Reporting from Chicago - - Most actors visiting Chicago end the brief biographies in theater programs with cute shout-outs to mentors or loved ones. Not the seven performers from the Belarus Free Theatre, who usually ply their trade in Minsk in the Republic of Belarus, the former Soviet republic famously called "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe" by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Actor Aleh Sidorchyk's program note concludes with "He has been arrested for his professional activities." The blurb for Dzianis Tarasenka says, "He has been assaulted during peaceful political action." Both "he has been put on trial" and "he was assaulted next to his house" appear by the name of Nikolai Khalezin, both an actor and co-founder of the Belarus Free Theatre.
According to the British group Index on Censorship and other international reports, government forces have routinely intervened in Belarus - especially in the melee last December after President Alexander G. Lukashenko's disrupted "reelection"- when artists and activists have been deemed too critical of the government. And since its founding in March 2005, the underground Belarus Free Theatre has been near the top of Lukashenko's hit list, even as it has found passionate support elsewhere in Europe and in the United States.