News / Europe

Belarus Free Theatre Group Promotes Democracy

Jennifer Glasse

His opponents call Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko the last dictator in Europe.  And among those opponents is the Belarus Free Theatre Group.  Since its inception five years ago, the group has been performing pieces that address the problems of their nation and the oppression they say is common including the abduction and disappearances of journalists, human rights activists and proponents of democracy.  Ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for December 19, the troupe held a special performance in London featuring high-profile Western supporters.

Songs from their native Belarus, as these actors prepare to take to the stage in London, in an event to support their message of human rights equality.

This is the Belarus Free Theater Company, the only independent group of its kind in that country.  And because it has been critical of the government, the troupe's members and audiences have been intimidated and harassed. But founder Natalia Koliada says their performances tell a tale of their nation.

"This is the last dictatorship in Europe, and it gives the whole idea what is happening, people are kidnapped,  they are killed, they go to jail, and if it's very briefly all articles of declaration of human rights are violated in Belarus," said Natalia Koliada.

The actors say they have a mission and refuse to be afraid. They have friends who have been hurt or killed. Koliada says that is just the way it is.  

"Everything could happen when you live under dictatorship, but there is no way just to keep silence, if there is a tiny chance to change it, we will do it," she said.

Their play, "Numbers," focuses on the harsh statistics that quantify rights abuses such as human trafficking.   Here in London they have the support of some heavy hitters in the arts world, like actor Ian McKellan who introduced them.

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players, they have their exits, and now, resoundingly they have their entrances," said Ian McKellan.

The theater group may be better known outside Belarus than at home. They have performed in Europe and the United States. In Belarus it's not like this.

Because of the underground nature of the theater group in Belarus, they don't often get to perform in a theater this large, they do have a small performance space, but sometimes they put on plays in people's homes.

Here in London it's a sold-out house, including longtime supporter and playwright Tom Stoppard.

"I think it's important that they are recognized for what they are, people who put their souls and bodies on the line for the idea of the free artist," said Tom Stoppard.

The company is especially interested in the Presidential elections in Belarus on December 19. They say they will vote, but are not optimistic about the outcome. John Kampfner is with the freedom of expression group "Index on Censorship," which sponsored the London event.

"I don't think anybody's expectations are great for the elections, anybody as I have done who's worked in the former Soviet Union, knows that where the state decrees a particular result, by hook or by crook, it will happen," said John Kampfner.

Alexander Lukashenko has been president of Belarus for 16 years and is running for re-election.  His critics say the outcome is certain; the European Union has in the past accuse  him of rigging the vote.  But this campaign has differed from previous ones - His challengers have been given TV time. Mark Pursey has worked in Belarus for six years and says that's a good sign.

"You can only say that things are improving in that sense, are they the way that we conduct democratic elections in the let's say the UK or the US, well probably not," said Mark Pursey.

At a recent security summit, Lukashenko agreed to give up his nation's stockpile of enriched uranium. The US Secretary of State called it a significant, important step, and said the United States will watch the election in Belarus closely.

Meanwhile, though their play may be a resounding success here in London, the company eventually wants the freedoms and rights common in the rest of Europe to debut in Belarus.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs