, the World Association of Belarusians Baćkaŭščyna, the Belarusian Writers Union among them. Barys Piatrovič, poet, writer, chairperson of the Union of Belarusian Writers, had his home searched and is now under travel restrictions.

The Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of  Belarus came for PEN Belarus, to its statutory address. As PEN Belarus has been working remotely for the last year, none of its coworkers were there. The organization working in that office had their equipment confiscated.

Among the activists detained on July 14 there were:

Siarhiej Sys – poet, journalist, human rights activist, member of the Belarusian PEN Center (detained as a suspect in a criminal case, released on the same day)

Aleś Bialacki [Ales Bialiatski] – human rights activist, author of prison literature, member of the Belarusian PEN Center (detained as a suspect in a criminal case)

Alena Łapcionak [Alena Laptsionak], editor and publisher of books in the series “Prison Literature” (detained as a suspect in a criminal case, released on July 17)

Alena (Lera) Som – poet, bard, public activist (released after interrogation by the Investigative Committee)

Viktar Sazonaŭ – writer, member of the Union of Belarusian Writers (a suspect in a criminal case; released under travel restrictions)

Svetlana Alexievich, photo by Alexander Janetzko

Svetlana Alexievich missed her flight on July 14 in Berlin (she was going to Wroclaw for an event with the participation of another Nobel laureate, Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk), because Ms. Alexievich allegedly “had a bomb with her”, and the safety check procedure took a long time, after which she was left alone at the airport at night.

On July 15 and 16, searches and detentions of activists and journalists across Belarus continued:

Aleh Hruzdziłovič [Hruzdzilovich], journalist, author of a documentary book about the explosion in the Minsk metro in 2011. Detained, all his equipment was arrested.

Hleb Łabadzienka [Labadzenka], poet, public activist, journalist. Home searched, detained; released on the same day.

Ihar Iljaš [Iliash], journalist, co-author (together with Kaciaryna Andrejeva) of the book “Belarusian Donbass” claimed as extremist by the regime. Home searched, detained on criminal charges.

Alena Anisim, chairwoman of the Belarusian Language Society. Home searched.

Jaŭhien Mierkis, local historian, popularizer of Belarusian culture. Home searched.

Pavieł Mažejka, journalist, director of the Centre for Urban Life space in Hrodna, closed on the decision by the court. Home searched, Pavieł released after an interrogation.

On July 16, court sentences were imposed on defendants in the so-called students case. One defendant received 2 years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony, and the rest – 11 – 2.6 years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony, among them Maryia Kalenik – a student of the Belarusian State Academy of Arts, Ksenia Syramalot – a student of the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Belarusian State University, spokeswoman for the Belarusian Students’ Association, volunteer of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, poet, Yana Arabeika – an activist of the Belarusian Students’ Association and a student of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University, artist, Kasia Budzko – an activist of the Belarusian Students’ Association and a student of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University, artist.

Cimur Hazizaŭ

Cimur Hazizaŭ, an event manager who was detained during the screening of the play White Rabbit, Red Rabbit in Minsk, and was to be released on July 16 after a total of 30 days of administrative arrest was instead transferred to the pre-trial detention center in Minsk, which means he is a suspect in a criminal case.

The criminal case filed against the publishing houses Knihazbor and Januškievič, as well as the studio Adliha and bookseller Aleś Jaŭdacha was closed. The equipment was returned to the owners, the books were not, because the results of the examination aren’t ready yet.


Lavon Karpovič [Liavon Karpovich], a local historian and collector from the village of Luna in the Hrodna region, has been persecuted: he is threatened with a criminal case if he hangs a white-red-white flag again.

Dissent and Cultural Activism

Victory Artists: musician and poet Aleś Dzianisaŭ played online in support of the political prisoner Ihar Bancer.

A closed screening of the play Para-Dox based on the play by the genius of anti-totalitarian drama Eugene Ionesco Victims of Duty with the participation of actors from Hrodna took place at the Hrodna Center for Urban Life. It’s only available in a video version for now.

Volha Jakuboŭskaja (Yakubouskaya) put up her painting A Walk in Free Minsk for a charity auction. The artist would like to support projects of teaching the Belarusian language.

Voices of Belarusian Culture

Taciana Niadbaj

Taciana Niadbaj, poet, deputy chair of the Belarusian PEN Center, about the inspection carried out by the Ministry of Justice:

“We are aware that we may not have followed all the intricacies of bookkeeping, but we are always ready to correct our mistakes, and some of the shortcomings we have noticed and corrected. If the Ministry of Justice is interested in facilitating, we will be grateful for all the recommendations and correct possible shortcomings, but I suspect that the Ministry of Justice pursues a completely different purpose. Which path have we chosen? We continue our activities, and will continue working, even if they seek to deprive us of legal status, because what we do, we do not for the Ministry of Justice, but for the country and society, no matter how dramatic it may sound, and we aren’t going to give up on our mission.”

Andrej Dynko

Andrej Dynko, editor-in-chief of three magazines published under the Naša Niva, detained together with other employees of the media outlet:

“I’m sure that not only I, but also my colleagues are not guilty of anything, and it’ll become obvious to everyone. In my opinion, we are just hostages in the political trade. Those who make the Our History magazine did what they had to do, did their job. Our common principle was and is: Naša Niva doesn’t participate in political games, but objectively covers the processes taking place in the country and abroad.”

Maryja Kalesnikava

Maryja Kalesnikava in a letter from the pre-trial detention center,

“I sincerely admire and am proud of Belarusians. I know that many are tired, and it may seem that the war of the Belarusian authorities against their own people will never end.

But this is not the case. We have already won: first of all, over our indifference, and it’s crucial. It’s really hard to squeeze a slave out of oneself, drop by drop, but we need to do it for ourselves, for our future.”

Aliaksej Palujan, photo by Alexander Janetzko

Aliaksej Palujan about his film “Courage”,

“This is an attempt to understand myself: who am I, a Belarusian? It seems to me that we do not know ourselves, we do not know our Belarusian potential, our borders, what we are really worthy of. I think this film hits hard on our national ego, because it shows that the tortures happening now to the Belarusian people and nation go very far, beyond 27 years. But this film is also a portrait of the young nation that woke up and said ‘NO’.”

International Solidarity

Maria Kalesnikava has been awarded the Stuttgart Peace Prize for courageous struggle against Lukashenka’s autocratic regime.

The European Writers Council condemns the attack on the Belarusian Writers Union and PEN Belarus.

Joint call condemning the raids on Belarusian journalists and human rights activists and demanding the release of those detained.

A Belarusian day at the Mountains of Literature Festival with the participation of Svetlana Alexievich, Nasta Niakrasava, Zmicier Vajnoŭski and Andrej Chadanovič took place on July 17 in Poland.

Political Prisoners’ Birthdays

In July, 4 people who are somehow involved in the cultural development of our country, will celebrate their birthdays behind bars. They are Mikałaj Sasieŭ, a choreographer (July 16), Ivan Viarbicki, an artist and designer (July 17), Alaksiej Sančuk, musician (July 18) and Viktar Łosik, copywriter (July 22).

Letters can be sent to the following addresses (but only those written in Russian or Belarusian)

Mikałaj Sasieŭ (Мікалай Сасеў), Alaksiej Sančuk (Аляксей Санчук): Турма №4. 212011, г. Магілёў, вул. Крупскай, 99А

Viktar Łosik (Віктар Лосік): СІЗА-1. 220030, г. Мінск, вул. Валадарскага, 2

Ivan Viarbicki (Іван Вярбіцкі): ПК №2. 213800, г. Бабруйск, вул. Сікорскага, 1

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