Just weeks after the Art-Base gallery in Minsk held an event for Radio Svaboda
, the popular art venue was charged with fire safety violations and ordered to close its doors by July 23.
Radio Svaboda’s June 8 commemoration
of the Liberty Library series
, an online collection of RFE/RL's Belarus Service programming, drew a vibrant crowd of supporters including well-known authors and musicians. Gallery director Paval Belavus believes authorities cracked down on the venue because of the Radio Svaboda event, a celebration of freedom of expression in a country that has been called the "last dictatorship in Europe."
The gallery, a hub for youth-oriented cultural activities, including film screenings, literary readings, and art exhibitions, offers itself as one of the few forums in Minsk that foster open discussion. The venue has hosted over 100 events, attracting well-known poets, musicians, historians, linguists, and opposition figures from culture and politics.
"The last straw was probably the fact that we allowed the space for the presentation of the 10th anniversary of the Liberty Library series," he said.
Belavus rented the gallery seven months ago from the state-run television manufacturer Horizont for a one-year lease, but the landlord cited fire safety and visitor violations as reasons for breaking the lease five months early. Belavus says the allegations are bogus, asserting that the landlord was fully aware of the intended activities of Art-Base.
"I think that in reality the decision (to evict) was taken by someone on the outside," says Belavus.
-- Kate Leisner with reporting by Radio Svaboda