Press Release, 11 December 2018
The first student was arrested on 8th December following his participation in an artistic stunt as part of a campaign in support of equal LGBTQI rights organised by the students of Studio Fortinbras, Belarus Free Theatre’s school in Minsk.
The stunt in question was a ‘LGBTQI Police Patrol’ wherein 3 students donned ‘uniforms’ decorated with rainbow epaulettes and engaged with members of the public, stopping passers-by for ‘being in an inappropriate mood’, asking for ‘a smile’ and performing a dance. Watch the video (in Russian) here.
The stunt sought to deconstruct the intimidating image of the police and turn ‘fear into love’ and was carried out with humour, goodwill and caused no harm to anyone involved.
The irony is that with this conviction the authorities have lived up to the image of ‘intimidator’ which the students were attempting to change.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs has repeatedly drawn attention to itself as an anti-LGBTQI institution when earlier in 2018, the Minister Shunevich publicly called same sex relationships ‘fake’ in an astonishingly vituperative retort to the British Embassy after they flew the rainbow flag to mark International Day against Homophobia on May 17.
In response to this and other similar statements inciting hatred and intolerance towards sexual minorities, Fortinbras students have been running a series of artistic stunts, the first of which was back in June when they placed rainbow-coloured flower pots at the foot of the policeman statue outside the Ministry of Interior. 3 students were detained for 24 hours, only released on being charged of disobeying the police for refusing to remove the flowerpot.
More recently, students carried out a ‘kissing flashmob’ of the statue - inspired by the tradition of kissing Oscar Wilde's monument in Père Lachaise Cemetery - calling for ‘more love’ and ‘less fear’.
Other stunts have included an interactive LGBTQI tour of Minsk; a ‘Traditional Values’ folk duo; the LGBTQI-friendly bar & restaurant review; and an ‘invisible’ performance. Read more here.
The LGBTQI community in Belarus face widespread homophobic attitudes from society and deep-seated discrimination on the part of the authorities with the country ranked at 42 out of 49 European countries in terms of legal rights for LGBTQI people (ILGA 2017). President Lukashensko is notorious for his statement that ‘it’s better to be a dictator than gay’ in an apparent riposte to the German Foreign Minister in 2012, Guido Westerwelle - Germany’s first openly gay minister.
About Belarus Free Theatre
Founded in Minsk in 2005, Belarus Free Theatre emerged as a direct response to the censorship of free speech, producing plays which engage audiences on themes which are otherwise taboo in Belarus. The company was soon forced underground, the artistic leaders Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada exiled to the UK, where they were taken in as an associate company of the Young Vic in 2011. Even before then, the company had developed an impressive international profile, performing over 30 shows in 40 countries and winning numerous awards both for theatre and human rights work (1), all while running a 26-member theatre in Belarus.
Studio Fortinbras was initiated by BFT Directors in 2007 and to this day is the only independent school in Belarus combining drama education with training in activism, journalism & campaigning to create the next generation of socially engaged artists.
Tel: 0207 922 2998
(1) Most recently BFT was awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.