The film Viva Belarus!
, based on the true story of Franak Viačorka, RFE/RL journalist and its very first Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow
, held its North American premiere to a packed house on November 12 at the headquarters of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington, DC.
The event, co-hosted by NED, Freedom House, the Embassy of the Czech Republic, and RFE/RL, included a panel discussion "Can Young Belarusians Change the Unchangeable?" featuring Viačorka; Veronika Bajgarova, Director of the Human Rights and Transition Policy Department at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Rodger Potocki, NED's Senior Director for Europe; and Christian Caryl, Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute and Contributing Editor at Foreign Policy Magazine.
Viva Belarus! was co-written by Viačorka
with director Krzystof Lukaszewicz and depicts the life of nonconformist youth living in “Europe’s last dictatorship.” The groundbreaking movie -- it is the first feature film about the political situation in Belarus -- tells the story of 23-year old Miron, whose true passion is music. When his concert triggers an anti-regime protest, Miron is held responsible. Despite a heart condition, he is forcibly drafted into the army to serve in a remote region within the Chernobyl fallout zone. After accessing a hidden mobile phone, Miron informs his girlfriend Viera about the day-to-day life of a conscript, which includes brainwashing, brutality, and horrible living conditions. The diary is posted online and becomes a sensation, prompting the regime to try to discredit Miron and crush his spirit.
"The film is about human dignity, and it shows the line of tolerance behind which humiliation of dignity leads to desperate fight for freedom," said Viačorka. "The regime in Belarus is founded on fear: fear to lose one's job, to be expelled from university or imprisoned for political unloyalty, to use our native Belarusian language in russificated Belarus. Viva Belarus! shows how young people fight these fears with assistance from the Internet, new media, and solidarity."
The film is officially banned in Belarus and several of the film’s actors were forced to leave the country after its making. In 2013 the film won “Best Screenplay” at the Brussels Film Festival, the “Audience Award” at the Gdynia Film Festival, “Best Film” at Vienna’s GAFFA Film Festival, the “Golden Sable” at the Warsaw International Historical and Military Film Festival, and the “Grand Prix” at the 3rd International Crime and Punishment Film Festival in Istanbul.
The film has been shown at festivals throughout Europe, including in the Czech Republic, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Lithuania, and was recently was screened in the European Parliament.
-- Karisue Wyson