Belarus, the disabled, the KGB and Belarus Free Theatre’s Fortinbras

Belarus Free Theatre’s theatrical laboratory Fortinbras’ provocations of pop up contemporary art and theatre shone a bright light through the chinks of the armor of Belarus’ dictatorship this past December in a cold and rainy Minsk.

Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) pioneer performance inspired campaigning, now, only months after Belarus signed the UN convention to protect the human rights of those with disabilities, Fortinbras’ students yielded the fruits of their own training to mount a series of “public actions, installations and performances across Minsk asking: ‘Why don’t we see people with disabilities around us?’”

Belarus Free Theatre and Fortinbras stand with the banned and the disabled are banned in Belarus. The theatre’s modes of theatrical practices have grown, by necessity, out of the stranglehold of Alexander Lukashenko’s continuing dictatorship. The time seems right to up the ante, Lukashenko was recently returned to power in what many believe to be rigged elections in October 2015. In a city run by the KGB, the only secret service agency opting to keep its name after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, how can such performance interventions affect the citizens of this oppressed municipal? The answer is to bring the disabled and impaired out onto the streets of Minsk and invite its citizens to look at, see, acknowledge, and accommodate difference. In a country which seems to function as a satellite state, where even the mention of Lukashenko’s name in derogative terms seems sacrilege, the time is ripe for such a move as NGOs and The Office for The Rights of Persons with Disabilities watch, over the next two years, to see how the government will fulfill its obligations set out in the UN convention. It’s a country where 50 percent of its people have said they are ready to integrate those with disabilities, but where 80 percent of those who are disabled are unemployed. You might say, Belarus is in the grip of uncertainty, it stunts itself when it embraces difference with only half hearted measures, it is plagued with anxiety when these measures are tested and are found wanting, it wishes to go forward but is caught in the throes of a dictatorship which forces the country to tread water.

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