Ludwigs
Burg
Festival

The Belarusian Revolution

»The energy of solidarity«

After Alexander Lukashenko's rigged elections in August 2020, Belarus awoke from many years of lethargy and revolted. The Belarusian conductor Vitali Alekseenok, who has been living in Germany for years, was there and experienced the peaceful revolution first-hand, but also the regime's violent response. In order to record his experiences in Minsk and to bring more attention to the democracy movement there, he has finally started a chronicle of the Belarusian revolution with »The White Days of Minsk«.

The book is preceded by a foreword by the Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort, who calls for active participation in the political situation in Belarus and, above all, clear European solidarity: »After what has been happening here since August, Belarus should not be a distant country for anyone in Europe. This is the story of the present, happening in the middle of the European continent.« Vitali Alekseenok documents this story in his book, starting with June 2020, when he learned about the beginning of protests and the arrest of Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhanovsky in Germany via the international press. In addition to these two men, Valeri Zepkalo also wanted to stand as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election against Alexander Lukashenko, but their registration was not accepted. Instead, they were represented by Maria Kalesnikava, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Zepkala. This strong opposition trio became a political symbol for the peace movement. They led their protest with a determined fist (Tikhanovskaya), a disarming peace sign (Zepkala) and a hopeful heart gesture (Kalesnikava) and participated in the peaceful demonstrations. To stop the violence with which the government responded to the protests in August 2020, they offered dialogue to the government staff. However, Lukashenko's language was one of violence, which he sought to legitimise through a shifted, propagandistic narrative. Independent election observers were denied access both for early voting starting on 4 August and for the actual presidential election on 9 August. Pro-government polls on election day announced that 79.9 per cent of the votes went to Lukashenko and 6.8 per cent to the opposition trio led by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Foreign and independent polls, however, showed the opposite picture: 79.7 per cent for the opposition, 6.2 per cent for Lukashenko. The European Union also did not recognise the election result and denied it »any democratic legitimacy«. The internet was paralysed throughout the country from 9 to 12 August to prevent the dissemination of information and the organisation of Lukashenko's opponents.


What the government did not count on, however, was that almost all of Belarus awoke from the paralysed and powerless state the country had been in since Lukashenko took office in 1994. Demonstrations spilled out onto the streets of Minsk and other cities. All of them were peaceful. Creative, colourful, hopeful forms of protest were formed; music and art emerged from them, the "energy of solidarity" filled the hearts of Belarusians who wished for a peaceful and democratic country. »They countered the ugliness of violence with love and beauty. And this had a greater effect: through their silent protest they awakened the inner strength of the people. They were louder than the thousand-voiced roar of passing cars or the terrible noise of shock grenades. The white of their clothes in the reflection of the August sun shone hopefully and cleansed us from the bloody experiences of the past days,« Vitali Alekseenok writes in his book.


With Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the public focus shifted to the war there. In its shadow, the Belarusian president was able to deepen his anti-democratic course. Thus, almost unnoticed, he had a referendum decide that he - like Putin - would be allowed to remain in office until 2035 and would also be guaranteed complete immunity from prosecution if, contrary to expectations, he left office earlier. Meanwhile, the Belarusian peace movement no longer takes place in the form of mass demonstrations on the country's streets. The danger of being imprisoned is too great, according to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who, along with Kalesnikava and Zepkala, was awarded the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen in May this year for her services to European unity. Maria Kalesnikava was also caught in the regime's crosshairs and was imprisoned in 2020 and eventually sentenced to a scandalous 11 years in prison. Instead, the resistance is now taking place underground. However, the movement has not lost the face of courageous peacefulness and innocence. Tikhanovskaya is certain that democratic change will take place and Lukashenko's regime will end.


On 11 June, »Die unvollendete Revolution« took place at the Forum am Schlosspark. Vitali Alekseenok conceived this concert and brought a musical testimony of the times to Ludwigsburg with three world premieres of Belarusian poetry settings. He also brought some copies of his book »Die weißen Tage von Minsk« and was available for discussion and signing.


Vitali Alekseenok
»Die weißen Tage von Minsk«
ISBN 978-3-10-397098-2

On June 11, »The Unfinished Revolution« took place at the Forum am Schlosspark. Vitali Alekseenok conceived this concert evening as an hommage to Maria Kalesnikava and brought a musical testimony of the times to Ludwigsburg with three world premieres of Belarusian poem settings. This concert moved many people. We would like to share three reactions to it with you in particular.

Maria Kalesnikava from prison, transmitted by her sister Tatsiana:


»Thank you very much! I am very touched by the attention, thank you for the support of the Ludwigsburg Schlossfestspiele and I admire all talented Belarusians – keep it up!

Art is stronger than fear!«



Vitali Alekseenok to Maria Kalesnikava:


»Dear Maria,

 

As I described in my book, we first met in person, not on the concert stage as planned, but when we both occasionally at the same time brought flowers to the place where Aliaksandr Taraikouski was killed near the Pushkinskaya metro station in Minsk in mid-August 2020. We did not have time to talk much, those days were too busy, too much responsibility rested on your shoulders even then.

 

For more than 21 months now you have been in prison on a completely false and fabricated case. The criminal Belarusian regime kidnapped you on 7 September 2020, and a day later you found yourself on the border with Ukraine. By that time, the regime had already prepared a Kiev-Munich air ticket for you, and the talentless and stupid propaganda had already made a video explaining how you »decided to flee the country«. But at the border you tore up your passport and returned home. This return cost you 14 years in prison (we understand that the sentence will probably be less – you will be in prison as long as these criminals stay in power and hold you hostage). Nevertheless, by your deed you preserved probably the most important thing – trust of masses of people in Belarus and admiration of you all over the world. You are the hero who had to suffer for all of us (together with more than 1000 other political prisoners who are in prison now). But you live in us every day and give strength to people all over the world. The most important thing is that you yourself keep the strength to go on living.

 

Yesterday's concert in Ludwigsburg during the Ludwigsburger Festival was dedicated to you (and in your person to all political prisoners in Belarus). I made the dramaturgy of the concert so that in the very centre of it there was you. Or rather your words read out by me and the piece for flute solo played by Guillermo Gonzalez. Guillermo played your flute, the instrument which you played for so many years here in Stuttgart, 15 minutes away from Ludwigsburg! This piece is »Air« by Toru Takemitsu. We know that there is a lack of fresh air in your prison. We know that music and art are like air for you and you miss it so much. But on the other hand, you yourself are in our space, in our air. And yesterday, thanks to thoughts of you, your words, your instrument and your colleagues, we tried to saturate the air with your presence and thoughts of you.

 

We recorded yesterday's concert on ARTE Concert – which means that when you are free again (hopefully very soon) you will be able to hear the concert yourself. Someday a common air will pierce us all.

 

Thanks to all those dear people who made last night's concert possible. Thanks to all Maria's friends who were involved – Jochen Christian Sandig, Viktoriia Vitrenko, Tatsiana Khomich. Thanks to the festival for the realisation of this concept, to the festival orchestra for their professionalism and emotional commitment. And thanks to all the listeners for their attention to Masha and this theme.«



Äneas Humm to Maria Kalesnikava:


»Dear Maria, 


My name is Äneas Humm and I am an opera singer. Unfortunately, we cannot meet in person – at least not now. I am sending you these lines because yesterday I was able to perform a concert at the Ludwigsburg Schlossfestspiele together with Vitali Alekseenok, I sang three Belarusian works – and I thought of you throughout the whole performance. 


The whole hall and all the spectators on the screen were/are thinking of you and your friends who are experiencing the same injustice. 


You are making perhaps the greatest sacrifice a freedom-loving person can make. You are paying with your freedom for fighting for a constitutional state and for people to be able to express their opinions. In my understanding, these should be rights that are unavoidable.


I bow to your courage, your strength and your personality. I also confess that I might not have this strength myself. As a gay man you often have obstacles, but nothing compares to what you are going through now. Still, I try to put myself in your shoes, and I shudder. 


Your sacrifice, rest assured, is not in vain. You are a role model for so many people – a fighter, and will inspire generations of people to do exactly what you are doing: fighting! For freedom, democracy, freedom of expression. I thank you for that.


I wish I could do something for you besides writing you this letter.

In the hope that you will read these lines, I send you a hug. 


Sincerely

Aeneas Humm«

«Jan Lisiecki Beethoven« on June 24 at the Forum am Schlosspark +++ «Jan Lisiecki Beethoven« on June 24 at the Forum am Schlosspark +++ «Jan Lisiecki Beethoven« on June 24 at the Forum am Schlosspark +++ «Jan Lisiecki Beethoven« on June 24 at the Forum am Schlosspark +++ «Jan Lisiecki Beethoven« on June 24 at the Forum am Schlosspark +++ «Jan Lisiecki Beethoven« on June 24 at the Forum am Schlosspark +++