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Monitoring of violations of cultural rights and human rights of cultural figures. Belarus, January – March 2024

Last update: 6 May 2024
Monitoring of violations of cultural rights and human rights of cultural figures. Belarus, January – March 2024

This report collates information collected by the PEN Belarus’ monitoring group in January – March 2024 from open sources, through personal contacts, and in direct communication with cultural figures. If you want to report wrongdoing (confidentially) or correct inaccuracies, please contact us at [email protected], @viadoma (Telegram). The more accurately we can record and analyse the human rights situation in the cultural sphere, the more effectively we can plan our work to support cultural figures and projects. For more information about the monitoring, please check here.

NB: For users’ information security, we do not provide direct links to information sources if they are subject to restrictions under the current regulations in the Republic of Belarus.

The main results of the monitoring
Conditions of confinement for imprisoned cultural figures
Arbitrary detentions, prosecutions, and trials of cultural figures
•   Arbitrary detentions, criminal trials of cultural figures
•   Criminal prosecution in absentia
Pressure on cultural organisations and communities
Censorship and cancellation of cultural events
Culture-related materials labeled as “extremist”
State policy in the sphere of culture


The Belarus regime continues the policy of repression and intimidation against disloyal citizens. The cases of persecution of cultural figures in the first quarter of 2024 include the detention of the Nizkiz rock band members; criminal prosecution in absentia and special proceedings against independent researchers (in the so-called “Cichanoŭskaja’s analysts” case) and the cultural figures who fled the country; searches and detentions in the community of architects (“about 40 people were detained”); dismissal of seven employees from the Museum of Traditional Culture in Braslaŭ following their detention and administrative prosecution in late December 2023; dismissal of the Musical Theatre’s director over the performance of Viktor Tsoi’s song Changes! by a touring orchestra from the Russian city of Voronezh; the closing of an exhibition dedicated to the 100th birthday anniversary of Vasil Bykaŭ, one of the most significant figures of national culture and Belarusian literature; addition to the list of “extremist materials” of the YouTube channel, social media pages and even the email address of the actors and actresses of the former troupe of the Janka Kupala National Drama Theatre, known now as the Kupalaŭcy independent troupe, who continued their work in Poland; labelling as “extremist material” the book Military Symbolism of Belarusians. Banners and Uniforms by Viktar Liachor, the most famous heraldist artist in Belarus; designation of the Free Belarusian University as an “extremist formation.”

Also noteworthy are the mass searches and detentions, which occurred on 23-24 January across the country targeting the families of political prisoners and people who provided the latter with food aid as part of the INeedHelpBY social initiative. It was the regime’s another attempt to suppress any kind of assistance, support, and solidarity with the victims of repression.

  • In January – March 2024, 316 violations of cultural rights and human rights of cultural figures were recorded in Belarus.
  • Deprivation of the right to a fair trial stands out as the main type of human rights violation involving cultural figures (61 cases), followed by administrative obstructions to cultural organisations (including forced liquidation of non-profit organisations) (18 cases).
  • Rights violations affected 135 cultural workers and 33 cultural organisations and communities. The Ministry of Information added at least 87 materials on culture-related topics or social media pages of cultural workers to the “List of Extremist Materials”, also affecting several dozen cultural figures and organisations.
  • At least 158 cultural workers are serving sentences in penal colonies, prisons, remand centres, open-type correctional facilities, or home confinement.

  • At least 14 cultural figures were subjected to criminal prosecution. Five of them were sentenced to between two-and-a-half and five years in a penal colony, one – to two years of restricted freedom in an open-type correctional facility seven – to between two-and-a-half and three years in home confinement. The outcome of the trial of one cultural figure remains unknown to human rights activists.
  • For more than a year, families have not heard from political prisoners Maryia Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak, Siarhiej Cichanoŭski, and Viktar Babariko. Incarcerated cultural workers are subjected to inhuman treatment. Persecution does not stop even after the sentence is served.
  • Criminal cases were opened against at least 33 cultural figures. In 14 cases, courts initiated special proceedings to prosecute political migrants in absentia.
  • At least 32 cultural figures were arbitrarily detained at home, in the street, near a polling station, or at their workplaces. In some cases, police stormed the flats and used unjustified physical violence to detain people.
  • It is known about administrative prosecution against 28 cultural figures. The absolute majority of protocols were drawn up under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences – reading and disseminating information from the outlets designated as “extremist materials”, and Article 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences – the use of white-red-white symbols: for example, depicting a car with the Pahonia (Pursuit) emblem in an Instagram post, or showing a white-red-white flag on a personal Facebook page. At least every second case of administrative proceedings (the outcome of not all cases is known to human rights defenders) resulted in administrative arrest.
  • Politically motivated dismissals continue. There were 15 cases of dismissals allegedly “by agreement of the parties” or non-renewal of the contract, the reason for which was the ideological “unreliability” of workers. Seven employees were dismissed from the Museum of Traditional Culture in Braslaŭ. At the end of December 2023, they went through detention and administrative prosecution – eventually the reason for their sacking. Among those dismissed are museum head Eleanora Zinkievič, awarded with a Ministry of Culture’s certificate of appreciation in 2022, and Valer Zinkievič, a potter, enjoying the status of the People’s Master of the Republic of Belarus since January 2023. Authorities used “inefficiency” as a pretext to fire Tacciana Čajeŭskaja, director of the Minsk Regional Puppet Theatre “Batlejka” in Maladziečna, along with several other employees. CEO Siarhiej Pukit was fired from the Belarusian State Academic Musical Theatre. The reason was Soviet/Russian rock star Viktor Tsoi’s song Changes! [one of the musical symbols of the 2020 Belarusian protests], played at a concert on 16 March as part of the Anthology of Russian Rock programme by the visiting symphony orchestra from the Russian city of Voronezh’s Concert Hall.
  • The List of Organisations and Individuals Involved in Terrorist Activities already includes 29 cultural workers, while the List of Citizens of the Republic of Belarus, Foreign Citizens, and Stateless Persons Involved in Extremist Activities includes 198 people. At least 8 cultural workers were designated as “participants of extremist formations,” among others Siarhiej and Volha Vieramiejenka, the owners of the Admietnaść online shop of goods with national symbols, as well as actor Illa Jasinski and artist Andrej Basalyha, the participants of the backyard chat “Our Quarter Razam” on Telegram.
  • Free Belarusian University, the Internet portals Belarusian Radio Racyja, This is Minsk, Baby, pl; communities of Belarusians abroad (People’s Embassies and Belarusians in the USA) as well as the Admietnaść shop of national symbols were designated as “extremist formations”. KGB added all of them to the List of organisations, formations, and self-employed entrepreneurs involved in extremist activities.
  • Eight more non-profit organisations in the cultural field were forcibly liquidated, according to Lawtrend’s monitoring.
  • The Ministry of Information has added no less than 87 culture-related materials or social media pages of cultural figures to the List of Extremist Materials.
  • The monitors recorded new facts of censorship. Authorities cancelled two exhibitions – Vasil Bykaŭ. The Life Through Shapes and Lines… dedicated to the 100th birthday anniversary of the outstanding classic of Belarusian literature, and 10 Squares”, an homage to the author of Black Square, Kazimir Malevich. Also censored were the play on the Holocaust Clara was Here, screenings of films by Russian directors Alexander Sokurov and Alexander Zolotukhin, and an after-screening meeting with them.
  • The state policy in the sphere of culture means strict controls over all cultural process participants, elimination of specialists disloyal to the political regime, import substitution, active following of the pro-Russian vector of development, and persecution for the use of national Belarusian and Ukrainian symbols. The state regards culture as an ideology tool, with the number of events held being its main indicator of success in the cultural field.

As time goes by, less and less information about imprisoned cultural workers is available from the places of confinement. What becomes known causes pain and fear for the lives of political prisoners, who are having a daily struggle for survival while serving their sentences. Cold, stifling heat, lice, unsanitary conditions, incommunicado, a ban on receiving money transfers and parcels, restrictions on walks and communication with other prisoners, poor quality of medical care, denial of hospitalization, sudden night checks, searches of cells, slave labour, interrogation as a suspect(s) in new criminal cases are the everyday life routines of political prisoners in penal colonies, prisons, remand centres, and open-type correctional facilities. Almost every report from prisons in the analysed period contains the words punishment cell, punitive isolation ward, solitary confinement cell, and punitive confinement. According to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, musician and IT specialist Vadzim Hulevič, recognised as a political prisoner, serving his sentence in a Viciebsk colony, was in a punitive isolation ward for almost three months – from 10 November 2023 through 31 January 2024. The poet, bard, and lawyer Maksim Znak, also held in the Vićba penal colony in Viciebsk, rarely leaves the punishment cell. Publicist and activist Dzmitry Daškievič ended up in punitive confinement immediately after his transfer to the Novy Sad penal colony in January 2024. It was so cold in the cell that he had to get up every hour and do exercises to warm up a little. For doing so, Daškievič was reported for prison regime violations to the colony administration. Uladzimir Hundar, a local history enthusiast with a Grade 2 disability, is serving his sentence in a Mahiloŭ prison. He has been in a solitary cell for almost six months. UX/UI-designer Dzmitry Kubaraŭ, held in a Hrodna prison, was also placed in punitive confinement earlier this year. Cultural manager Eduard Babaryka ended up in a punishment cell immediately after his transfer to the penal colony in Babrujsk. Now he is kept in a cell-type room.

In late February, poet, journalist, a Union of Poles in Belarus member Andrej Pačobut (Andrzej Poczobut) was scheduled to finish a punishment spell in a cell-type room in the Navapolack penal colony. However, this is yet to be confirmed as communication with Andrej has been cut off. Maryja Kalesnikava, musician, manager of cultural projects, and public figure, is serving her sentence in a Homiel colony. She has remained incommunicado for more than a year. The last time her family received a letter from her was on 15 February 2023. The same situation with Maksim Znak. Siarhei Tikhanouski, a cultural manager, video blogger, and political activist, has not been heard from since 9 March 2023. It is known that he was constantly kept in solitary confinement. Since 28 April 2023, nothing has been heard from philanthropist and politician Viktar Babaryka, who is serving his sentence in a Navapolack penal colony. Exactly one year ago, he was admitted to hospital in a critical condition.

  • Arbitrary detentions, criminal trials

In Q1 2024, the monitors recorded 32 cases of arbitrary detention of cultural figures. Criminal cases were opened against at least 10 of them. It is also known that courts issued 14 sentences.

The detention on 5 January of the Nizkiz rock band members was one of the widely covered persecutions of cultural figures during this period. Founded in 2008 in Mahiloŭ, the band has performed at dozens of festivals, released four albums, and received numerous awards. Their 2020 single Pravily (Rules) and the music video became one of the symbols of the Belarusian protests against the falsification of the presidential election in August 2020. Vocalist and songwriter Aliaksandr Iljin, bass guitarist Siarhiej Kulša, and drummer Dzmitry Chaliaŭkin [guitarist Leanid Niesciaruk is in Poland] were detained in their flats upon return from a tour. The Belarusian state propaganda channels actively broadcast the footage of their forced detention by police commandos and subsequent “repentance videos”. Initially, the musicians were tried in administrative proceedings allegedly for distributing extremist materials. On 29 January, it became known that criminal cases were opened against them. On 20 March, Iljin, Kulša, and Chaliaŭkin were convicted under “people’s Article” 342 (Organising and preparing or actively participating in actions that grossly violate public order). Each of them received two and a half years of restricted freedom in home confinement.
On 5 January, a court in Belarus heard behind closed doors the appeals filed by the musicians of the Rahačoŭ band Tor Band, sentenced on 31 October 2023 for protest songs to 7.5-9 years in a medium-security penal colony. The court upheld the sentences against vocalist and songwriter Dzmitry Halavač, drummer Yaŭhien Burlo, and bass guitarist Andrej Jaremčyk. On 19 January, the Interior Ministry added Halavač, Burlo, and Jaremčyk to the List of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens, and stateless persons involved in extremist activities. In late February, the musicians were transferred from a remand prison to penal colonies.

On 23-24 January, searches and detentions took place all over the country in connection with food aid received for political prisoners and their families as part of the INeedHelpBY civic initiative. Authorities designated the initiative as an “extremist formation” on 16 January 2024. The KGB listed it as such on 23 January. The persecution also affected cultural figures. Police detained several hundred people. The wording used in the protocols of the administrative trials indicated that by receiving assistance, people “created a threat of harming the state and public interests”.

On 14 February, a wave of detentions and searches targeted the community of architects, affecting about 40 people (or about 70, if their family members are counted). At least four of them faced criminal proceedings. Darja Mandzik, Ilja Palonski, and Raman Zabela are in a pre-trial detention centre. Maksim Nazarčuk was released on 8 March.

Photographer and documentary filmmaker Aliaksandr Ziankoŭ was convicted for his professional activities. On 30 January, he received three years in a penal colony allegedly for participating in an extremist formation (Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code). The charges were based on his video footage posted on an “extremist” website.
On 8 February, artist Hanna Kruk was sentenced to three years of home confinement. The reason for her detention was the demonstration of a painting, which allegedly contained an image of a white-red-white flag, in the Minsk coffee shop MARKS. At the trial, Hanna confirmed that she showcased the painting but denied there was a flag painted on it. The 13-day administrative arrest eventually turned into criminal prosecution under Article 342 of the Criminal Code for participating in the 2020 protests.
On 22 March, Ihar Karniej, journalist and author of texts on the cultural and historical heritage of Belarus, was sentenced to three years in a penal colony and a 20,000 BYN fine under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code for active cooperation with the Belarusian Association of Journalists, according to the prosecutors. Founded in 1995, the public association was forcibly liquidated in August 2021. In 2023, the KGB added it to the list of “extremist formations”.

The reporting period also included the trials of Uladzimir Fišman, engineer and creator of a unique database of photos of various buildings in Belarus (on 5 January, he was sentenced to imprisonment under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code but  the number of years is unknown); writer, poet, activist Aleh Katsapaŭ (on 10 January, he received two-and-a-half years in a penal colony under Articles 130 and 368 of the Criminal Code); photographer Aliaksandr Vasiukovič (on 18 January, he was sentenced to three years of home confinement under Article 342 of the Criminal Code); Paranoia Dolls band musician Dzmitry Šalak (the trial took place on 6 February but the sentence is unknown; he was charged under Articles 368 and 369); culturologist Ksenia Chodyrava (on 16 February, she received five years in a penal colony under articles 361-2 and 361-3 of the Criminal Code); Minimal Distance music band member Yaŭhien Šum (on 16 February, he was sentenced to three years in home confinement under Article 342 of the Criminal Code); artist Uladzimir Lykšyn (on 18 March, he received two-and-a-half years in home confinement under Article 342 of the Criminal Code); writer and cultural manager Siarhiej Makarevič (on 25 March, he was sentenced to two years in home confinement under Article 361-2).

At least 14 cultural workers were subjected to criminal prosecution in the first three months of 2024. By 31 March 2024, at least 61 cultural figures had walked out free having served their criminal sentences.

  • Criminal prosecution in absentia

In January-March 2024, criminal cases were initiated against at least 33 cultural figures. Remarkably, a significant number of cases in the first quarter concerned Belarusians who left the country. The special proceedings were applied beyond the circle of exiled political leaders. On 23 January, it became known that the Office of the Prosecutor General initiated a criminal case against the writer and Radio Svaboda journalist Siarhiej Dubaviec [1]. For publications in the author’s blog, he was charged with violating the laws that counteract extremism, prevent the rehabilitation of Nazism and denial of the genocide of the Belarusian people – Article 369-1, part 1 of Article 130, part 1 of Article 130, part 1 of Article 130, part. 1 of Article 367, part 1 of Article 361-1, part 1 of Article 130-2, part. 1 of Article. 130-1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.

On 26 January 2023, the Interior Ministry designated the closed Telegram channel Analityki ST (ST’s Analysts) [ST stands for Sviatlana Tikhanoŭskaya (Cichanoŭskaja), a presidential candidate in the 2020 elections] as an “extremist formation”. On 24 January, special proceedings were opened in the criminal cases against 20 independent analysts, including, inter alia, philosopher, director of the Institute for Strategic Studies Piotr Rudkoŭski; author of books and political commentator Yury Drakachrust; political scientist and translator Aliaksandr Lahviniec; publicist, founder and chairman of the organising committee of the International Congress of Belarus Researchers Andrej Kazakievič. Special proceedings mean a trial procedure in absentia, which is applied when a defendant is outside the borders of Belarus. On 27 March, the Investigative Committee announced the end of the preliminary investigation in the so-called “Cichanoŭskaja’s Analysts” case. According to the investigators, the defendants prepared theses of Sviatlana Cichanoŭskaja’s public speeches, publications in destructive news sources, aimed at triggering protest moods and deepening the divide in the Belarusian society, strengthening political and economic pressure on the Republic of Belarus”. Depending on the role of each “participant”, they were charged under part 6 of Article 16 and part 3 of Article 130, part. 1 of Article 357, part 6 of Article 16 and part 3 of Article 361, part 1 of Article 361-1 and part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code. The property of independent analysts, including flats, houses, and land plots, was seized.

On 13 March, special proceedings were opened in the criminal case against Siarhiej Vieramiejenka, the founder of the Belarusian souvenirs and national symbols shop Admietnaść. The shop began operations in Hrodna in 2018 but was forced to stop working in 2021 due to the persecution of its owners – Siarhiei and Volha Vieramiejenka. Now, the shop operates as an online store in Poland. On 20 March, Belarusian authorities designated it as an “extremist formation”. Siarhiej is charged under part 1 and part 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (facilitating extremist activities). Special proceedings were opened in the criminal case of journalist Ihar Kazmierčak, the founder of the Belarusian souvenirs and national symbols shop “Cudoŭnaja Krama” in Orša. It was also forced to stop working in Belarus in 2021. Ihar is charged under part 1 and part 2 of Article 361-4 and part 1 of Article 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting the president). Special proceedings were opened against writer, historian, and human rights defender Uladzimir Chilmanovič, opera singer Marharyta Liaŭčuk, producer Aliaksandr Čachoŭski, musician Uladzislaŭ Navažylaŭ, architect Vadzim Dzmitronak and other cultural figures in opposition to the criminal regime in Belarus.

On 20 March, the Investigative Committee reported that it had opened a criminal case under Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code (Creating or participating in an extremist formation) against representatives of the People’s Embassies and Belarusians Abroad diaspora communities. The Investigative Committee stated that it possessed information about over 100 representatives of what it described as “radical diasporas”. The People’s Embassies project emerged in 2020 intending to unite Belarusians and protect their rights around the world. In February 2024, the KGB designated the organisation as an “extremist formation”.


33 state-owned, private, or non-governmental cultural organisations and communities experienced administrative obstructions, including forced liquidation, censorship (see section Censorship), or prosecution for activities abroad (designation as an “extremist formation”).

The state continues to pursue its anti-Polish policy, which includes persecution of the Polish minority, Pole’s Card holders, and commercial Polish-language courses. In the view of an Interior Ministry official, the Pole’s Card “harms the national security of Belarus”. In December 2023, police raided several Polish-language schools in Minsk and Hrodna. One of the largest schools, PanProfesor, announced its closure following a visit by special services. “A fortnight ago, representatives of some special services “came to visit” our employee in Minsk. Then, they searched the office. As it later turned out, on that morning of 21 December 2023, PanProfesor was not the only school to have experienced such a thing. Several other Polish language courses had their directors, staff, and teachers detained. Some of them were forced to record “penitential videos.” To the already known accusations were added ‘teaching Polish’ and so on”, the online school wrote on Facebook on 5 January, adding that the security services strongly recommended stopping working and liquidating the company. PanProfesor was forced to do so. Polish language courses (Streamline, Leon) began to disappear from the offerings of other language schools.

On 3 January, the Operative Analytical Centre under Lukashenka took away the domain name Baj.by and e-mail from the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). BAJ representatives called the situation an illegal takeover by the state, which violated the right to freedom of expression and property rights.

Eight more associations, which were active in the cultural sphere, were forcibly liquidated. Among them are the Georgian Cultural and Educational Society “Mamuli”, the Public Organisation of Belarusian-Turkmen Friendship “Dostluk”, the Belarusian Public Association of German Language Teachers, Family Inclusive Theatre, the Centre of Cultural and Business Cooperation “Agmen”, Public Association “Sabry Viasiolki”, Historical Society “Trascianiec”, and the Belarusian Association of Victims of Political Repressions. The latter is the oldest of the CSOs liquidated in the first quarter of 2024. Founded in 1992, the organization researched Stalin’s repressions in Belarus. The Trascianiec association did a lot to set up a memorial on the site of the death camp and its presence in the culture of memory. The organisation had been active in the country since 2000.

Officials also interfere in the activities of creative unions. Forced to “normalise themselves” to be able to continue their work, to keep the workshops rented from the state, etc., the unions are trying to survive. “The meetings between the Minister of Culture and the chairpersons of the creative unions continued. Today’s talks focused on analysing the activities and planning the work of the Belarusian Union of Artists and the Belarusian Union of Designers. Tasks for the current year were set for the heads of creative unions, while the employees of the ministry received instructions“, the Ministry of Culture wrote in its Telegram channel on 28 February. It is noteworthy that many instructions are given and tasks set behind closed doors, while the unions, like many state-owned organisations, have supervisors from the KGB. One of the tools of manipulation and pressure on them is the demand to revise membership lists and expel “unreliable” artists, designers, and photographers from creative associations. Since the summer of 2023, gradual expulsion from the ranks of the Union of Artists has been underway. Many went through the proposal to sign a “penitential letter”. Those who participated in protest exhibitions or manifested their civic stance in their creative expressions were forced to make written statements on voluntary exit from the Union.

The state uses administrative obstructions to disrupt the work of some creative associations and provides support to the ones loyal to the regime, for example, the pro-governmental Union of Writers of Belarus. The state liquidated the independent Union of Writers on 1 October 2021 and terminated the licenses for several leading book publishers, practically destroying the independent book publishing sector in the country. However, it allocated budget funds to several public associations, including the pro-governmental Union of Writers of Belarus (613,792 BYN or about €176,000 in 2024). The organisation has a pronounced pro-Russian vector of activity and periodically attempts to discredit repressed colleagues.

The following websites were designated as “extremist formations”: Free Belarusian University, the Internet portals Belarusian Radio Racyja, This is Minsk, Baby, Znadniemna.pl (the former portal of the Union of Poles in Belarus, which continues to cover topics and events related to the Polish community); communities of Belarusians abroad (People’s Embassies of Belarus and ABA Together, which declare in their missions the issues of preserving the Belarusan heritage, culture, and language) as well as the Admietnaść shop of national symbols. The KGB added all of them to the List of organisations, formations, and individual entrepreneurs involved in extremist activities.


The year began with high-profile cancellations of cultural events that could not go unnoticed. Many more cases of banned or forcibly reformatted happenings have remained in the shadows. Given that the unspoken list of banned artists, used by officials to vet participants in cultural events, continues to grow, this process is still gaining momentum. More and more cultural figures are denied exhibitions, creative meetings, and touring licences. “Not allowed to participate in the exhibition”, “the works were not even unpacked”, “refused to organise the exhibition”, “the work hung at the opening for about two hours”, “taken down even before the opening”, “cancelled a creative meeting with …”, “not allowed to the music festival… I have performed there many times before”, “you are on the ‘lists’ – there will be no concert” are just a few examples of censorship that were recorded in the covered period but did not become widely known.

 The publicized cancellations of scheduled events in the first quarter of 2024 occurred due to the censorship of officials, “people’s experts” and self-censorship. They were either not approved at all, were edited, or were cancelled already in the process of exhibiting. Those are the realities, illustrating the conditions in which Belarusian culture lives inside the country today. Some examples:

The media have reported only now [January 2024] that the hologram of the poet, which used to complete the main exposition about the classic of Belarusian literature in the Janka Kupala State Literary Museum [2], has not been shown for about a year and a half. It is known that a new version of the hologram is being prepared, while the old one seems to have been “repressed”, as Naša Niva independent publication put it. The hologram was played and shot many years ago by Kupala National Drama Theatre actor Aliaksandr Padabied, who quit the theatre in solidarity with his colleagues in August 2020. Since then, the People’s Artist of the Republic of Belarus has been on the so-called “stop list”.

On 15 January, the exhibition of the Insomnia painting was banned during the installation phase despite having passed all the approvals. The artist Uladzimir Kandrusievič planned to exhibit his works of recent years in the Theatre of Belarusian Dramaturgy. The assumption is that the decision to cancel the exhibition was self-censorship of the theatre management, fearing criticism from pro-governmental “connoisseurs” of Belarusian art.

On 25 January, the State Museum of the Belarusian Literature History opened the exhibition Vasil Bykaŭ. The Life Through Shapes and Lines, timed to the national writer’s 100th birthday anniversary. It focuses on the little-known visual heritage of the world-famous writer. It showcased more than 70 graphic and pictorial works by Vasil Bykoŭ, as well as photographs, books, manuscripts, letters, documents, and other things from the museum’s collections. The exhibition, initially scheduled to be on display for four and a half months (until 5 May), ran for only ten days and was closed on 5 February. It is yet to be known what exactly caused censors to cancel the exposition about the universally recognised writer who was an open opponent of Lukašenka’s regime. Reports suggest the museum’s management received instructions “from above”. It is worth noting that the same exhibition was safely held in Viciebsk in September – October 2023. On 12 March, the State Museum of the Belarusian Literature History opened a literary-documentary exposition A Handful of Sun Rays dedicated to the jubilee writers: Ivan Čihrynaŭ (90 years), Artur Volski (100 years), Aleś Savicki (100 years), Arkadź Kuliašoŭ (110 years), Maksiim Lužanin (115 years), Aleś Jakimovič (120 years), Michaś Lyńkoŭ (125 years). The name of Vasil Bykaŭ, whose anniversary also falls this year, is not among them.

On 27 January, the Belarusian State Youth Theatre was scheduled to premiere Clara Was Here, the play about the Holocaust based on Ksienija Štaliankova’s Memoria nominis Clara and directed by Tacciana Aksionkina. However, censors interfered and the play about Nazi crimes against Jews was cancelled. One and a half months later, on 13 March, the premiere eventually took place.

On 1 February, the Minsk Art Gallery of the Palace of Arts opened the exhibition 1.10 Squares jointly with the Belarusian Union of Artists, timed to the 110th anniversary of Kazimir Malevich’s most famous work, Black Square. This exposition is one in a series of exhibitions within a bigger project to be held at several sites across the country in 2024. It presents the works of contemporary Belarusian authors of different generations, as well as various types and genres of fine arts: painting, graphics, sculpture, glass, ceramics, metal, photography, and art objects. The main thing in the exhibition, as stated in the description, is “...not the theme set by the curators, but the very spirit of innovation in creativity, continuing Kazimir Malevich’s ideas”. On the same day, the Telegram channel of pro-government activist Tacciana Sidarovič “Beloruska topit” published a sarcastic report from the opening of, as she wrote, another exhibition” and began to collect mocking comments about the exposition, participating authors and their works. The propagandist’s “inspection”, her “marginal art” labels, and the discussion that unfolded on her blog led to the situation on the next day, 2 February, when the Union of Artists and the Palace of Arts posted a message on their social media pages that for technical reasons, the exhibition 1.10 Squares is temporarily not working”. On 7 February, another pro-governmental activist, Volha Bondarava, reported in her Telegram channel that Culture Minister Anatol Markievič had a serious conversation with the head of the Belarusian Union of Artists, who was given the last, so to speak, Chinese warning”. Two weeks later, on 16 February, the exhibition 1.10 squares re-opened and worked for some time.

On 11-13 March, Falcon Club Cinema Boutique was scheduled to host screenings of the films by Russian directors with a Q&A session with them afterward: Fairy Tale (in the author’s edition of 2024) and Sun by Alexander Sokurov, A Russian Boy by his apprentice Alexander Zolotukhin. However, on 7 March, the hosts posted a message on Facebook that the event was cancelled “for technical reasons”.  As Alexander Sokurov later commented, the reasons for the cancellation were not “technical”. TV presenter Ryhor Azaronak, one of Belarus’s most odious propagandists, had complained about Sokurov’s arrival.

In Homiel, permission was not granted to the organisers to hold the 8th cosplay festival FreeTime-Fest, scheduled for 11 May. “In addition to the increasingly complicated procedures to register a public cultural event, there is a feeling that creative events in our field are out of favour”,  FreeTime-Fest wrote on VKontakte. Last year, the Ministry of Culture did not authorize the festival either.


In the first quarter of 2024, the Ministry of Information added at least 87 materials on culture, history, Belarusian language, and the social media pages of Belarusian cultural figures to the list of “extremist materials”. This list is not exhaustive – not all the materials can be identified as cultural or related to cultural figures, and some of the pages have already been removed. It is worth noting that courts do not follow a clear pattern. In most cases, the labeled materials are those authored by the opponents of the Lukašenka regime or contain protest symbols. From time to time, they may be duplicated or at first some pages of cultural figures on social networks may be recognized as “extremist”, after some time – the following ones. Sometimes, courts also label as extremist materials the websites that have not been updated for some time.

In the covered period, an email appeared on the Ministry of Information’s list. On 13 February 2024, Hrodna’s Leninski District Court ruled to designate as “extremist” the social media pages of the independent theatre troupe Kupalaŭcy – a collective comprising the former actors of the Janka Kupala National Drama Theatre who continue their work in exile: pages on Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud (the page does not exist), the YouTube channel, the logo of the collective and even the e-mail [email protected].

The following “extremist” pages deserve to be mentioned:

  • PEN Belarus Instagram page;
  • Instagram page of the Resource Centre of the Belarus Rada of Culture;
  • 17 Instagram accounts of the Belarusian language course “Mova nanova” in different cities of Belarus and abroad;
  • Reformation news portal – www.reform.by, which focuses on culture among other topics;
  • online resource of the Polish community pl (until recently – the portal of the Union of Poles in Belarus);
  • Lyapis Trubetskoy’s song Don’t Be Cattle (music video and lyrics);
  • Daj Darohu’s song 10 Million Slaves;
  • article Our Pushkin in the German newspaper taz.de about the death in prison on 11 July 2023 of political prisoner artist Aleś Puškin;
  • Facebook fan page of the Bulbamovie festival of independent Belarusian cinema;
  • Telegram channel in support of Belarusian cultural workers in Warsaw House of Creators;
  • Telegram channel of the initiative of people who “like to sing together” – Singing Assembly;
  • Telegram channel of historian and political commentator Aliaksandr Frydman FRIEDMAN;
  • Telegram channel about Jewish history and Soviet-Israeli relations The Fifth Point;
  • page in Odnoklassniki of Group of Amateurs of Belarusian History, Culture, and Language Club Pahonia-2016;
  • one or more pages on social media of artist and actionist Uladzislaŭ Bochan, musician Tim Suladze, artist Volha Jakuboŭskaja, opera singer Marharyta Liaŭchuk, musician and journalist Kaciaryna Pytliova,
  • and others.

In addition, the list of books – fiction, historical, and scientific works – already has 46 items (at the time of publication). During the first quarter of 2024, we added three publications from those listed as “extremist” by the Ministry of Information: Russia, which did not exist: riddles, versions, hypotheses by Alexander Bushkov; Military Symbolism of Belarusians. Banners and uniforms by Viktar Liachor and Adolf Hitler by John Toland, Pulitzer Prize winner and the most famous biographer of Nazi Germany’s dictator. A couple more books about Hitler, as well as religious books, we did not take into account due to their possible ambiguity.

The following trend also deserves a mention. With some regularity, reports appear online that the prosecutor’s office has discovered facts of offers to purchase books included in the “List of Extremist Materials” and demanded that these books be removed from sale. There were also cases of administrative prosecution for subscribing to the social media pages of cultural figures or cultural sector communities labeled as “extremists”. We do not include these facts in the overall statistics of violations, in particular, due to their incomplete compliance with the monitoring methodology. Nevertheless, it is an important trend that also affects cultural rights along with the rights to freedom of expression and information.


In early January 2024, the Council of Ministers’ Resolution On the Concept of Developing the National Cultural Space in All Spheres of Society for 20242026 came into force. To counter “globalisation”, “westernisation of modern culture”, and “cultural products created and based on foreign views and values”, the Ministry of Culture has drawn up a plan of over 500 cultural, public, educational, and other events to be held throughout the country. According to the Concept’s authors, the expected results will include the preservation of the unity of the Belarusian people and ensuring further consolidation of Belarusian society. The indicators of success include: veneration of the state symbols of the Republic of Belarus by the population” and increase in population reach by the events shaping patriotic values and orientations.

In the ideology promoted by the state, the topics of the genocide of the Belarusian people by the Western world and the unification of Belarusian and Russian historical science occupy one of the central places. The 80th anniversary of the liberation of the country from the Nazi invaders came at the right time. It will become a highlight of numerous patriotic events in 2024. The All-Belarusian patriotic project Memory of Generations for the Future has already kicked off.  Film projects for different age groups and museum expositions are planned. New military-patriotic classes are opened in schools. A joint Russian-Belarusian commission on history was also set up – “the parties will cooperate in coordinating efforts to protect historical truth, preserve the memory of the joint history of Belarus and Russia, including its reflection in educational literature”.

The sphere of culture occupies a special place in the Russification of Belarus. The Rossotrudnichestvo agency opened a fourth centre of culture and science Russian House, now in Hrodna. Numerous Russian-Belarusian agreements on cooperation and joint projects between cultural and educational institutions continue to be signed. The proposal to form a common list of cultural heritage of the Union State is being discussed. The presence of Russian book publishers at the XXXI Minsk International Book Fair is impressive”. Those are just a few examples of Russification of the cultural sphere of the country. I have noticed that all our schools – music, art, general education – have Belarusian-Russian projects taking place. Some schoolchildren from Smolensk drew something together with schoolchildren from Viciebsk. Some karate athletes arrived from Perm; another delegation came from Ulan-Ude. Integration is happening in the local history museum. Only Gzhel ceramics and Khokhloma paintings are on display. The kiosk in the local museum sells huge matryoshka dolls. The St Petersburg Academy of Arts is doing several projects here. Although it was present to some degree before the war, it was not so intrusive. Now, it is simply impossible to skip“. [3]

Declaring in the Concept the task to “ensure further consolidation of the Belarusian society”, the regime criminalises ties between those who left and those who stayed in the country, vilifying democratic forces in exile, their supporters, and Belarusians who emigrated for political reasons. The current tendencies include defamation and persecution of Belarusians abroad, in particular, in Poland and Lithuania; exploration of Litvinism for provocations, designation of Belarusian diasporas as “extremist formations”.

Culture is a servant to political processes. One of the tasks performed by the organisations in this sphere in the first quarter of this year was to provide “cultural support for the electoral campaign” – the elections of deputies to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly and local convocations. The Ministry of Culture’s Telegram news feed was full of appeals from the sector’s employees to participate in local elections, and on 25 February, the single day of voting, with video reports on exhibitions and performances of creative groups at polling stations.

The state policy in the sphere of culture is largely based on the practices of the Soviet period: competitions for state orders; plans for the publication of socially significant literature; sending letters with demands to hold thematic events; expanding the audience by forcibly distributing tickets to state bodies, institutions, and enterprises; subbotniks; meetings of councils, the work of various commissions, etc.

In a country where repressions and their institutionalization are non-stop, politically “unreliable” professionals are pushed out, national figures and symbols are denigrated, polarisation of state and independent cultures grows along with regulation and often criminalisation of the latter, the Ministry of Culture sets important and ambitious tasks for the industry, which will contribute to the successful implementation of the goals of the Year of Quality” (the year 2024 in Belarus).


Lukashenka’s statement in early January 2024 that nobody will strangle anyone in Belarus for their creativity does not correspond to reality. As of 31 March, at least 158 cultural figures were behind bars or in home confinement, persecuted both for their civic stance and creativity: Nizkiz musicians were detained for songs, artist Hanna Kruk – for displaying a painting; theatre director Siarhiej Pukit was fired for a song performed on the stage; special proceedings were opened in the criminal case against Siarhiej Vieramiejenka for popularizing Belarusian national symbols.

Repressions against cultural workers continue daily. Culture is politics”, said Iryna Dryha, a high-ranking representatives of the nomenklatura in this sphere. In the aftermath of the 2020 protests, at least 259 cultural figures were convicted. 428 cultural figures and workers were dismissed for political reasons. At least 237 culture-related CSOs were forcibly liquidated. In today’s realities, Belarusian culture, as a whole, and cultural workers, in particular, face an uphill task of self-preservation.


[1] Siarhiej Dubaviec is the author of the books Practicalities (1991), A Russian Book (1997), The Diary of a Private Man (1998), City Gates (2005), Poems (2007), How? (2009), Workshop. The Story of One Miracle (2012), Errata: What is Called Always Happens (2013), A Blue Ship in the Black Sea (2014), The Devil Was Harnessed to a Plough (2018), Moresca Dances. The Story of One Trial (2019).

[2] In 2022, Hanna Halinskaja was appointed as the new director, replacing Alena Liaškovič, who was dismissed for political reasons in May 2022.

[3] Quote from a non-public interview with a cultural figure.