COURAGE In the course of the presidential elections in Belarus in the summer of 2020, three actors from an underground theatre, Belarus Free Theatre in Minsk, get caught up in the maelstrom of mass protests. They are drawn to the wide streets of Minsk to protest vociferously for freedom of speech and the long-awaited change of power. But the people‘s voice is brutally crushed by the regime‘s security apparatus. Members of the theatre group and many other people get arrested. The country is on the brink of civil war. COURAGE accompanies the courageous and peaceful resistance of Maryna, Pavel and Denis before and during the protests. The film takes a very personal look at the events and thus provides a close and gripping insight into the lives of people in today‘s Belarus who are fighting for their freedom and the right to democracy.
Because of the Pussy Riot case, I spent two years in prison. In recent months, I have been performing every night on stage as an actress with the Belarus Free Theatre. Every night, I have been trying to convey to the audience part of my life in prison. I do this so people understand and experience the mundane hellishness all political prisoners go through in Russia.
Oleg is a well-known, talented Ukrainian filmmaker. Perhaps he could have been debuting a new movie at the film festival taking place in London this week, but instead he is isolated in a penal colony in faraway Siberia. After being tortured, he was sentenced to twenty years in a maximum security prison on charges of terrorism. He was accused of planning to blow up a monument to Lenin in Crimea. The charges are absurd, total nonsense.
We need to stop talking and start acting. We need to get Oleg Sentsov released from prison and save his life. When I was in prison, it was thanks to your support and scrutiny that nothing threatened my life. In Sentsov’s case, there is not enough scrutiny, and there is such a threat to his life. That has to change.
Sentsov’s trial was not just yet another instance of political persecution by the Russian regime. It was a symbolic attack on the liberties and values you espouse. Oleg still has eighteen years left to serve in prison. He was given this sentence only because he is a brave man who spoke out on behalf of these same values. We can learn a lot from him and what he did, but we must not accept the fact he remains imprisoned. We must pressure the Russian authorities. I am here to urge you to make Sentsov’s release our common cause. I am confident we can see this cause through to the end and free Oleg from prison.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Masha Alyohkina for her kind permission to translate the original Russian text of her speech and publish it here.