Theater under censorship in Belarus
A co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre talks about her arrest and the artistic climate under the Belarus authoritarian regime.
This story was originally covered by PRI's Studio 360. For more, listen to the audio above.
Belarus may be Europe's last authoritarian regime. The country's security apparatus is still called the KGB, a holdover from its years as a part of the Soviet Union, and it still rounds up artists for performing unauthorized works.
The Belarus Free Theatre frequently defied the regime, performing in people's homes or even in the woods during the summertime. Word of the theater was spread through text messages and via the internet.
Recently, the Belarusian authorities cracked down on the Belarus Free Theatre, arresting its cofounder Natalia Kaliada, among many others. She told Studio 360 that she was jammed into a KGB van and told to lie face down. The agent began yelling at her saying, "Nazi time will seem to you like a dream." Considering the brutal history of the Nazis in Belarus, Kaliada said, "When you hear this, you understand what they do to those people, how they brainwash them, that they could talk to their co-citizens this way."
She took the death threats seriously throughout the ordeal. She said, "at some point, I got so many threats in my life. And I knew that, if he got this order, there is no doubt that he would do it."
Eventually she was taken to jail, where she was exposed to horrible scenes during her imprisonment. She spent 24 hours detained, before a judge ordered her release due to a clerical error.
Now in exile in New York, Kaliada is dedicated to raising awareness about the brutal Belarusian regime. The US government recently threatened against Belarus, which Kaliada believes is a step in the right direction. She speaks of the country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, as a terrorist holding political prisoners hostage. She says, "This is the time for world leaders to understand that this guy is a criminal, and it's not possible to talk to him. You just need to behave to him as you would do to a criminal."
The exile may be good for her art, however. Kaliada says that travel helps artists to see the world in a new light. In Belarus, on the other hand, "everything becomes taboo zone" she says. " People are not allowed to think. Authorities do whatever is possible not to allow people to think about even their own lives.
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