Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 18th, 2007

Squaring up to Belarus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th May, 2007

yury-khashchavatski.jpgThe Lithuanian tourism office (next door to the London embassy, in Gloucester Place) hosted a private screening of Ploshcha (The Square) by the Belarussian dissident film-maker Yury Khashchavatski this evening, in his presence. It is an extraordinarily powerful documentary about the democratic protest movement that developed in the run-up to last year’s presidential elections, which saw President Aleksandr Lukashenko comfortably returned (to cries of ‘foul!’ from the opposition). The film brought tears of laughter from the audience with its early scenes, not least provoked by the vox pop interviews with baboushkas in a one-cow village, where there is only one, old, disabled man left, plus a couple of dozy dogs; the women ranted about lack of money, fuel and everything else, but they didn’t want to have anything to do with the ‘fucking outside world’. They were sure everything must be alright in Belarus, except in their village. But then the action moved to young people camping out in freezing conditions on October Square in Minsk, waving both national and EU flags and calling for reforms, until the heavy squads, with up-market leather gauntlets containing knuckle-dusters, moved in and carted them off to jail. By this time, not a few people at the screening were crying in empathy with the bravery and dignity of the protestors. Yury Khashchavatski says that the President allegedly smashed up two chairs in rage when he saw this film (which is not on public release inside the country, of course, though it is circulating in an estimated 200,000 samizdat DVDs and versions downloaded from the internet). At least that is a slight improvement. After the last film he made, giving an unflattering portrait of Lukashenko, he was literally beaten senseless.


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