Thursday, October 9, 2008

An email from Belarus Free Theatre on actors being detained

Dear Randy,

Hope you are doing well. We are as usually running like crazy... I send you what just happened in Minsk. It could be interesting for the American Theatre. It is connected to the new project that we do. American playwright, director Aaron Landsman participate in it as a playwright and the American actress performs in it. Let me know if you need more details on the project itself. Best, Natalia

Europe - posted by FREE THEATRE on 06.10.08

Stephanie Pan, American actress and singer, and Esther Mugambi, Australian actress, came to Minsk on October 5 by invitation of the Belarus Free Theatre. During a week they were to rehearse the Free Theatre’s and Lund-2014 productions in the course of the “Eurepica” project that is done in cooperation with the municipality of Lund and ECF. However, after their arrival in Belarus they were held up at the airport “Minsk-2”.

Belarusian customs officers informed the actresses that they are on the list of individuals who are not permitted to enter the country and their visa applications were rejected. The actresses, who flew to Minsk from Amsterdam, Have never visited Belarus before. The staff of the Minsk airport didn’t explain the reason for prohibition to enter the country referring to the fact that “this is confidential information of the Belarusian Ministry of foreign affairs”. Belarusian customs officers informed Stephanie Pan and Esther Mugambi that they would be able to fly back home only at their own expense. The girls had return tickets for the flight Minsk-Prague-Amsterdam only for October 12.

The actresses were accommodated in the airport in the prison-type rooms, so-called rooms for the detained travellers. Their freedom was limited, they were locked up. For example, in order to go to the restroom the actresses had to knock on the door and ask to be accompanied. In total, there are 8 rooms of this type in the airport of Minsk. In the rooms next door to the actresses’ citizens of Bangladesh, Azerbaijan and Iraq were kept. Both actresses speak only English and communication with the airport staff appeared to be a problem. The Free Theatre directors Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin had to specially return to Minsk, from the airport which is located 30 km away from the capital, to buy food and water for the actresses, as all the cafes at the airport had already been closed.

Today Stephanie Pan and Esther Mugambi stayed at the airport until 16:00 and then finally managed to fly back to Amsterdam through Prague.

According to Nikolai Khalezin, the Belarus Free Theatre’s creative director, representatives of the Belarusian government came to the airport to negotiate with the Czech air company about the deportation of the American and Australian actresses. They finally managed to fly out to Amsterdam through Prague after 20 hours of custody within the walls of the Minsk airport. The actresses flew out of Minsk at the expense of the Czech airlines as a result of agreement between the Czech air company and pressure of representatives of the Belarusian authorities.

“We are very sorry that the two prominent actresses’ acquaintance with Belarus ended with the impressions of a day’s stay on the neutral line and the following deportation. Unfortunately, we will have to work on the Eurepica project only abroad. When yesterday we finally had a chance to talk to them through a glass window, they said: 'You were right, Belarus now is really the main challenge for Europe'. All the day we couldn’t help the feeling of a bad perestrojka-type movie, where the airport staff doesn’t speak English, customs officers are not capable of providing at least some kind of food supply to the detainees and none of the governmental structures is able to make any decision... The situations such as this can only cause one feeling – the feeling of shame for your own country” said Nikolai Khalezin in his interview to the Charter’97 press centre.

Nikolai Khalezin reminded that it was not the first case when foreigners are allowed to enter Belarus upon invitation of the Free Theatre. Last year 8 foreign actors who were to participate in a joint project with the Belarussians were refused visas by the Belarusian embassy in the Netherlands. Among them were the curators of the international school of arts DasArts who were detained in Minsk at the Free Theatre’s performance on August 22. That day special forces broke into the house where performance was going and arrested several dozens of actors and spectators, including the theatre’s guests from France and the Netherlands.

Natalia A. Koliada, General Director and Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre
Nikolai N. Khalezin, Art Director and Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre
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