"Art against Dictatorship" Attracted More Participants than the Organizers Had Planned

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WASHINGTON - The turnout at the Washington exhibition of Belarusian artists “Art against Dictatorship” was unexpectedly high. The German Marshall Fund was initially planning a small round-table discussion on a little-known European country. Instead, what happened in Washington on February 12 looked more like an academic conference.

Iryna Krasouskaya was the keynote speaker at the round table on Belarus. In her opinion, there is no evidence of real improvements in the country. Everything remains the same - there are political prisoners once again, complete domination of state-controlled media, and all advisory bodies created by the regime work only as window-dressing. According to Iryna, the political prisoners are used by the regime as hostages and the only reason for everything that is going on in Belarus is to maintain the personal power of President Lukashenka. Belarusian participants in the round table were almost unanimous in sharing Iryna’s skepticism, while Pavol Demes of the German Marshall Fund and some other European guests were more optimistic. According to them, several decades ago, western Germans were successful in talks with Communists in Poland and other countries of the Eastern block, which bore fruit.

Therefore, it is important to keep trying to engage the regime by showing the benefits of democracy. Another dilemma the round table participants discussed was the relationship between the independence of Belarus and democracy. Some guests shared the view that because Belarusian independence was more important than democracy it was necessary to cooperate with whomever rules Belarus. According to this view, if Belarus is brought to its knees, it could easily be absorbed by Russia. Most Belarusian participants disagreed, saying that this was one of the myths exploited by the regime.

As a matter of fact, today Belarusian independence and statehood are very fragile because everything is in the hands of one man. What will happen to the country if something happens to this man? Civil society, a real parliament and other democratic institutions would be a much better guarantee of Belarusian independence than the whim of one person. Following the round table discussion, Ales Marachkin and Ales Shaternik spoke on behalf of the Belarusian artists whose paintings were displayed throughout the German Marshall Fund building. Mr. Marachkin was especially concerned about the state of the Belarusian national identity. According to him, the current Belarusian regime is not just a non-democratic regime, but also one which eliminates the Belarusian culture and language.

Currently, the number of schools with Belarusian as the primary language of instruction is almost twenty times less compared to the number in early 1990s. The artist from Belarus emphasized that it was equally important to build democracy in Belarus and to revive its national culture and identity. These two processes should go hand in hand. The success of the Belarusian exhibition “Art against Dictatorship” serves as evidence that Ales Marachkin was right - it is indeed possible both to support Belarusian culture and democratization at the same time.

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