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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora