Belarusian Artivism: How and Why Art and Activism Merged in the Belarusian Protests of 2020

In Belarus, the presidential elections of 2020 and the following protests provoked an unprecedented boom in art activism. The violation of political and human rights did not start in 2020, but they reached a new intensity that year. Unwilling to use violence in response to the state’s violence, the protesters employed creative tools to communicate their position. After over two decades of being unable to express their political moods openly, Belarusians, both artists and non-artists, began to actively express their emotions, political and civil beliefs in posters, drawings, music performances and other forms of protest art. Actions, rallies and interventions that bridged art and activism became a popular way to protest against violence, election fraud, and political repression.

This article focuses on the intangible artivist heritage of the protest, and does not cover the numerous artivist graphic works and posters that have already caught the attention of international audiences. In this essay, the most outstanding artivist pieces are presented and discussed chronologically, so the reader can understand what sort of interventions and performances took place and how they transformed over time. Another aim of the text is to unravel why Belarusian protesters so frequently relied on artistic means to make political statements.

Artivism is a portmanteau of art and activism. It is a kind of interventionism that employs cultural manifestation techniques to constitute itself in the political field. The transversal nature of artivist practices and their hybrid quality allow swift passages from the artistic realm into the predominantly political sphere and back.[1] It differs from political art, as the latter aims to criticize the system and make people aware of a problem. Art activists, however, “do not want to merely criticize the art system or the general political and social conditions under which this system functions. Rather, they want to change these conditions by means of art—not so much inside the art system but outside it, in reality itself.”[2]

For instance, the examples discussed in this article do not easily fit in the notions of either art or activism. They are not purely art, mainly because many of the examples were not intended to be art. As the authors do not call them art, it is up to the viewer to consider them as such. As there is often a thin line between art and activism in these cases, I suggest they be labeled artivism.

Moreover, not all the authors of these artivist performances and interventions consider themselves artists. Antonina Stebur, a Belarusian art critic, claims that in 2020, Belarusian art became egalitarian: the language and instruments of art ceased to be the exclusive domain of cultural workers. There was a social explosion, and we saw how people all over the country began to use artistic language effectively. Art took to the streets and became the language of protesters. Various people, often without formal education in art and even without the experience of visiting large museums, began to use artistic instruments. This is how they express their disagreement and remove themselves from the official language, which today cannot seem to reflect the reality of what is happening.[3]

While they do not consider themselves artists, they are all without a doubt artivists. Unlike artists who traditionally take an autonomous position in society, they took center stage in the events and influenced the process directly. To a certain extent, their actions are more civic than artistic, but this does not mean they do not have an artistic value. Artistic expression for artivists, however, is merely a means of ensuring they are heard, and of drawing attention to their point.

Before starting the discussion of artivist actions that took place along with the protests in Belarus, it is essential to understand what environment set this creative wave in motion and what events it responded to. Until 2020, the political life of Belarus was relatively calm. The government consisted only of representatives who supported the regime, and the old leaders of the opposition who had run for president in 2006 and 2010, had been forced either to leave the country or to stop their political activity. Political parties and organizations were defunct or their operation was severely limited.

The critical political agenda was barred from the mainstream media and the public sphere, but found a refuge in art galleries and cultural spaces. While state art museums and galleries were depoliticized and did not serve propaganda purposes, they sought to avoid anything even remotely political. Critical debates on social, cultural, and quasi-political topics took place in independent, privately-owned galleries. It was possible, as the regime did not seem to take seriously the effects cultural life and art could have on society, especially if it had a limited audience. Thus, the liveliness of the discussions and exhibited art in the independent galleries and cultural hubs was in sharp contrast with other realms of the public sphere.

In the late spring and early summer of 2020, the Belarusian presidential campaign started with the arrest of two presidential candidates, Viktar Babaryka and Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who were at the time the popular frontrunners.[4] Their arrests provoked a series of protests before the elections took place. Later, in July 2020, the Central Election Committee refused to register Valery Tsepkala, a third popular candidate. However, they did register Tsikhanouski’s wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Her application to become a presidential candidate was an act of despair, as her husband was not only arrested to keep him out of the election, but the Committee refused to accept his application on technical grounds.[5] She became a candidate who represented three political forces and united the voters of Tsikhanouski, Babaryka and Tsepkala. According to the independent platform, Golos (Voice), she won the elections.[6] However, the results were falsified and Lukashenka was declared victorious, which incited an intense wave of protests that was met with violent resistance by the police and army. In August 2020 alone, more than 7,500 citizens were detained for participating in peaceful protests, and at least 500 cases of torture were recorded.[7] Despite the violent reaction, the protests continued. After the election day on August 9, 2020, peaceful demonstrations took place on various scales every day for over two months. By August 2021, around 35,000 had been detained,[8] over 600 people were recognized as political prisoners,[9] at least four people had died at the hands of government forces, and several other deaths had been allegedly connected to their actions.[10]

In the face of these horrible circumstances, artistic means fueled the protests and helped to continue the resistance despite the risks. The emphasized peacefulness and creativity of the protests was something that the protesters could contrast with police action.

The first protest actions in the summer of 2020 were also associated with art. The solidarity of cultural workers and the creative cluster, and then of a wider public, was elicited by a painted portrait, Eva, the work of Chaïm Soutine. Eva became a symbol of protest. She was printed on T-shirts as a neutral symbol of support for the protests. Artists and designers reimagined the painting itself by dressing Eva in a prison uniform, putting her behind bars, depicting her as a victim of police violence, or by adding some gesture, making her wink, show her middle finger, or discreetly sticking out three fingers, hinting at Lukashenka’s low public approval rating, which, according to the very popular meme, was 3 per cent at the time.[11]

This painting became a symbol of resistance because Viktar Babaryka acquired it for the corporate collection of Belgazprombank, where he used to be a chairman of the board. Babaryka was a prominent patron of culture. On his initiative, Belgazprombank first became a sponsor of the National Art Museum, then began to build a corporate collection of its own, initiated the annual exhibition and sale of works by young artists called “The Autumn Salon,” and in 2015 opened the Art-Belarus Gallery, which became an important site not only for exhibiting art but for liberal discussions and events as well.[12] The collection of paintings became material evidence when Babaryka and Belgazprombank were charged with economic crimes—a case opened with the aim of removing the leading candidate from the presidential race. The paintings were removed from display at the Art-Belarus Gallery, and were placed in storage. On June 16, 2020, the gallery opened without paintings on the walls. There were QR codes instead, which brought up reproductions. The chief curator of the collection, Alexander Zimenko, led guided tours, telling visitors about the paintings and the artists.[13] After the release of a news story about the “arrest” of paintings, visitors and cultural workers started to actively support the gallery, and the number of people who learned about the gallery increased dramatically.

“The Heritage,” a performance at Art-Belarus Gallery. Minsk, July 1, 2020. Photo by Tanya Kapitonova.

On July 1, 2020, Art-Belarus hosted a performance called “The Heritage,” with more than two dozen cultural workers taking part in it. The participants attached reproductions of paintings from the collection to their backs and stood next to where the works were originally hung. It was “a performance (telling) that any art can be simultaneously an asset, a target, a symbol, a message, material and non-material, present and absent. Art is people who stand behind it,” said the author of the performance, Nadya Sayapina.[14] The story of Babaryka and Eva strengthened the corporate gallery’s bond with the independent cultural sector, making it a highly politicized venue. The gallery continued working. A year later, in the summer of 2021, the arrest of Eva’s portrait and other works of the Belgazprombank collection ended, and as of November 2021, they are on view again.

Sayapina’s performance, “The Heritage” was reconceptualized after she was detained for 15 days for taking part in another action. On September 16, 2020, participants of an action that expressed solidarity with the detained Nadya Sayapina and poet Hanna Komar made a performance. Each of the participants posed in public space facing a wall and having Sayapina and Komar’s portraits attached to the backs of their hoodies. On the walls they pasted leaflets with a work by Nadia Sayapina and a photo of Hanna Komar with an excerpt from her poem. The leaflets contained QR codes that led to other pieces by the artists.[15] Photos of this itinerant performance quickly became popular online.

Sayapina was detained after she was tagged on Facebook in a photo of the action “The Art of the Regime,” which took place on August 15, 2020, in front of the Art-Belarus Gallery and the Palace of Arts.[16] In it, artists stood holding enlarged photos of the injured bodies of people who had been severely beaten by OMON, the riot police. Artem Pronin, an artist, stood there in underwear, showing the bruises he sustained when he was beaten with truncheons. Some of the pictures were attached to an advertising banner of Art-Belarus. It functioned as a shrine or bulletin board: people went there, read the notices and looked at the photos, and made their own contributions. In support of other Belarusian protesters, the artists demanded that their right to protest peacefully be respected. The four artivist actions that were associated with the Art-Belarus Gallery came to define, to a certain extent, the style of other protest manifestations that employed artistic means, whether intentionally or not.

Perhaps the most crucial artivist project of the Belarusian protests was the action known as Women in White. On August 12, the third day after the elections, about 250 women lined up in a chain of solidarity outside the Kamarouski market, all dressed in white and holding hands. Many held flowers.[17] The idea was to contrast the perceived feminine weakness and innocence with the brutality and the black uniforms of the OMON. This performative technique worked: the police was discouraged by the exclusively female action, which was difficult to frame as even partially disruptive or violent. The participants were not detained but they were asked to leave. In response the women put their hands on the back of their heads and began to walk in circles, pretending they were arrested. Then they formed a chain again and continued standing. This action was transformed into a series of women’s marches since the number of participants after the first artistic performance exceeded several thousand. For some Belarusian women, dressing in white became an implicit expression of resistance, something they could do every day. Later, at least two participants of the women’s marches appeared at the demonstrations in wedding dresses—turning their participation into a solo performance, exaggerating the original idea of dressing in white as a symbol of purity and innocence. This was not mockery, however, but a way to draw attention to what was happening, injecting a degree of absurdity into the events, which made their appearance in the media more unusual and exciting. Women in White changed the course of the protests, and gave a second wind to people who had been confused and frightened by the overwhelming level of violence in the first days after the elections.

Women in White, August 12, 2020. Minsk, Komaro. Photo by Violetta Savchits

Women in White, August 12, 2020. Minsk, Komaro. Photo by Violetta Savchits

Later, creative elements appeared in the format of the weekly Saturday women’s marches as well. For example, the theme of one of the marches in September was “Glittery/Sparkling”: the participants appeared in bright outfits and sequins, with boas and tinsel, wearing colorful make-up. It was a carnivalesque march, similar to a Pride. On September 12, 2020, the organizers asked participants to bring pots and ladles to make noise. However, in addition to the utilitarian function of making noise, the kitchen utensils on the women’s march also had a powerful symbolic meaning. The regime’s propagandists criticized Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been a housewife for the last ten years and raised a child with disability, calling her a “borscht cooker,” and recommended her to return to making cutlets.[18] In 2010 the permanent head of the Central Election Committee, Lidzia Yarmoshna had condemned the women participating in the protests, telling them they needed to stay at home and cook borscht rather than interfere in politics.[19] The use of kitchen utensils, i.e. means of production, made the action more effective and symbolically mixed the private and the public, political and domestic life.

By October 2020, the gender composition of the participants ceased to be an obstacle to the use of violence. The OMON began to detain participants and the marches stopped. However, even a year and a half after the elections, women’s marches take the form of sporadic interventions. A group of about ten women periodically makes interventions in the public space. They are often dressed in bright white and red clothes, whose colors symbolize the resistance.[20] They cover their faces with masks to preserve their anonymity. Sometimes they wear black robes in mourning of the perished protesters. They stroll in the streets of Minsk for some time and then disappear. As there are only a few people in the group, their appearances have a rather performative effect. It is not a rally but a manifestation that the protest spirit is still alive, although most people prefer not to take the high risk of a prison sentence for taking part in a demonstration.

Artivist performances were used not only to protest or to express solidarity but also to demonstrate what goes on behind the walls of the detention centers. In addition to the previously mentioned “The Art of the Regime,” the performance, “My Cell” is a case in point. It took place on August 22, 2020 on Victory Square in Minsk.[21] It was organized by acquaintances and friends of the prisoners of the notorious Akrestsina Detention Center. Participants drew the outlines of a cell meant for six detainees on the pavement, and 50 people stood within its perimeter, echoing the information that the lack of room in detention centers meant cells were packed to eight times their capacity. This was a very emotive demonstration of overcrowdedness, the suffering that inmates were put to. It was also a way to make the public aware of what was happening in the most isolated places, making visible what was not meant to be seen—in a major square of the city.

On August 29, 2020, during one of the women’s marches, a group of anonymous female artists dressed as so-called tikhari.[22] They wore tracksuits, baseball caps, and masks to hide their faces, as tikhari often do. They walked in the crowd with cameras in the same way as plainclothes police officers often do.[23] The idea was not only to mock the police but also to create a theatrical shock and later relief among the protesters, as they realized the threat was not real. Another performance based on assumed identity involved Belarusian traditions. On August 30, 2020, on the birthday of Alexander Lukashenka, young women appeared on Independence Square, dressed in national costumes. They “rolled out a pumpkin for him”—the traditional Belarusian way to indicate refusal to a suitor,[24] a gesture men may find very offensive. After the female participants of the performance rolled out the pumpkins, they sang a song in Belarusian about an ill-favored old man. It was the most prominent action involving traditional costumes. The performance relied on Belarusian traditional culture that Lukashenka condemns, but it was also a reaction to a statement he made before the elections: “Belarus is a beloved one, and one does not let a beloved one go.” By comparing the country to a beloved woman Lukashenka stated that he will not give up the presidential chair. The pumpkin performance aimed to demonstrate that both the country and its women have their own voice and agency.

The weekly Sunday marches also periodically included artistic interventions. On August 30, 2020, Lukashenka’s birthday, a carnivalesque march took place. The protesters came with  “gifts” for the dictator. There was, for example, a gigantic installation of a cockroach carried by a group of people (the cockroach image was exploited in Sergei Tsikhanovsky’s campaign as an insult to Lukashenka), and a coffin.[25] The street theater Vir presented a performance, in which a man dressed in a black cloak, apparently portraying death, walked on stilts towards the presidential residence, surrounded by participants in skeleton costumes, who performed an evocative dance.[26] The performance took place during the march, moving along with the column of protesters. The performance entitled “HOMON” took place on September 6, 2020. Marching among the protesters there were people wearing pig masks and black T-shirts with the word “HOMON” printed on it in yellow, in the font used on the uniform of the riot police.[27] HOMON is a wordplay on jamón and OMON, and also resembles a Belarusian word, gamon, which is a colloquial word for a bad ending. Over and above criticizing violence, the ironic gesture made multiple cultural references.

The protests of 2020 were not restricted to actions and marches: an important part was the resistance of major state-run art institutions. For example, the employees of the National Art Museum appeared on the portico to express their support for the protests.[28] Every day for a few weeks, the musicians and staff of the Belarusian State Philharmonic gathered outside the main entrance of the Philharmonic Society and performed music in protest.[29]  Most members of the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theater’s company resigned in protest of the political course of the country and the pressure on culture.[30] On August 26, 2020, during a meeting with the minister of culture that took place in the theater’s hall, 80 employees waved their resignation letters.

Along with the institutional resistance, new forms of self-organization appeared. In terms of art, the most prominent self-organized group is the Free Choir (Volny Khor). It is an association of people for whom singing in public places has become a means of expressing their political position. There is no hierarchy in the choir, there is no featured soloist, and anyone can join the singers when they perform. The Free Choir sings folk and national songs in unexpected places, as in shopping centers or before a performance at an opera house. Some of their appearances are more performative. On October 4, 2020, an action took place in front of the Palace of Sports. People in red and white balaclavas sang the anthem “Magutny Bozha (O God Almighty),” holding a banner in their hands to remind law enforcement officials that an article of the Belarus Criminal Code penalizes genocide and they can be punished in the future.[31] Another performance took place on October 17, 2020, at the Belarusian State Circus in Minsk: the choir sang “Mury (The Walls),” a Belarusian adaptation of the Polish Solidarity’s song. The choir members wore white and red balaclavas, and held a banner that read “It’s all some kind of circus,” making fun of the absurdity of the state of affairs. The balaclavas not only served anonymity but were also a means to reclaim agency: by wearing a headgear usually worn by policemen, the protesters symbolically took over power.

The Volny Choir in The Pit, December 5, 2020. Still from video. Source: facebook.com/VolnyChoir, published by Reformation, https://reform.by/191302-ne-v-pole-iskusstva-no-v-nem-okazalis-hudozhniki-i-kritiki-nazvali-samye-jarkie-protestnye-akcii-belarusov-v-2020-godu

One of the darkest and most powerful Free Choir interventions took place at the Holocaust Memorial Yama (the Pit).[32] The monument is a sculptural group of damaged figures of ghetto prisoners descending to the bottom of the pit where they meet their death. The members of the Free Choir continued the line of sculptures, holding a banner with the number and title of the article “Genocide” from the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. Due to the gloomy weather on December 5, 2020, and the black clothes they wore, they visually merged with the sculptural composition. Using allusions to the actions of the Nazis is not only an attempt to exacerbate the image of the regime’s abuses, but an important part as well of the narrative on both sides. In Belarus, the state ideology rests on memories of losses and victory in World War II. The propaganda criticizes the protesters for using the historic white-red-white flag, which was sometimes also used by collaborators. Those supporting the protests call the siloviki (securocrats) fascists and karateli (punishers), drawing analogies with the actions of the invaders.[33]

“This Poster Might Become the Reason of My Detention” was a performance by the Belarusian artist Ulyana Nevzorova in the Minsk metro in October 2020. The artist unfurled a poster with the words “This Poster Might Become the Reason of My Detention,” in the middle of a metro car during rush hour.[34] The initial goal was perhaps to create a haunting image, emphasizing the surreality of the situation and the indifference of the people around her. However, the artist’s action provoked reactions from the passengers: a woman sitting next to her tried to take away the poster, while a man standing behind her took out and unfurled a white-red-white flag. A few weeks later, on November 8, 2020, Nevzorova stood by a pedestrian crossing with a poster that read “I cannot forget this August.”[35] People walked by as she stared at the camera motionless. These two interventions can be seen as solitary picketing, but since the main aim was to make an artistic statement, albeit politically charged, it can be attributed to the field of art.

The professionals who expressed solidarity with their colleagues did not attempt to create artistic performances, and made striking political and civic statements instead. In late fall 2020, doctors at the Emergency Care Hospital held an action of solidarity with their detained colleague, an anesthesiologist, who presented evidence that during the clash on the “Square of Changes,” Raman Bandarenka, who was killed by security forces, was not drunk. Journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich and Dr Artsiom Sarokin disseminated information pertaining to the lack of alcohol in Bandarenka’s blood, which contradicted the findings of the investigation and Lukashenka’s words. During the action, doctors stood in the corridor spreadeagled against the wall, imitating the position detainees in police custody are forced to assume. They held A4 sheets in their hands, with the text, “0 ‰.”[36] The action was later reenacted by other doctors, factory workers, students, and other professional collectives.

This was not the only series of protests or artivist interventions by professional communities that adopted the postures of prisoners. On October 17, 2020, an action of anonymous students took place: they kneeled, with their hands on the back of their heads, on the road at the intersection of Kazlova Street and Independence Avenue. The place is significant: they blocked the traffic near where the Art-Belarus Gallery is situated and where the action, “The Art of the Regime” had been held two months earlier.[37] On November 28, 2020, a similar performance took place to demonstrate solidarity with one of the detained students.[38] The students kneeled during school hours, facing the wall, with their hands on the back of their heads. Such interventions are not just a way to show solidarity, but also demonstrate that the boundaries between places of detention are blurred: while life seems to go on, political repression is still prevalent, with unjust arrests and tortures still taking place.

When it became unsafe to organize protests in the public space, even artistic ones, actions took place without participants. For example, in February 2021, an action of solidarity with journalist Katsiaryna Barysevic took the form of flowers being attached to walls and poles throughout the city, with black crosses of duct tape.[39] Both elements had been used by protesters: carrying flowers to demonstrate support for the protest movement was a legacy of the women’s marches, and the black tape, a symbol of violence and censorship, had been used in the protest action of students of the Academy of Arts on September 1, 2020.[40] Another unmanned intervention took place in Gorky Park on December 4, 2020. Women’s clothes with red stains and sewn-on yellow stars appeared on the railing of a pedestrian bridge.[41] “They are beating us, they detain us and give us huge fines, but we still exist. We have become invisible, but we are still the majority,” the organizers of the action said. This statement also describes the state of resistance and artivism in Belarus. As time went on and the risks grew, resistance became less spectacular and frequent but it still manifests itself occasionally, showing that it is still alive.

The aim of this essay has been to demonstrate, as fully as possible, how the artivist interventions developed in the second half of 2020 and beginning of 2021. Some of the artivist interventions have remained unmentioned, partly because there were so many of them, and partly because of the difficulty of defining the boundaries between art, artivism, and activism. I wanted to concentrate on examples that balance between art and activism. I assume that artivism became so popular due to the fact that the political debates initially started in galleries and then moved onto the streets. To a certain extent, artists’ and cultural workers’ high-level involvement in the protests was predetermined since independent cultural spaces became a platform for critical and political discussion already before the 2020 elections. Once there was a public demand to intensify the political discussion in the public sphere, it continued in the realm of art but was brought to the streets to be seen by a wider audience.

Another factor that made artivism one of the dominant tools of resistance was that it could fulfill the needs of the protesters. The Belarusian protests were intentionally peaceful. Employing the means of art was also a way to emphasize the contrast between the ruthless, violent and destructive actions of the regime and the peaceful and creative behavior of the protesters. By wearing white dresses, bringing flowers, sealing their mouths, or assuming submissive postures, the protesters emphasized their harmlessness. Interestingly, using these passive and submissive gestures, they regained their agency and demonstrated an alternative to violence.

This essay was written in Fall 2021.


[1] ​​Milena Dragićević Šešić, Aleksandar Brkić, Julija Matejić, “Mobilizing urban neighbourhoods: Artivism, identity, and cultural sustainability,” in Culture and Sustainability in European Cities, ed. Svetlana Hristova, et al. (London: Routledge, 2015), 213–225.

[2] Boris Groys, “On Art Activism,” e-flux, no. 56 (June 2014), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/on-art-activism/.

[3] Olga Shavela, “V chem fenomen belorusskogo protestnogo iskusstva? [What is the phenomenon of Belarusian protest art?],” Belmarket.by, May 28, 2021, belmarket.by/news/2021/05/28/news-45842.html.

[4] Dr András Rácz, “Presidential Election in Belarus,” Dgap.org, August 5, 2020, dgap.org/en/research/publications/presidential-election-belarus.

[5] Rácz, Presidential Election in Belarus.

[6] “Minimum 3 mln golosov: Tikhanovskaya pobedila na vyborakh v Belarusi – issledovaniye (foto, video) [At least 3 million votes: Tikhanovskaya won the elections in Belarus – research (photo, video)],” editorial, FOCUS, July 14, 2021, focus.ua/world/487970-minimum-3-mln-golosov-tihanovskaya-pobedila-na-vyborah-v-belarusi-issledovanie-foto-video.

[7] “Human Rights Situation in Belarus: August 2020,” Spring96.org, September 2, 2020, spring96.org/en/news/99352.

[8] “Over the Past Year, More than 35,000 People Have Been Arbitrarily Detained in Belarus, Special Rapporteur on Belarus Tells Human Rights Council – Belarus,” ReliefWeb, July 6, 2021, reliefweb.int/report/belarus/over-past-year-more-35000-people-have-been-arbitrarily-detained-belarus-special.

[9] “Political Prisoners in Belarus,” Spring96.org, 2020, prisoners.spring96.org/en.

[10] Amnesty International, “Belarus 2020,” Amnesty.org, 2021, www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/belarus/report-belarus/#endnote-4.

[11] Tony Wesolowsky, “Sasha 3%? Belarusians Poke Fun at President’s Slipping Support,” June 25, 2020, www.rferl.org/a/belarusians-poke-fun-at-president-slipping-support/30690561.html.

[12] Aleksei Borisionok, “Arresting Images, Arrested Bodies,” Internationaleonline.org, December 22, 2020, www.internationaleonline.org/opinions/1050_arresting_images_arrested_bodies/.

[13] “In Pictures: Art Belarus Gallery Displays Empty Picture Frames with QR Codes in Place of Paintings Seized in Investigation against Belgazprombank,” Belapan.by, June 16, 2020, en.belapan.by/archive/2020/06/16/en_media_en_galerea1606/.

[14] “THE HERITAGE – Nadya Sayapina,” Cargocollective.com, July 1, 2020, cargocollective.com/NadyaSayapina/THE-HERITAGE.

[15] Chrysalis Mag, “Aktsiya solidarnosti s zaderzhannymi rabotnikami i rabotnitsami kul’tury v Minske / 16 sentyabrya 2020 [Action of solidarity with detained workers and women workers of culture in Minsk / September 16, 2020],” Instagram.com, September 17, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CFOgJ77nNG5/.

[16] Union of Belarusian Writers, “Voices from the Frontline of the Protests,” VoxEurop, August 17, 2020, voxeurop.eu/en/voices-from-the-frontline-of-the-protests/.

[17] “The Women behind the Belarus Uprising,” Hromadske.ua, August 20, 2020, en.hromadske.ua/posts/the-women-behind-the-belarus-uprising.

[18] “Tikhanovskaya rasskazala, pochemu byla domokhozyaykoy i pochemu ne khotela ob etom govorit [Tikhanovskaya talked about why she was a housewife and why she did not want to talk about it],” editorial, Telegraf.by, June 9, 2021, telegraf.by/politika/tihanovskaya-rasskazala-pochemu-byla-domohozyajkoj-i-pochemu-ne-hotela-ob-etom-govorit/.

[19] “‘Sideli by doma, varili by borshch’ – kak rodilsya glavnyy mem vyborov 2010 goda [‘You would sit at home, cook borscht’ – how the main meme of the 2010 elections was born],” Euroradio.fm, December 19, 2020, euroradio.fm/ru/sideli-doma-varili-borshch-kak-rodilsya-glavnyy-mem-vyborov-2010-goda.

[20] Red and white refer to an old Belarusian national flag, the main symbol of the Belarusian political resistance. It consists of three horizontal stripes of equal width, with a central red flanked by two white ones. It was the official flag of the Belarusian People’s Republic at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1991, after the fall of the Soviet Union, independent Belarus readopted the white-red-white flag. After Lukashenka came to power, he initiated changing the country’s symbols to slightly modified versions of the flag and coat of arms of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Thus, since 1995 the white-red-white flag has been used mainly by the opposition.

[21] Censor.NET, “Aktsiya ‘Moya kamera’, marsh protiv nasiliya i veloprobeg solidarnosti proshli v Minske 22 avgusta FOTOreportazh [The rally, ‘My Сell,’ a march against violence and a bike ride of solidarity took place in Minsk on 22 August. A photo story],” Censor.net, August 22, 2020, censor.net/ru/photo_news/3215391/aktsiya_moya_kamera_marsh_protiv_nasiliya_i_veloprobeg_solidarnosti_proshli_v_minske_22_avgusta_fotoreportaj.

[22] Tikhar is a Belarusian neologism denoting a plainclothes policeman or KGB officer taking part in the arrest of protesters or recording the events for their subsequent identification.

[23] Chrysalis Mag, “Mini-performans na zhenskom marshe okolo BNTU, Minsk / 29 avgusta 2020 [Mini-performance at the women’s march near BNTU, Minsk / August 29, 2020],” Instagram.com, August 29, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CEeuZpgns0x/.

[24] “‘Lyubímaya tsyabe ne khocha!’: V Minske devushki vykatili tykvy dlya Lukashenko (FOTO) [‘Darling doesn’t want you! ’: In Minsk, girls rolled out pumpkins for Lukashenka (PHOTO)],” Dsnews.ua, August 30, 2020, www.dsnews.ua/world/lyubimaya-cyabe-ne-hocha-v-minske-devushki-vykatili-tykvy-dlya-lukashenko-30082020-397256.

[25] Pavel Kalashnik, “Grob, tarakan i kreativnyye plakaty: kak belorusskiye protestuyushchiye Lukashenko s dnem rozhdeniya pozdravili [Coffin, cockroach and creative posters: how Belarusian protesters congratulated Lukashenka on his birthday],” Hromadske.ua, August 30, 2020, hromadske.ua/ru/posts/grob-tarakan-i-kreativnye-plakaty-kak-belorusskie-protestuyushie-lukashenko-s-dnem-rozhdeniya-pozdravili.

[26] Chrysalis Mag, “Ulichnyy teatr ‘Vir’ – performans na massovoĭ mirnoĭ aktsii na den’ rozhdeniya Lukashenko v Minske / 30 avgusta 2020 [Street theater ‘Vir’ – performance at a massive peaceful rally on Lukashenka’s birthday in Minsk / August 30, 2020],” Instagram.com, September 1, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CElO41EHkT9/.

[27] Chrysalis Mag, “Performans ‘HOMON’ na mirnoĭ massovoĭ akcii protesta v Minske Performance / 6 sentjabrja 2020 [Performance ‘HOMON’ at a peaceful mass protest in Minsk / September 6, 2020],” Instagram.com, September 6, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CEz28qenvIg/.

[28] “‘Belarus’kaliy’ bastuyet: chto segodnya proiskhodit na predpriyatiyakh (onlayn) [‘Belaruskali ’is on strike: what is happening at the enterprises today (online)],” REFORM.by, August 18, 2020, reform.by/157005-belaruskalij-bastuet-chto-segodnja-proishodit-na-predprijatijah.

[29] Aliona Semionova, “Protestnyye aktsii v Belarusi stanovyatsya artefaktami [Protest actions in Belarus become artifacts],” Journal Teatr, August 14, 2020, oteatre.info/belgosfilarmoniya/.

[30] Olga Shavela, “V chem fenomen belorusskogo protestnogo iskusstva? [What is the phenomenon of Belarusian protest art?],” Belmarket.by, May 28, 2021, belmarket.by/news/2021/05/28/news-45842.html.

[31] Chrysalis Mag, “Akcija naprotiv Dvorca sporta — ljudi v krasnyh i belyh balaklavah pojut ‘Magutny Bozha,’ derzha v rukah rastjazhku, napominajushhuju, chto stat’ja 127 UK Belarusi nazyvaetsja ‘Genocid’ / Minske 4 oktjabrja 2020 [A rally in front of the Sports Palace – people in red and white balaclavas are singing ‘Magutny Bozha,’ holding a banner in their hands to remind the viewer that Article 127 of the Belarusian Criminal Code is about ‘Genocide’],” Instagram.com, October 4, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CF7uq8Gn3R5/.

[32] “Free Choir ‘Zaspyava Gimn’ Magutny Bozha ‘At Memaryyal’ Yama,” Euroradio.fm, September 12, 2021, https://euroradio.fm/volny-hor-zaspyavau-gimn-magutny-bozha-na-memaryyale-yama. Last accessed October 18, 2021.

[33] Aliaksei Kazharski, “Belarus’ New Political Nation? 2020 Anti-Authoritarian Protests as Identity Building,” New Perspectives 29, no. 1 (March 2021), 69–79.

[34] Chrysalis Mag, “Performans belarusskoĭ hudozhnicy Ul’jany Nevzorovoĭ @instsenirovka v Minskom metro / oktjabr’ 2020 [Performance by Belarusian artist Ulyana Nevzorova @Instsenirovka in the Minsk metro / October 2020],” Instagram.com, October 22, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CGqUBLuHlMv/.

[35] Chrysalis Mag, “Novyj performans belarusskoĭ hudozhnicy Ul’jany Nevzorovoĭ @instsenirovka / 8 nojabrja 2020 [New performance by Belarusian artist Ulyana Nevzorova @Instsenirovka / November 8, 2020],” Instagram.com, November 8, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CHVfBqQn_K3/.

[36] “Akcija solidarnosti vrachej: ‘NOL’ promille’ [Doctors’ Action of solidarity: ‘ZERO ppm’],” Salidarnasts, November 24, 2020, gazetaby.com/post/foto-dnya-akciya-solidarnosti-vrachej-nol-promille/171118/.

[37] “Studenty na kolenjah perekryli ulicu v Minske [Students on their knees blocked traffic in Minsk],” Euroradio.fm, October 17, 2020, euroradio.fm/ru/studenty-na-kolenyah-perekryli-ulicu-v-minske.

[38] Chrysalis Mag, “Studenty glavnogo korpusa BGU proveli akciju solidarnosti s zaderzhannoj studentkoj mehmata Tat’janoj Ekel’chik / 28 nojabrja 2020 [Students of the main building of BSU held an action of solidarity with the detained student of the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics Tatyana Yekelchik / November 28, 2020],” Instagram.com, November 28, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CIJAddHnvG2/.

[39] Chrysalis Mag, “Prodolzhenie akcii solidarnosti s zhurnalistkoj Ekaterinoj Borisevich i vrachom Artemom Sorokinym [A continuation of the action of solidarity with the journalist Ekaterina Borisevich and the doctor Artem Sorokin],” Instagram.com, February 20, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CLhmmYBHgi8/.

[40] “In Pictures: A Protest Action by Students and Teachers of the Academy of Arts, Belapan.by, September 1, 2020, belapan.by/archive/2020/09/01/media_mast0109/.

[41] Chrysalis Mag, “Women’s clothing with red spots and sewn yellow stars appeared on the railing of the bridge in Gorky Park in Minsk / December 4, 2020,” Instagram.com, December 4, 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CIbGYZKnFcM/.


Elisabeth Kovtiak (b. 1992) is a Belarusian researcher and activist currently based in Prague. She is doing her PhD at Charles University (Czechia). In her studies, she is focusing on the role of arts in citizen activism, collective memory, trauma and identity in Belarus and other post-Socialist countries. Prior to starting her work as a researcher, she worked as a columnist and journalist, writing on Culture and Visual Arts. She also worked as a project manager at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Minsk and on a range of independent cultural initiatives. 

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