Dispatches

Dispatches is a space where authors from around the world build a collective archive of the present, responding to fast-moving current events.

Insulted. Belarus(sia)

A DRAMA.
Original Russian Text, ОБИЖЕННЫЕ. БЕЛАРУСь(СИЯ) by Andrei Kureichik
English Translation by John Freedman

Introduction by John Freedman

The backstory of Andrei Kureichik’s Insulted. Belarus(sia) is quite extraordinary. It is the rare case of a genuine work of dramatic art being created in real time about a topic that is self-destructing and transforming furiously even as each word is being tapped out on a computer keyboard.

When Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko (“the last dictator in Europe”) chose on August 9, 2020, to falsify an election he had lost in a landslide, he thought he was just bending a nation to suit his own needs as he had done for 26 years. In fact, he set off a revolution, as the Belarusian people poured onto the streets to support Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the woman they actually had elected. He also angered, and inspired, Kureichik, Belarus’s top playwright and screenwriter, famed for his good-natured comedies. While posting a prodigious amount of exhortative information about the protests online, Kureichik began putting together a play that is based, in part, on statements made by Lukashenko and Tikhanovskaya, who are represented in the play as OLDSTER and NOVICE. Their statements are interwoven  with five imagined characters who speak the language and thoughts that were coming to Kureichik fast and heavy.

These five other characters present an overview of Belarusian society. MENTOR isan aging teacher who believes in “law and order” and helps guarantee Lukashenko’s reelections every four years by falsifying results. CORPSE is a young soccer fan with too much energy to burn who is sick of living under the same president his entire life. AVIAN is a storm trooper who trained during the Maidan revolution in Ukraine and is now in Belarus to put down rebellions there.   CHEERFUL isa high-spirited, loving young woman who believes in asking the Universe to send her good vibes, and whose sister is to marry the storm trooper. Finally, there is YOUTH, Lukashenko’s teenaged son Kolya, who is being groomed for the presidency, but would prefer to play internet games.

The lives of every one of these people – with the possible exception of Kolya, for his debt to destiny is yet to be paid – will be impacted tragically by Lukashenko’s decision to crush the revolution with violence and torture. And yet, the resulting play – hard-hitting as it is – is filled with humor, hope and dignity.

Kureichik completed Insulted. Belarus(sia) on September 9. He sent it to me at 3:13 p.m. Central European Time, asking if I would translate it and organize a few readings in order to spread the word about the events in Belarus. Within ten minutes I had lined up six theatres, including New York Theatre Workshop, even without a script they could read. Three days later I finished the translation and got it out to dozens more theatres. As of 21 September, 40 companies in nine countries are participating in the Insulted. Belarus(sia) Worldwide Reading Project. More will join soon.

John Freedman has written or edited and translated eleven books in the sphere of Russian drama and theater, and his play Dancing, Not Dead won The Internationalists’ Global Playwright Contest in 2011. His short play Five Funny Tales from Buenos Aires was performed over 100 times by PopUp Theater in New York. His Real and Phantom Pains: An Anthology of New Russian Drama is the largest collection of Russian plays ever published. He currently lives on the island of Crete, while holding the position of Supervisor of English at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre. 

Insulted. Belarus(sia) [Excerpt]

[…]

CHEERFUL. Someone’s howling in my ear: “You scum just couldn’t sit home today. I’d put you all on the stake and send you to outer space so you could tell everyone out there about your fag-ass lives.” Then the door of the police van opens and something plops on the floor. Just drops. Like a chunk of meat. And I feel something warm spurt on on my knee. My dress, too… My white dress that I bought for Masha’s wedding… Now there’s a swathe of black on it. Then a grenade explodes and I see it’s not black… It’s red. And the piece of meat is a person. Weird, something is taped to his arm… I thought it was a rag. But it’s a magazine. “Rolling Stone.” Only it’s all shredded and drenched in blood, like if a dog ripped it with its fangs. He lifts his eyes to me, one eye, I can’t see his other one, and he says: “I’m so sorry we didn’t free you.”

CORPSE. I’m so sorry we didn’t free you.

AVIAN. Who’s that barking in here? Shut your trap, fucker!

CHEERFUL. You stepped on his arm! He’s hurt!

AVIAN. Of course it hurts. Hurts like fuck. Why else would he have shouted like that? Thought he was so smart. Wrapped his arm so we wouldn’t find his weak spot? His little fingers sticking out?

CHEERFUL. He’s bleeding.

AVIAN. That’s his eye socket bleeding. Brace yourself, kid, I’ll shove my truncheon in it, or my cock. Whatever you want! He’s bleeding out!

MENTOR. What’s missing in your life? Europe is full of barefoot beggars. Their economy crashed long ago. The only thing keeping Merkel propped up is Putin. But we are independent. And the only one defending our independence is our president. Our president even scared off coronavirus! Everybody’s sick, but not Belarusians! Three of our high school teachers died in May and June, none from coronavirus, though. They all had ischemic heart disease. Although they buried them in closed caskets.

CHEERFUL: He’s Belarusian. You’re Belarusian. Why?

AVIAN. I said to this idiot: Who’s Belarusian? Renat1, you Belarusian? Me too! I’ll show you, bitch, not to interrupt your elders! Then it got really bizarro! I grabbed this chick in white and heels by her bangs and lifted her up to spit in her face and choke her some… (Pause). And it was her. Fuck, I crapped my pants – her! Masha’s sister. Tiny little thing, smiling all the time, always cheerful. Gentlemen, let’s play charades! Have you heard the new song by Spleen? Back in Grodno this new little cafe opened, just like in Lvov… She’s the bridesmaid at my wedding that didn’t happen. It’s her! Only her lip is cracked and she’s covered in tears and snot. Fuck, what is she doing in this meat grinder?

CHEERFUL. This is scary, I’m scared…

AVIAN. And her eyes. Frozen from fear.

CHEERFUL. Never. Never in my life have I been so scared. His eyeballs are like two pieces of fiery coal filled with hate. There’s nothing human in him. He stares… What’s he staring at me for?

CORPSE. I’m so sorry we didn’t free you.

MENTOR. Oh, thank God “Slavyansky Bazaar” is on the tube. I can catch my breath. Stas Mikhailov, Galkin, Alegrova, Povaly2… Everything’s calming down, then.

AVIAN. Thank you, Trump, for coronavirus! For masks. I’m in a mask! She’s staring at me, but doesn’t recognize me, although we’ve been in company ten times or more. Just a little chick! Nice, slender neck, unlike her sister… Fragile. A little chick. If I squeeze her fingers – they’ll crumble. Should I fuck her today? Tell the truth, she’s just what I was looking for before the wedding. Slender, nice, shapely legs, white skin. Very tender… I’ll admit it, when we went to the aqua park once and she sort of playfully humped her sister… I got a hard-on. Masha thought it was for her. Why not… I’ve got a hard-on now. So, all the shit’s ending. We won!

MENTOR. The TV will announce the results… O-kay, let’s see now! TV reports everything just as our commission had it. To a T. Eighty-one percent! We did him proud! We didn’t let him down! I’m safe until my pension now! Plus a bonus of two month’s pay. Otherwise… You might as well just become a Polish province! Оh, the president’s going to speak! A sight for sore eyes…

OLDSTER. Friends, I call on you not so much to defend me, although that, too. First, I know you have much to do at home. You’ve got the harvest. I know school starts soon. But most important, I remember the 1990s: people everywhere standing in line, workers with tin dishes and teapots, begging for food, begging to feed their children.

NOVICE. I am grateful to all the factory workers, students, and office workers who have gone on strike! Strike committees are forming all over the country…

OLDSTER. Back then I swore to help you, and never to let street demonstrations mar the lives of Belarusians.

AVIAN. Where do we take them? Where do we take them all? Got it. Listen up, guys, new orders. Not taking anyone anywhere! Just fuck ’em all up, anything that moves! The KGB and Financial Crimes Unit will take care of the leaders.

OLDSTER. We destroyed everything God gave us: our huge, great empire, without which no problem in the world would have been solved. We received just a bloody chunk of this empire. What did those people want then, what did you want?

YOUTH. Internet! I want my internet! Dad, when will the internet come back?! I’m hot in this armored jacket! My head itches in this helmet… Oh, Telegram is back up. Do you even know what’s going on, Dad? It looks like a revolution out there. NEXTA3 is saying Minsk is rebelling…

NOVICE. I came to the head of the Central Elections Committee to lodge a complaint. No one else was let in. Only me. She has a very large office. A leather sofa stands by a window. And there were two… I had seen their faces many times on television. Either the head of the KGB or Internal Security Forces. Or the State Security Committee. Two of them. ”Be seated, Svetlana Georgievna.” They offered me tea. And then the following conversation. “So, there is an opinion that you won the first round of the elections. We fear for your life… and you have a four year-old daughter and a 10 year-old son. My, my, how did we miss them skipping out of Belarus in such a timely fashion? That means you won’t be able to record a statement conceding that you lost the election. And we won’t be able to put your children up in an orphanage.” I was silent, they alone spoke. Blood was pulsing through me right here, in front of my ears. Thump-thump-thump… “So you leave us very few choices,” said one of them. And the other leaned over to me and said, with a smile, “So, Svetlana Georgievna. We will now give you a piece of paper. There is a statement on it that you will read into a camera. Then you will publish the recording as if it were yours. After you have done that, we will deport you to Lithuania. Should you refuse, we will perform a unilateral orchiectomy on your husband, Sergei Leonidovich, whom we currently hold in prison. Do you know what that is? No? Let me explain. It is the surgical removal of the right testicle. We will preserve it in a jar of alcohol for you.” I thought it was daytime, but it was suddenly dark. I said something into the camera. I don’t remember what. That I had lost. That everybody should go home. That I conceded… I spoke in the dark. Light returned only when I heard a quiet voice say, “Labą dieną!”4

MENTOR. A phone call woke me up. And I was having such a good dream. Right out of the movie, “Spring on River Street.”5 I was back in the Soviet Union. Ice cream cost 28 kopeks, and sausage cost a ruble, thirty. Brezhnev was there. My sister in Borisov called. She said her son is missing, Nikita. He’s a metalworker. Good kid, an athlete. A little wild maybe. She called and said he left home two days ago, and there’s been no news since. She called all the hospitals, all the police stations, he was nowhere to be found. She couldn’t stop crying. Svetlana Georgievna’s son disappeared, too. And Vera Nikalaevna’s, she’s from School No. 39. I said they had no business being out on the street at a time like this. My daughter, Alina, see, sits at home and reads books. She keeps out of trouble. Alina! Ali-i-i-ina?! Where are you, sweetheart? Where are you? Alina…

CORPSE.
Destroy the prison walls!
You want freedom? Take it!
The wall will soon fall, fall, fall – and bury the old world!
6

CHEERFUL. We sat the whole night, hunched over, kneeling on the floor of the school gym, our faces to the floor. Our hands were tied with construction ties. The guys were hung on tethers and beaten every hour. I’ve never heard such howls. High squeals almost passing into ultrasound. The girls were constantly threatened with rape. They wouldn’t let you go to the toilet. Many just peed where they were, and a pool of blood and urine grew on the floor… It smelled really bad. But there was a child’s drawing of the sun on the wall. And somebody had written, “Vasya loves Olya.” And they drew a heart. “Vasya loves Olya”… There is love even in all this horror.

AVIAN. He turned out to be tough… Took two rubber bullets in the gut. Intestines inside-out, and the guy sings like it’s a holiday. As if it’s his wedding day and not mine!

CORPSE.
Destroy the prison walls!
You want freedom? Take it!
The wall will soon fall, fall, fall – and bury the old world!

YOUTH. Sleepy Larisa saw me looking at Telegram on my phone and reported it. The snitch. Now everybody’s screaming and yelling again. Why are you watching that? It’s NEXTA! Those pictures are all intended for the West! Nobody’s beating or torturing anyone. Who’s going to punish the special forces? Touch just one of them and the whole system will cave in. The system is a monolith. Then that old song and dance about people being ungrateful! I took you all in when you had nothing, wearing peasant boots, blah-blah-blah, I fed you, I led you into the world, and now you all have iPhones… As though he invented the iPhone! Steve Jobs did that in America. And in Belarus that iPhone’s not much more than a brick in hand! ‘Cause the internet’s always being knocked offline and you can’t watch anything. (Pause) I thought he would hit me… I could see it in his eyes that he wanted to punch a fist in my nose. I cried…

AVIAN. We crushed his fingers. Turned his back and ass purple with truncheons. Beat his foot-soles to a pulp. And I gave him a deep goose between his fat cheeks with my club – I’d promised him I would. That’s the way it is with us… Guy says he’ll do it, he does it. So nobody else gets any bright ideas. He’ll need the experience in prison anyway. We’re helping ’em out. Educating the dickbrains! They don’t learn, though… Fuck, Masha calling again! Ten times today. Yes, Masha, honey! I’m at work. I said, I’m at work! I can’t talk!

CORPSE.
Destroy the prison walls!
You want freedom? Take it!
The wall will soon fall, fall, fall – and bury the old world!

CHERRFUL. Thank you.

CORPSE. No, I thank you. You’re pretty. That’s a pretty dress. It was… You’re fucking amazing, really.

(SHE makes the heart sign with her hands for him).

AVIAN. Shut the fuck up! Goddam billing and cooing! Shit, not talking to you, sweetie. No, honey. Masha… It’s just some asshole listening to the TV too loud. It’s okay, honey, don’t worry, we’ll find her. Maybe your sister’s visiting a friend? Or lost her phone? She’s a bit dizzy, your sister.

CHEERFUL. There was something wrong about that storm trooper who held me by the neck. He came up to me a couple of times, and I just shut down. I thought he’d hit me or something worse. It was like I was sending signals to the Universe – sweet Universe, protect me! He’d stand there and look, like he wanted to say something… then he’d turn and go off to start bludgeoning the guys.

MENTOR. Won’t answer her phone. Damn! Takes after her father! He had to do everything his own way, she does, too. Where’s my damn Valium?! You shouldn’t do things your own way. One-two-three-four… Do what they say. Clench your teeth, do what they say, and that’s it! Well all right, let her run free awhile! Teacher’s understand that!

AVIAN. But, should I bump her or not? Kinda awkward about Masha. What do I tell her? We took your little sister out for a game of hide the sausage? That hard-on, man! Gotta change the subject.

CHEERFUL. He battered Nikita harder than the rest… The guy from the police van, with the hole in his stomach. He whispered me his name. Nikita… Metalworker…. Very cool guy. He wasn’t understanding much anymore. Had no idea what was going on. I think he was in shock from the pain. We shouted that he needed an ambulance. But the policemen only laughed. And he sang… It was probably all he could do… Sang the same song over and over… Over and over. Meanwhile, outside, new police vans were coming up all the time. […]

Andrei Kureichik is one of the top playwrights, screenwriters and producers in Belarus. Author of some 30 plays, he has 17 credits on IMDB as a screenwriter, 4 as a producer, 3 as a director. His plays have been performed at the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre and Janka Kupala Theaters in Moscow and Minsk, as well as at numerous theatres throughout the former Soviet Union. He is a member of the Coordinating Council of Belarus, whose members are called upon to lead the transition to a new government in Belarus. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Notes:

  1. Avian’s storm-trooper partner.
  2. The first three are popular Russian entertainers, Povaly is a popular Ukrainian singer. Pronunciation: sTAHs mee-KHAI-lov; GAHL-kin; a-LEG-rova; po-VAHL-y.
  3. An internet news channel operating out of Belarus and Poland that has covered, thus encouraging, the protesters in Belarus. It bypassed Lukashenko’s internet blackout. Pronounced NEKH-ta.
  4. “Good day,” in Lithuanian. Presumably spoken by Lithuanian border guard letting her in to Lithuania.
  5. Debut feature film of famed Soviet director Marlen Khutsiev.
  6. From “L’Estaca,” a song by famed Catalan songwriter Lluís Llach, popular in Belarusian translation.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.