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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“I believe in Belarusian Maidan”

Scriptwriter of Viva Belarus! Franak Viacorka on the Ukrainian protest as a tool of European thinking
17 March, 2014 - 17:33
A SCENE FROM THE FILM / Photo by the author

The first full-length Belarusian feature film, based on the real events in 2009 and 2010, premiered on May 22, 2012, at the 65th Cannes Film Festival. The film was almost instantly praised by film critics. It featured Belarusian actors, the language used was Belarusian as well. However, the film was shot in Poland by Polish director Krzysztof Lukaszewicz, and it was banned in Belarus as slanderous and untruthful.

Viva Belarus! invokes interest and concern. Viacorka partially used his life experience for harsh, honest, brutal images without heroization as, for example, scenes of bullying in the army. Viacorka is a Belarusian activist and journalist who works at Radio Liberty and participates in various youth initiatives. In particular, he stands for the abolition of death penalty in Belarus.

After presenting the film at the beginning of February in Kyiv for Euromaidan participants, the scriptwriter explained his fascination with the Ukrainian protest as a phenomenon and hope for freedom for his people as well:

“I brought the film to Euromaidan at the invitation of the Student Assembly and dedicated it to my fellow compatriot Mikhail Zhyznevsky, who was killed during the clashes in Hrushevsky Street on January 22,” says the scriptwriter in a conversation with The Day. “Mikhail was a young guy, he was of my age... He was hiding from Lukashenka’s regime in Belarus and died here, on Maidan, while fighting for freedom in Ukraine. This is very symbolic. It is a demonstration of the fact that our history is much closer than we can imagine. Viva Belarus! was presented at international film festivals, it was screened in many countries. But the reaction of audiences in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia was the most vivid, because in these countries people have had similar experiences and problems. The first one is the generation gap problem: the gap between the previous Soviet generation and the new, modern one, raised in the era of Internet. This is a problem of banned music and prohibited, black-listed singers. It is a problem of military service and compulsory draft, which is aimed at turning people into mindless creatures. It is a problem of law-enforcement officers who act in lawless and cruel ways. It is a problem of not being allowed to use the official Belarusian language. We showed it all in one story. We made this film for Belarusians to show them things the state television keeps quiet about. And we tried to show the viewers in other countries what life is like in the modern-day Belarus, and what might be waiting for Ukraine if Maidan does not win.

“It is curious that this film was banned in Belarus before it was even released. The Belarusian Embassy in Poland sent a note of protest to the producers, in which it urged to stop the shooting and refrain from distributing it, since it is slanderous. The government forbade the actors to be involved in projects of the state film companies. Two million dollars were already assigned to make an alternative version of the story we showed in our film. The new film is going to depict ‘their truth.’”

Who helped with the creation of Viva Belarus!?

“This film was not supported by politicians. It was supported by entrepreneurs, the Ministry of Culture of Poland, and Canal Plus (France). Unfortunately, the problem of human rights is put on the back burner nowadays. Realpolitik dominates in Europe. Why would European politicians apply sanctions against those they share business interest with?

“Politicians are reluctant to interfere in such problems as those that exist in Belarus. And they pay the least attention to people who live with these problems [violation of human rights. – Author].

“That is why, while screening this film, we would like to influence politicians, so they do not forget that there are such nations as Ukrainians and Belarusians that require their solidarity, their support here and now.”

However, you received a warm welcome from film critics. The film has won eight prestigious international awards, in particular, it won the grand prizes in Vienna, Istanbul, a prize for the best scenario in Brussels. Thanks to what, do you think?

“Firstly, this film is based on a true story, secondly, it does not repeat any cliches. It is obviously not in trend of modern cinematography, but it is very emotional, it makes a strong impression. Films are created mostly for pure entertainment today. And this film is made not for fun. It rather leaves people in a state of stupor. Viewers feel shattered after watching it.

“However, we received astonishingly sincere support in India. In Prague, while sharing impressions of the film, the Czechs tried to project it on themselves and guess what would have happened in Czechoslovakia, if not for the Velvet Revolution and Vaclav Havel. In Portugal, people compared the depicted events with Salazar’s regime in 1930s-1940s.

“This film is easy to relate to, because it brings up humane values and expresses protest against totalitarianism. But there are so few of such films...”

The film describes revolutionary events. But what is a revolution as understood by Franak Viacorka?

“For me a revolution is a transition to the state of a community, when people do not depend on their masters anymore who have unlimited authority and power. This is the ability of a community to bear personal responsibility. Ukraine’s Maidan demonstrates the examples of civic unity, responsibility, the ability to self-organize in the most complicated conditions.

“Also, this is a revolution of consciousness for me. When people stop thinking with Soviet cliches and start thinking in a European way. When you are a CEO or an entrepreneur, but you pick up a shield to stand on the barricades against Berkut: this is a revolution of cleansing oneself from the socialist, Soviet totalitarian past.”

Why did a similar Maidan fail in Belarus in 2010?

“Because a very dramatic situation was present back then, when Belarusians settled their fate. An unusually large number of people came out in the streets in Minsk for the first time in so many years. But people did not expect such a reaction. Without any reasons, either moral, political, or legal, Maidan was cruelly dispersed, and opposition leaders were beaten or thrown in jail. We failed back then. I hope Ukrainians will not fail now. But we must keep in mind that the difference between Belarus and Ukraine is that our ‘Maidan’ took place much earlier. There were several presidents in Ukraine in 20 years, and we had only one. Lukashenka managed to prevent Belarusian Maidan. But the protest potential was preserved in various social groups, for instance, in trade unions, among students, etc.

“I participate in various youth initiatives myself, and I believe that once our Belarusian Maidan will rise too.

“It is very good that decisions on Ukrainian Maidan depend not purely on politicians, but on the community as well. Moreover, the community uses politicians as a tool, and I think this is what the victory of Maidan should be.”

By Iryna VYRTOSU, Human Rights Information Center, special to The Day