Since October 2019, the Belarusian PEN Center has been carrying out a systematic collecting of information on violations of cultural and human rights which impact culture workers. This document includes statistics and an analysis of violations from the first half of 2022. Material has been prepared on the basis of generally available information collected from open sources and direct communications with cultural figures.
Please note that for the sake of digital security, we do not provide direct links to sources if current regulatory requirements in the Republic of Belarus restrict access to those sources. For more about our methodology, consult other parts of our website.
I. GENERAL RESULTS
From January to June 2022, experts recorded 699 violations of cultural and human rights that impacted culture workers. Among them are:
- 529 violations impacting 332 culture workers and others whose general cultural rights were violated;
- 111 violations impacting 96 organizations and institutions;
- 41 violations related to objects of cultural or historical heritage and the Belarusian language [on a national level];
- *In this document we have also included 18 instances which meet the criteria of our monitoring and are also recognized by the Republic of Belarus as extremist.
The general types of rights violations are as follows:
The following are also notable:
- 19 cultural figures were identified as “extremists,” 5 creative initiatives and media with content that is cultural in nature were recognized as “extremist organizations”, and 10 cultural figures were recognized as terrorists.
- 37 violations of the right of correspondence in penitentiary institutions were recorded.
- 33 frisk searches on cultural figures and legal persons in the cultural sphere were conducted.
II. POLITICAL PRISONERS — CULTURE WORKERS
According to the human rights organization Viasna, in Belarus there are 1236 political prisoners  as of June 30, 2022.
98 cultural figures are among those recognized as political prisoners.
46 of them are serving time in prison colonies:
architect Arciom Takarčuk (serving 3.5 years); artist Uladzislaŭ Makaviecki  (2 years); bard and programmer Anatol Chinievič (sentenced to 3.5 years); concert agency director Ivan Kaniavieha (3 years); artist Alaksandr Nurdzinaŭ (4 years of extra labor); documentary filmmaker and blogger Paviel Spiryn (4.5 years); writer and journalist Kaciaryna Andrejeva (Bachvalava) (2 years); artist and animator Ivan Viarbicki (8 years and one month of extra labor); UX/UI designer Dźmitryj Kubaraŭ (7 years of extra labor); artist, former academy of art student Anastasija Mironcava (2 years); drummer Alaksiej Sančuk (6 years of extra labor); culture manager Mia Mitkievič (3 years); writer and social-political Paviel Sieviaryniec (7 years of extra labor); dancers Ihar Jarmolaŭ and Mikalaj Sasieŭ (each 5 years of extra labor); Patron of the arts Viktar Babaryka (14 years of extra labor); actor Siarhiej Volkaŭ (4 years of hard labor); light artist Danila Hančaroŭ (2 years); musician Paviel Larčyk (3 years); poet and publicist Ksienija Syramalot (2.5 years); former students of the aesthetics department at Belarusian State Pedagogical University Jana Orobiejko and Kasia Buďko (each 2.5 years); former student of the Academy of Arts Maryja Kalenik (2.5 years); former student at the architectural department at Belarusian National Technical University Viktoryja Hrankoŭskaja (2.5 years); designer and architect Raścislaŭ Stefanovič (8 years of extra labor); musician, DJ Artur Amiraŭ (3.5 years extra labor); history teacher and social scientist Andrej Piatroŭski (1.5 years); poet, bard and attorney Maksim Znak (10 years of extra labor); musician and cultural project manager Maryja Kaleśnikava (11 years); musician Jaŭhien Piatroŭ (1 year); promoter of history and human rights advocate Taćciana Lasica (2.5 years); author of prison literature and anarcho-activist Mikalaj Dziadok  (5 years); musicians Uladzimir Kalač and Nadzieja Kalač (2 years each); promoter of history and blogger Eduard Palčys (13 years of extra labor); author of prison literature and anarcho-activist Ihar Alinievič (20 years of extra labor); musicians Piotr Marčanka, Julija Marčanka (Junickaja) and Anton Šnip (1.5 years each); artist Alieś Puškin (5 years of enhanced regime); litterateur, musician and author of the journal Наша гісторыя (Our history) Andrej Skurko (2.5 years); author of musical projects and typography director Arciom Fiedasienka (4 years); history reconstructor and activist Kim Samusienka (6.5 years); non-fiction author and journalist Alieh Hruździlovič (1.5 years); author of texts in journals «Наша гісторыя» and «Arche» Andrej Akuška (2.5 years); philology and former Russian and Belarusian literature and language professor Mikalaj Isajenka (1.5 years); musician and activist Siarhiej Sparyš (6 years of enhanced regime); non-fiction internet author and blogger Paviel Vinahradaŭ (5 years).
5 cultural figures are serving time by means of «chemistry» :
Poet and director Ihnat Sidorčyk (sentenced to 3 years); designer Maksim Taćcianok (3 years); researcher at the Center for Belarusian Language and Literature Studies at the Academy of Sciences Alaksandr Halkoŭski (1.5 years); director of a web-design studio Hlieb Kojpiš (2 years); cellist Iĺlia Hančaryk (4 years).
46 cultural figures are in pre-trial detention centers run by the MIA and KGB, awaiting either trial or transfer to places of punishment:
Culture manager and blogger Siarhiej Cichanoŭski  (since 29.05.2020); culture manager Eduard Babaryka(since 18.06.2020); documentary filmmaker and journalist Ksienija Luckina (since 22.12.2020); poet, journalist, and media manager Andrej Alaksandraŭ (since 12.01.2021); poet and member of the Union of Polish People Andrej Pačobut(since 25.03.2021); literary figure and translator Aliaksandr Fiaduta (since 12.04.2021); author, editor, and political scientist Valeryja Kaściuhova (since 30.06.2021); literary theorist, history researcher and human rights activist Aleś Bialacki (since 14.07.2021); street artist and IT-specialist Dźmitryj Padrez (since 15.07.2021); philosopher, methodologist, and publicist Uladzimir Mackievič (since 04.08.2021); former teacher of Belarusian language and literature Ema Stsepulionak (since 29.09.2021); musician Siarhiej Daliviela (since 29.09.2021); librarian Julija Čamlaj  (since 30.09.2021); bass guitarist Viktar Katoŭski (since 30.09.2021); musician and violin teacher Aksana Kaśpiarovič  (since 30.09.2021); photographer and journalist Hienadź Mažejka (since 01.10.2021); librarian Julija Laptanovič  (since 13.10.2021); artist and interior designer Kanstancin Prusaŭ (since 28.10.2021); author and Wikipedia editor Paviel Piernikaŭ (since 03.11.2021); founder of Symbal.by and culture project manager Paviel Bielavus (since 15.11.2021); poet, translator, and journalist Andrej Kuźniečyk (since 25.11.2021); fantasy writer and journalist Siarhiej Sacuk (since 08.12.2021); sound operator Vadzim Dzienisienka (since 28.12.2021); literary figure and activist Aliena Hnaŭk (since 11.01.2022); theater actress Viera Ćvikievič (since 27.01.2022); jeweler and history reenactor Michail Labań (since 17.02.2022); ceramicist Anastasija Malašuk (since 25.02.2022); expelled MSU student in the Germanic-Romance language philology department Danuta Pieradnia  (since 28.02.2022); sightseer and traveler Ihar Haluška  (since 01.03.2022); musician Kryścina Čarankova (since 22.03.2022); director Dźmitryj Pancialiejka (since 28.03.2022); digital artist Viktar Kulinka (since 30.03.2022); admin of cultural-historical Telegram chanel Rezystans Mikita Śliepianok (since 06.04.2022); creative director of an architecture bureau Kanstancin Vysočyn (since 07.04.2022); musician Aliaksandr Kazakievič (since 09.04.2022); publicist, activist and author of prison literature Źmicier Daškievič  (since 23.04.2022); craftsperson and administrator of the space «Alpha-business hub» Aliesia Kurejčyk (since 24.05.2022); commercial director of the theater group Silver screen Aliaksandr Dziemidovič (since 25.05.2022); musician Paviel Bialianaŭ (since 02.06.2022); former producer of event agency KRONA Siarhiej Huń (since 03.06.2022); musician Juryj Hryhier (since 03.06.2022); designer and photographer Dzianis Šaramiećjeŭ (since 14.06.2022); photographer Aliaksandr Kudlovič (since 16.06.2022).
Additionally, due to the repetition of several procedural actions literary person and journalist Kaciaryna Andrejeva (Bachvalava) , poet and founder of the literary “Honey Prize” Mikola Papieka , ethnographer and activist Uladzimir Hundar has been transferred to the detention center from their places of imprisonment.
The sentences of the first half of the year 2022 and all criminal prisoners from cultural figures.
In the first half of 2022 there were 38 court decisions concerning cultural figures:
- January 11: sound director Kiryl Saliejeŭ  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- January 14: author of musical projects and typography director Arciom Fiedasienka was sentenced to 4 years in a colony;
- January 28: history re-enactor and activist Kim Samusienka was sentenced to 4.5 years in a colony;
- February 4: cultural project manager, businessman, and author included in a fairytale collection Aliaksandr Vasilievič  was sentenced to 3 years in a colony; scene designer Andrej Ščyhieĺ  was sentenced to 2.5 years of ‘chemistry’;
- February 7: cellist Iĺlia Hančaryk  was sentenced to 4 years of ‘chemistry’; comedian and KVN participant Vasiĺ Kraŭčuk was sentenced to 2 years of ‘home chemistry’ ;
- February 9: artist and interior desiger Kanstancin Prusaŭ was sentenced to 3.5 years in a colony;
- March 2: history teacher Artur Ešbajeŭ  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- March 3: non-fiction writer and journalist Alieh Hruździlovič was sentenced to 1.5 years in a colony;
- March 15: literary figure, musician and author in the journal «Наша гісторыя» Andrej Skurko was sentenced to 2.5 years in a colony;
- March 15: street artist and IT specialist Dźmitryj Padrez was sentenced to 7 years of enhanced regime colony;
- March 16: non-fiction author and blogger Paviel Vinahradaŭ was sentenced to 5 years in a colony;
- March 23: sound operator Vadzim Dzienisienka was sentenced to 2.5 years in a colony;
- March 25: Lyubitelskiy theater actor Kanstancin Šuĺha  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- March 28: director Dźmitryj Pancialiejka was sentenced to 1 year in a colony;
- March 30: artist Alieś Puškin was sentenced to 5 years of enhanced regime colony; poet, blogger and producer Uladzislaŭ Savin was sentenced to 8 years of enhanced regime colony;
- April 7: author and Wikipedia-editor Paviel Piernikaŭ was sentenced to 2 years in a colony;
- April 14: bass guitarist Viktar Katoŭski was sentenced to 3 years in a colony;
- April 18: former museum director Juryj Zialievič was sentenced to 1.5 years of ‘home chemistry’;
- April 22: musician Vasiĺ Jarmolienka  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- May 5: graphic designer Halina Siemiečka  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘home chemistry’;
- May 6: theatre actress Viera Ćvikievič was sentenced to 1 year in a colony; former Russian language and literature teacher Anastasija Kucharava  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘home chemistry’;
- May 20: jeweler and history reenactor Michail Labań was sentenced to 4 years in a colony;
- June 1: musical college student Taćciana Barysovič  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- June 7: cultural project manager and sociologist Taćciana Vadalažskaja  was sentenced to 2.5 years of ‘chemistry’;
- June 8: poet, translator and journalist Andrej Kuźniečyk was sentenced to 6 years in an enhanced regime colony;
- June 10: former French teacher Iryna Jaŭmienienka  was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- June 15: head editor of newspaper «Novy Čas» Aksana Kolb  was sentenced to 2.5 years of ‘chemistry’;
- June 17: literary figure and activist Aliena Hnaŭk  was sentenced to 3.5 years in a colony; librarian and excursion leader Iryna Kovaĺ was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- June 21: comedian and art director Aliaksandr Talmačoŭ was sentenced to 3 years of ‘home chemistry’;
- June 23: philosopher, publicist and methodologist Uladzimir Mackievič was sentenced to 5 years in an enhanced regime colony;
- June 24: author, Wikipedia-editor and IT-specialist Mark Biernštejn was sentenced to 3 years of ‘chemistry’;
- June 27: Literary figure Aliaksandr Novikaŭ was sentenced to 2 years in a colony;
- June 29: musician and violin teacher Aksana Kaśpiarovič was sentenced to 1 year, 2 months in a colony.
Most frequently, cultural figures have been prosecuted under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus for their participation in 2020’s peaceful protest movement. 22 sentences out of total 38 in the first half of 2022 were such cases. 17 cultural figures were prosecuted for “insulting” or “slandering” Lukašenka and other government officials, “discrediting Belarus,” and sometimes even for expressing an opinion.
Along with 98 politically imprisoned cultural figures, another 21 representatives of the cultural sector are imprisoned on criminal cases, a count which includes those serving sentences in the form of “home chemistry”: translator Voĺha Kalackaja, poet and musician Hanna Važnik, designer Taćciana Minina, cameraman Viačaslaŭ Lamanosaŭ, culture manager Rehina Lavor, DJ Vitaĺ Kalieśnikaŭ, comedian and KVN participant Vasiĺ Kraŭčuk, history reenactor Vadzim Šyĺko, graphic designers Uladzimir Jaršoŭ and Siarhiej Stocki, Russian language and literature teacher Aliena Pucykovič, poet, producer and blogger Uladzislaŭ Savin, photographer Valieryj Klimienčanka, former museum director Juryj Zialievič, musician Uladzislaŭ Pliuščaŭ, architect Aliaksiej Parecki, musician Vadzim Hulievič, art teacher Andrej Raptunovič , writer Aliaksandr Novikaŭ , DJ Ihar Faliejčyk , and folk art festival participant Aliaksiej Viačerni .
III. CONDITIONS OF DETENTION
In January-June 2022, there were 66 cases of violations of the conditions of detention of cultural figures in closed institutions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB. Since the first arrests in mid-2020, “special” detention rules have been in effect for cultural figures detained or convicted under political articles, and this negative “practice” has continued. Solitary confinement cells, pressures from the administration, unhygienic conditions, overcrowded cells, poor-quality medical care or refusal to provide it, deprivation of visits, telephone calls, and a complete or partial ban on correspondence are just some of the ways in which political prisoners are subjected to pressure.
As of June 1, “due to the stabilization of the epidemiological situation”, Minsk Detention center No. 1, Mahilioŭ Prison No. 4, as well as penal colonies stopped collecting “vitamin packages” for prisoners – an extra package each prisoner could receive with a certain set of fruits and vegetables weighing up to 10 kg. It could previously be received once every 30 days. Inmates in the colony can purchase their own necessities in the prison store for a month for two basic units, which is currently 64 rubles (about 23 euros). As for working conditions in places of detention, human rights activists describe them as “slave-like”: the unequipped workplaces, high production standards, inability to choose the preferred type of work, the lack of an employment contract, and “penny” wages leave a lot to be desired. Thereby, the monthly salary of Maksim Znak in the penal colony in February “Vitsba” amounted to 56 kopeks (0.2 euro).
IV. “EXTREMISTS” AND “TERRORISTS” AMONG CULTURAL FIGURES. EXTREMIST FORMATIONS AND MATERIALS
One relatively new and actively developing practice of suppressing dissent is the application of anti-extremist legislation against opponents of the regime. Human rights organizations (Viasna, Human constanta, BAJ, Sova) have noted a trend of extremely broad interpretations of anti-extremism legislation in Belarus since the start of the protests in August 2020. Currently, law enforcement practice is purposefully shaped in such a way that “extremism” in Belarus means participation in peaceful protests, condemnation of violence by making comments on a social network, making emotional remarks about a representative of the authorities, etc.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus maintains 3 lists : “List of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign persons or stateless persons involved in an extremist activity,” “List of organizations, legal entities, individual entrepreneurs involved in an extremist activity” (recognized as such without a court decision) and “Republican List of Extremist Materials” (recognized as such by a court decision). Since 2021 all of them are being filled with new names of individuals and organizations with the intention of creating the atmosphere of fear and silence.
Thus, as of July 1, 2022, the list of persons “involved in extremist activity” consists of 426 names, including at least 19  cultural figures: Maksim Znak, Maryja Kalieśnikava, Paviel Sieviaryniec, Artur Amiraŭ, Mikalaj Dziadok, Eduard Paĺčys, Julija Laptanovič, Alieś Puškin, Arciom Fiedasienka (twice on the list), Andrej Ščyhieĺ, Vasiĺ Kraŭčuk, Maksim Šaŭlinski (pardoned back on September 16, 2021), Siarhiej Sparyš, Źmicier Padrez, Mia Mitkievič, Paviel Śpiryn, Ihar Alinievič, Uladzislaŭ Makaviecki and Paviel Piernikaŭ.
71 subjects compile The “List of organizations, formations, individual entrepreneurs involved in extremist activities.” In the first half of 2022, the list includes the Belarusian Council of Culture, an organization that supports Belarusian culture; the Nasha Niva publication (website and social networks, messengers), which has a “Culture” section on its website; the Homel publication Flagshtok (website and Telegram), which covers culture and preservation of historical heritage, etc.; Telegram channels about Belarusian history and culture Historyja and R E Z Y S T A N S.
The Republican list of “extremist materials” contains more than a thousand items. It includes symbols, articles, videos, Telegram and Viber groups, chat rooms and channels, etc. Of those listed for the first half of 2022 alone, we can distinguish 18 items that are related to the sphere of culture or cultural figures (although there would be many more upon closer inspection). In particular, these are media outlets with cultural content: Radio Racyja, Regiyanalnaia Gazeta, Viciebsk Kurier news, media-polesye.by, nadniemnemgrodno.pl, MOST; the YouTube channels Zhizn-malina and Ms. Anne Nittelnacht (a project for Jewish culture research) 4 books by Belarusian authors: Viktar Liachar, The Military History of Belarus. Heroes. Symbols. Colors,” “Belarus at the Crossroads. Collection of articles”, Aĺhierd Bacharevič “The Dogs of Europe” Źmicier Lukašuk, Maksim Harunoŭ “Belarusian National Idea”, and other materials.
“List of Organizations and Individuals Involved in Terrorist Activities”  is maintained the Committee for State Security (KGB). Since the fall of 2020, the list has been actively updated with the names of Belarusian citizens and public figures, including cultural figures. Consequently, in the first half of 2022, the list includes Siarhiej Sparyš, Maksim Znak, Maryja Kalieśnikava, Danuta Pieradnia, Aksana Kaśpiarovič, Aliaksiej Parecki, Ivan Viarbicki, Julija Čamlaj, Paviel Vinahradaŭand Siarhiej Cichanoŭski. Ihar Alinievič, Uladzimir Hundar, Paviel Latuška, Anton Matoĺka and Vadzim Hilievič were included until 2022. This adds up to at least 15  people related to the cultural sphere.
V. PERSECUTION FOR AN ANTI-WAR STANCE
On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine. Belarusian authorities supported the actions of the Russian Federation by providing its territory for the deployment of military equipment and contingent. Citizens of Belarus, in turn, have opposed the war and displayed an anti-war stance since the first days of the invasion of Ukraine. Persecution for anti-war statements was most acute in the first months after the outbreak of the war, but detentions are still occurring today. According to the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, on February 27-28, the main day of the referendum on constitutional amendments in Belarus, and the following day, over 1,000 people were detained for saying “no to war” in various cities of the country. Among them were people from the cultural sphere. During the first half of 2022, Belarusian cultural figures who spoke out against the Russian armed invasion were tried for participation in anti-war actions, use of official Ukrainian symbols (having anything with yellow and blue colors), inscriptions in support of Ukraine, materials about the war, anti-war letters sent to state authorities, publications and statements in social networks, etc. One of the most high-profile cases was the 6.5-year imprisonment of Danuta Pieradnia, a student of Romance and Germanic Philology at Kuleshov Moscow State University [expelled], who reposted an anti-war text critical of the actions of Putin and Lukašenka and called to speak out against the war in Ukraine. Danuta Pieradnia is one of the cultural people who were put on the list of “persons involved in terrorist activities.”
VI. PERSECUTION OF THOSE WHO HAVE GONE ABROAD
The tendency to persecute cultural figures disloyal to the authorities, who were forced to leave Belarus but continue to publicly express their opinion about the situation in the country, is gaining momentum. Criminal cases are initiated against them, and their relatives are put under pressure. On May 12, 2022, actions were taken to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus , which would make it possible to prosecute citizens who are outside the Republic of Belarus.
To this day, at least 7 criminal cases have already been initiated against the former director of the Kupala Theater, Paviel Latuška. The last one was initiated in February of this year, and it concerns Latuška’s financial activities as Minister of Culture of Belarus in 2012. The pressure was also exerted on him through his daughter, who, according to employees of the Department of Financial Investigations, was also the subject of a criminal investigation and his apartment has been seized as well. In February the Ministry of Internal Affairs put the creators of the satirical duet “Red Green” – songwriter and blogger Andrej Pavuk, and opera singer Marharyta Liaŭčuk on the wanted list, against whom a criminal case had opened earlier for “desecration of the state flag” – based on one of the duet’s videos. The KGB wanted comedian Slava Kamisarenka, who had been living in Russia for a long time, for the “Defamation against the President of the Republic of Belarus”. Representatives of law enforcement agencies were looking for him in Moscow, calling and texting him, earlier they had shown interest in the parents of the artist who were in Belarus. Ihar Kaźmierčak, journalist and owner of the store of national symbols Cudoŭnaja krama at one point has found out that he “had been hiding from the investigation” and was put on the wanted list as well. An unknown person texted Kanstancin Šytaĺ on Telegram and invited him to return to Belarus and come to the regional KGB. It is known for a fact that law enforcement officers searched the domicile, former place of residence or investigated of parents of Andrej Pavuk, Marharyta Liaŭčuk, the owner of the store of national symbols “Admetnasc”, historian Voĺha Vieramiejenka, and documentary filmmaker Maryja Bulavinskaja; furthermore, they ransacked the apartment of mother of civil activist and photographer Anton Motolko. Not only that, Marharyta Liaŭčuk’s parents were detained and tried “for disobedience to the police”, fined 2,240 rubles (about 830 euro) each, and urged to record a video message to their daughter so that she would “stop engaging in politics.”
VII. LIQUIDATION OF NON-COMMERCIAL ORGANIZATIONS IN THE CULTURAL SPHERE
In the monitoring of the liquidation of Belarusian non-profit organizations [NPOs]  conducted by Lawtrend together with the OEEC, as of early July 2022, the list contains more than 500 organizations subjected to forced liquidation since 2021. Of these, since the beginning of 2022, more than 170 NPOs in Belarus have been liquidated, most of which are Minsk-based organizations. At least 32 organizations from this list were directly related to the activities in the sphere of culture. The oldest NPOs [founded in the mid-1990s], such as Polish Cultural Society in Lidčyna, Club of Polish Folk Traditions, and Public Association of Former Young Prisoners of Nazi Concentration Camps in Hrodna region; Jewish Cultural Center of Polack and Viciebsk Musical Society in Viciebsk region; Belarusian Association of Architectural Students, Jewish Educational Initiative, and Polish Scientific Society in Minsk region.
As a result of the unfavorable socio-political situation in the country or pressure from the authorities, the list of NPOs that have decided to spontaneously dissolve is expanding. As of early July, Lawtrend  monitored 336 organizations. 99 of them filed petitions for self-dissolution during the first half of 2022. 40% of the self-dissolved NPOs (40 organizations) were from the Brest region. Most of the organizations were focused on sports and at least 20 – on culture. For instance, the self-liquidation list includes the charity foundation Fortification of Brest, which dealt with the topic of preservation of historical and cultural heritage of the city; Brest cultural and historical public association named after Tadevush Kastsiushka, as well as the Ukrainian Scientific-Pedagogical Union Bereginya, whose leader Viktar Misijuk was detained on March 8 by law enforcement for laying flowers to the monument to Taras Shevchenko on the birthsday of the poet, and in April was a subject to searches.
Furthermore, on January 22, 2022, a new law came into force, according to which there is a responsibility for organizing a public activity or participation in the activity under a patronage of a public association that had been forcefully liquidated . Now anyone involved in such events can be fined, arrested for up to three months, or even imprisoned for up to two years.
VIII. CULTURAL LIFE IN BELARUS: WASHING OUT THE SPHERE AND THE „PURIFYING CULTURAL VISITS”
As early as the first quarter of 2021 a tendency of pressurization and reprisals against the independent book sector of Belarus began to form: Publishers and their founders, book distributors, and authors. Such forms of pressure as seizure of books during customs clearance, suspension of bank accounts, searches and property confiscation, interrogations, publication of discrediting and defamatory stories and articles in the state media, removal of books of certain authors and publishers from the shelves of libraries and state bookstores, etc. were exerted on them. Repressions against “the Belarusian book” continue for the second year and intensify in the current timeframe.
At the end of March, “due to an urgent need,” the landlord demanded that the publishing house Januškievič vacate the office within three days – and immediately began looking for a new tenant: the owner published an announcement on a rental website that the office space is available.
The Ministry of Information suspended for three months the activity of four independent publishing houses that had been printing books written in Belarusian and by Belarusian authors: Medisont and Goliaths (since April 15), Limarius and Knigosbor (since May 16) for trumped-up reasons.
From April 18 to May 17, 2022, four books by Belarusian authors were recognized as extremist material (see Section IV). Distribution of these books is now criminally punishable.
On May 16, at the opening of a new bookstore named Knihaŭka (owner – publishing house Januškievič) representatives of the state media came and “have criticized” the range of available books, their content, authors, publishers and employees of the bookstore. The same day the store was searched, 200 books were confiscated, 15 of which were sent for ‘an examination’ to determine whether they had signs of extremism, whereas Andrej Januškievič, the founder of the publishing house, and the literature reviewer Nasta Karnackaja, an employee of the store, were arrested and spent 28 and 23 days in jail respectively, on trumped-up administrative charges. [Symbolically, a month later, on June 15, a pro-governmental store called Book Club of Writers was ceremoniously opened .]
The practice of discrediting writers disloyal to the authorities (as well as historians, artists, filmmakers, public organizations, etc.) has “proven itself” at the state level and is a full-scale “campaign” in the state media. Over time, state propagandists “went into the field” (as in the case of the Knihaŭka store, for example, or the Art-Minsk painting exhibition): in the course of their “purifying cultural visits” they completely distort the truth and slander certain [disloyal to the regime] authors and their works, which is then followed by administrative penalties and a ban on the distribution of the literature. At some point the propagandists were joined by pro-government bloggers-activists who would roam around the city and visit numerous exhibitions and bookstores in search of ideologically “harmful” materials.
For example, after an appeal by an activist, the OZ Books stores located in Trinity and Nioman shopping centers had to move “Summer in a Pioneer Tie” and other books touching on the LGBT topics to the storage rooms and the managements of the bookstore and the Trinity shopping center were invited for a “preventive conversation of a proactive nature”. Later, in Hrodna the Green store had to take off sale the following books: “Myths about Belarus” by Vadzim Dzieružynski and “Welcome to Belarus” by Alieś Hutoŭskahi. They were released by the same publishing house as the books written by Viktar Liachar of which one is considered extremist.
Pro-government activists Aliena Sidarovič in Minsk and Voĺha Bondarava in Hrodna control both the cultural landscape of the book market and art exhibitions. The letters they send to the departments of culture of the Minsk and Hrodna City Executive Committees result in taking down works of both recognized and young authors.
After the claim about the alleged distribution of pornography at the exhibition “Troubling Suitcase” (“Тревожный чемоданчик”) held from 10.12.2021 to 10.02.2022 in the gallery of the Union of Designers, the culturological examination of the art-object “Till death do us part” (“Пока смерть не разлучит нас”) by the artist Hanna Silivončyk was appointed. As a result, proceedings began not only against the exhibition itself, but also against the public association as a whole.
In March the personal exhibitions of Hryhoriy Ivanau “The Time of Screens” (“Час экранаў”) and Siarhei Hrynevich “Demography” (“Дэмаграфія”) in Palace of Arts in Minsk were closed before the schedule.
On April 29, the sculpture exhibition “SCULPTURE” was held for 4 hours in the gallery “400 squares” in Hrodna. The Hrodnian ideologists proposed to remove some works as a condition for the further functioning of the exhibition, to which the project curator Ivan Arcimovič and gallery owners did not agree, considering it wrong to exclude the works of individual authors “for absolutely far-fetched reasons”. The Belarusian Union of Artists, the members of which are the participants of the group exhibition, tried to defend the project and was ready to create an expert commission of famous art historians and sculptors, which was not supported by the administration of Hrodna. Thus, the exhibition with the works of 17 sculptors was closed immediately after the opening.
On May 12, the annual “Art-Minsk” exhibition opened at the Palace of Arts, announcing an exhibition of 550 works by 240 contemporary Belarusian authors. However, dozens of artists (according to unconfirmed information, this amounts to “over 40”) could not take part in it, and some had to withdraw their original works: a so-called “black list” was issued “from above,” while the content and quality of the works on display did not play any role at all. The PEN monitoring contains information about 19 authors who were censored in one way or another because of their “unreliability”.
On June 28, Irina Malukalova was one of the three participants involved in the art project that had taken place in Factory space in Minsk which she later described as “the fastest exhibition of my life.” The exhibit about criticism of creative work “This is a diagnosis” (“Это диагноз”) had lasted for several hours and then was promptly taken down. The reasons for such a rapid removal remain unknown.
ART-SQUARES AND FESTIVALS
After the events of 2020, the cultural sphere is largely paralyzed: many musicians, theater artists, promoters, DJs and other people of creative professions have left the country (unfortunately, there are no real statistics on the number of people who have emigrated). Many of interdisciplinary cultural venues have closed. During the first half of 2022 the decision about discontinuation of work has been announced by the cultural center Korpus (June) and Lo-Fi Social Club (March),
It is known that in the first six months of 2022 Minsk cultural center Korpus (June) and Lo-Fi Social Club (March) ceased their work and event space Miesca was forced to close (April). Since mid-May activities of Minsk music club Bruges have been suspended, the doors of which were sealed after one of the complex inspections of the building’s owner. The playbill of the theater The Territory of Musical, which at the beginning of the year twice failed to show the performance “Figaro” for reasons beyond the control of the theater, is not updated. In May, after the notorious incident with the closure of the exhibition of modern sculpture, the shopping center Trinity did not prolong the lease agreement.
This year there are significantly fewer traditional summer festivals and cultural events announced, which had been organized by private initiatives. Inter alia, Ukrainian and foreign artists refuse to tour in Belarus because of the war in Ukraine. Also, many Belarusian musicians have left their country or have no chance of getting a touring certificate for a concert. “Those things that worked like clockwork in 2019 (permits were issued, concerts were held, everything was moving), after 2020 by the confluence of all circumstances it turned out to be completely different. Now there are no criteria and notions of what can and what cannot be done .”
IX. GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS IN THE CULTURE SPHERE: DEBELARUSIZATION AND RUSSIFICATION
The problem of the consistent displacement of everything that is nationally oriented in culture, education, everyday life, and other spheres of Belarus is perennial and complex. It would not be possible to cover the topic in this research, however, it is of paramount importance to identify and note what is happening in the domestic policy of Belarus as a practice of debelarusization and russification – using examples of the first half of 2022.
In detention facilities, Belarusian-speaking detainees and prisoners are ordered to “speak in a normal language” – Russian. According to historian and publicist Alieś Biely, “people with ‘non-Russian’ cultural affinities are being systematically forced out of all educational and cultural institutions”. An increasing number of inscriptions with names of streets and places of interest in Belarusian cities are being changed from Belarusian to Russian. Belarusian authors disloyal to the authorities are discredited by pro-government propagandists and activists.
After some time, it became apparent that in November 2021 the publishing house “Belarusian Encyclopedia of Piatruś Broŭka”, founded in January 1967, ceased to exist. The formal reason is incorporation into the publishing house “Belarus”. In fact, it is liquidation of a specialized publishing house. The company website notes that this publishing house “specialized in the production of universal, regional and subject encyclopedias, all sorts of reference books and dictionaries, educational, children, and popular scientific literature. Furthermore, elite publications, unique photobooks, and anniversary editions were also issued there . Journalist and literary critic Siarhiej Dubaviec described the incident as an act of “denationalization” and the publishing house BelEN as “the intellectual center of the Belarusian identity” and “a powerful state institute”, which had been dying for a long time, and now it finally has happened.
Uladzimir Savickai, ex-managing director of the Belarusian Theatre for Young Audience had been dismissed in January of this year and replaced by actress Viera Paliakova, who is also wife of the minister of foreign affairs of Belarus. Paliakova announced that the theater would give up staging exclusively in Belarusian – which used to distinguish the playhouse as one of the few professional theaters with only Belarusian-language performances [only 6 theaters in Belarus out of a total of 29]. In June, the premiere of the play based on Vasiĺ Bykaŭ’s story “The Alpine Ballad”, originally written in Belarusian, took place. Thus, there is one less Belarusian-language theater in the country.
On June 27, by Lukašenka’s order, the former chairman of the pro-governmental Union of Writers of Belarus (2005-2022) Mikalaj Čarhiniec was awarded the title of People’s Writer of Belarus . After 27 years [the last time it was awarded was in 1995] and for the first time in its history, the award was given to a writer who had not written a single work in the Belarusian language, an author of detective stories and militarized literature; a person under whom the so-called “black lists” of writers appeared.
There are only four schools in Belarus teaching in the language of national minorities. The transfer of two Polish (Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk) and two Lithuanian (Pieliask and Rymdziunsk) schools to Russian language starting next school year is further pressure on Polish and Lithuanian minorities and continuation of the russification. Such decision of the Belarusian authorities is exclusively discriminatory against the rights of national minorities.
THE PROMOTION OF A “RUSSIAN WORLD” IDEOLOGY
On February 19, a gala concert dedicated to “national unity” was held in Minsk. On Sunday, June 11, there was another concert in Minsk, but this time in celebration of Russia Day [a state holiday celebrated in Russia on June 12 since 1992], which was sponsored by Russian state corporations. Events dedicated to this date were also held in other cities. At the Night of Museums in the National History Museum the program included the performance of Cossack songs and at the meetings with a Russian actor Minister of Culture Anatoĺ Markievič discusses the idea of cooperation between “two brotherly nations” in the sphere of culture . Russian flags are increasingly seen on the streets of Belarusian cities, at official institutions of the country and during public holidays. For instance, they were hoisted in flagpoles along a part of Victors Avenue in Minsk just before the Day of Unity of the nations of Belarus and Russia (in previous years they were not put up there), raised on the station building in Orša, were marked in Homiel and a number of other places. In Hrodna, the monument to Chapayev [a Russian historical character], dismantled in April 2019, “returned”; now it will be next to a military unit
The “Russian House” representative office of “Rossotrudnichestvo” actively operates in the territory of Belarus. The organization supports programs for kindergartens, schools and universities, actively collaborates (as can be seen from announcements of events in social networks) with schoolchildren, applicants and students, often acts as a partner of educational, cultural and entertainment events, holds exhibitions, cinema clubs, master classes, tournaments and conferences.
For example, the “Russian House” participated in the opening of an art exhibition marking the 75th anniversary of the Hliebaŭ Art College in Minsk. On June 2, the Center for Russian Language, History and Culture has opened in Polack with assistance of the “Russian House”. The goal of the center is to popularize Russian language, culture and traditions . On the page of the representation office it is mentioned that such centers already operate at the Belarusian State Univeristy (Minsk), the Belarusian-Russian Univeristy (Mahilioŭ) and other Belarusian higher educational establishments. One of the implemented programs – “Hello, Russia!”  – “cultural and educational trips for young compatriots to historical places of the Russian Federation,” according to the website..
On June 23, a joint Russian-Belarusian group was created to investigate criminal cases of genocide  – the Prosecutor-General of Belarus Andrej Švied and Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee Aliaksandr Bastrykin signed a resolution to collectively investigate “the circumstances surrounding the atrocities of the fascists.” At an Independence Day event in Belarus, Lukašenka officially expressed support for Russia in the context of military action against Ukraine , and Slavianski Bazar, the main state music festival to be held in July, invited artists who either spoke out in favor of the war or who did not speak out publicly against it.
X. GOVERNMENTAL AND POLITICAL TRENDS IN THE CULTURAL SPHERE
- Suppression of all forms of dissent.
- The severely expanded interpretation of extremism as a method of suppressing the freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. The purposeful formation of law enforcement practices with unclear criteria and the criminalization of public and civic engagement.. The practice is formed “behind closed doors” – in closed court hearings, which does not give the public any clear understanding of what actions and under what circumstances are considered crimes. This creates grounds for investigators, prosecutions, and courts to expand the interpretation of the law in the future.
- Monopolization of cultural activities by the government. Thus, according to the decree of June 22, 2022, a register of the organizers of cultural and entertainment events is being formed in Belarus. The Ministry of Culture or a legal entity authorized by it will consider the documents for inclusion in the database and maintain the register. Organizers, eligible for inclusion, but not included in this list, will not be able to carry out cultural and entertainment events . In practice, this means that only state or regime-loyal organizers will be allowed to hold events. The decree came into force on August 1, 2022.
- Debelarusization of Belarus through the means of Russification and promotion of the concept of the “Russian world”.
- The Sovietization and militarization of routine..
- The reduction of “cultural diversity” to the “cooperation of two fraternal nations” [Belarusians and Russians] and the suppression of the culture of Polish and Lithuanian national minorities.
- The systematic implementation of the program within the framework of the Year of Historical Memory (2022), the purpose of which is to “develop the objective perception of the historical past of the Belarusian society…” One of the egregious events that took place last month – the destruction of the graves of The Home Army soldiers in Hrodna region – is a continuation of the erasure of historical memory about the underground military organization from The Second World War that opposed the German occupation. The question of historical memory and what is happening in this area requires additional attention and investigation.
- Making foreign policy decisions that contribute to the cancel culture phenomenon – cases of boycotts of Belarusian cultural products and their authors.
 In April 2022, Mikalaj Papieka’s sentence changed from “chemistry” to the imprisonment the colony. During the time of publication of the material it became known that he had been serving the sentence in the colony since June.
 On July 8, Andrej Raptunovič was designated a political prisoner.
 On July 6, Aliaksandr Novikaŭ was designated a political prisoner.
 On July 7, Ihar Faliejčyk was sentenced to 2 years in prison, and on July 12, he was designated a political prisoner.
 On July 8, Aliaksiej Viačerni was sentenced to 1 year and 9 months in prison, and on July 12 he was designated a political prisoner.
 On July 8, Paviel Vinahradaŭ and Viktar Katoŭski were also included in the list.
 Viktar Katoŭski is also included in the list from July.
 “Hello, Russia!” in 2022.