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How do you combine art and human rights? What programs are there for artists abroad? To conclude our series of articles about art in emigration, we talked to Polina Brodik, coordinator of the Free Belarus Center: about Hučna Fest and more….

Hi! Can you tell us how the idea of Hučna Fest came about?

– Hučna Fest was born in 2021, when the Free Belarus Center was in Kiev. Initially, it was organised as one of the events within the framework of the Weeks of Belarusian Culture launched by the Belarusian Cultural Centre. But gradually it grew into an independent event. “Hučna Fest” did not immediately become a festival, but was additionally a large event, which every year included more and more components. We found new meanings that we wanted to think about with the audience in the countries where we were. Not only with Belarusians, but also with the people in those countries. If from the beginning we thought that it was an opportunity to share only Belarusian culture, with the environment and to have an occasion to meet Belarusians abroad, today it is much more than that. We put our values into it and, first of all, these stories are not only about supporting Belarusian culture, but rather about the Belarusian cultural code, about self-identity, about supporting initiatives in favour of changes in Belarus. And about making Belarusian culture an asset of world culture.

Photo by Alexander Valodin

Tell us about the format: how did you come up with the idea of combining activist initiatives (which were presented there) with a creative component?

– We are not an organisation that deals exclusively with cultural events, we see our cultural activity as a tool for delivering messengers. The main values in our activities are human rights, gender equality, and inclusion. We, of course, would like to see at least a small component in all the events we organise for a wide range of people, which in one way or another would affect the development of civil society, understanding of human rights, gender equality, inclusion. It is on this foundation that we build the program of the festival and every year it grows with new and new variants of communication of these messages.

Of course, the apogee of the festival is the music scene. But there is a certain algorithm, a certain logic that we follow when compiling the program: we know that there are already too many Belarusian events in Poland, where practically the same musicians perform. And we love them all, of course. But not only we don’t want to repeat ourselves, we want to bring something new. The bands we select, in one way or another, touch upon the political situation, social, economic. Their creativity, even if it’s post-punk, even if it’s cabaret (in the style in which “Silver Wedding” used to perform), they still reflect on the events that happened in Belarus. They share their emotions, close to the audience, which also experienced these events. To give hope, as well as a sense of unity between the scattered Belarusian community in different countries. Or if we take for example the band Super Besse, who have nothing to do with this subject at all, their musicians left before 2020, in principle they were not involved in politics. But at festivals they perform such songs as: “SSC”, “Motherland”, they say from the stage “Long Live Belarus!” and in principle they come because they want to support the Belarusian movement, Belarusian culture and perform for Belarusians. It is clear that for the majority of modern musical groups the way to home and the possibility to develop as a creative collective is closed at the moment.

If we talk about the literary scene, we necessarily choose the speakers, the literature that is presented there, and, of course, we are interested that it should be new. It is important that the themes raised in this literature reflect our socio-political reality.

For example, this year Ales Plotka’s book “Bloodlands 20/22 Belarus/Ukraine” with photos by Ales Piletski and Stanislav Krupař. was presented (you can still support the rehabilitation centre – from the editorial office). All the money that was raised for this book will be transferred to support the rehabilitation centre, which was founded by a Belarusian near Kiev and helps Belarusian, Ukrainian and other veterans, as well as temporarily incapacitated warriors. This is an opportunity for us to support the Ukrainian theme.

Photo by Alexander Valodin

We always see our place at the intersection of Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, because the organisation itself has Ukrainian roots and we have always strived to build bridges between Belarusians and Ukrainians. And that’s why, being on the territory of Poland, we continue to talk about Ukraine, not only to support it militarily, but also to co-operate with civil society, to support Belarusians there, to protect their rights and to find points of intersection in order to build a secure future of the two independent countries.

About art, if we are talking literally about art, about designers who make from candles to clothes, these are brands that somehow translate the Belarusian identity. But in our case, we try to give preference first of all to those who rethink the visualisation of these things and those who try to keep up with the times.

It is important for us to show that Belarusian culture is not only about white-red-white flag and chasе – Belarusian culture, besides the fact that it is nationally oriented nowadays, is also a part of world culture. For example, the headliner of the festival is “Super Besse” – a band that is not as well known in Belarus as it is outside of it. There are also ‘Houses are Silent’,  which generally gathers tens of thousands of listeners at concerts all over the world. We have something to be proud of and this product is not only for domestic consumption, it reaches a high international level, but it has its own zest. And it is important for the promotion of the Belarusian theme in the world.

In your opinion, can art in emigration be considered as a separate direction of Belarusian creativity?

– Of course, I am not a culturologist, so I can only express my thought. It seems to me that it can hardly be singled out into any genre or direction. Of course, on the one hand, moving brings a lot of traumatic experiences, legal and financial problems. On the other hand, there is an opportunity to touch a more developed market, to learn new practices, and most importantly, to show your full potential. After all, it was not always possible in Belarus, especially when creativity touched political topics in one way or another. Therefore, the creativity of people who have left will change qualitatively, thanks to access to new partnerships, to education. Secondly, they can rid themselves of self-censorship.

Photo by Alexander Valodin

When creators practised art in Belarus and were forced to leave, where do they look for support abroad?

– Despite the fact that culture is not our main focus, nevertheless, cultural projects can be submitted and apply for participation in our programs. We already have gas pedal programs and scholarship programs every year since 2021. And cultural projects, among others, are included in these programs every year. But the main thing for us is that they should bring some kind of social change.

Any manifestations of creativity that carry some additional meanings and are aimed at democratic change, even in the long term, are welcome.