As the world marks the 50th anniversary of the first live performance by the Rolling Stones
, at the Marquee Club in London on July 12, 1962, we remember a small but significant gesture by Mick Jagger in support of a democratic Belarus.
On July 26, 2007, Jagger -- who was in Warsaw to play a Stones show -- met with representatives of the Belarus Free Theater, an underground theater troupe. He expressed his support for a democratic Belarus, saying that the country -- which has been led since 1994 by authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ("Europe's last dictator," as he has been dubbed) -- must become part of a free Europe.
According to the co-founder of Belarus Free Theater, Natalya Kalyada
, Jagger promised to bring the Stones to Minsk "when the dictatorship was not in Belarus."
Belarus Free Theater director Nikolai Khalezin related more details of the meeting with Jagger in an interview with RFE/RL's Belarus Service:
"We told [Jagger] that demonstrators were being detained in Minsk. Mick said that this was an anomalous occurrence in the modern world. Furthermore, [he said that] he was aware of the disappearances of politicians and journalists in Belarus.
At first, Mick was a bit tense because these aren't the happiest of topics. Later, though, we relaxed and had some laughs. We asked him if he wanted to say anything to the Belarusian people. He composed a very short text, ending with the words, "Long live Belarus," and asked how to pronounce it in Belarusian. Natalya Kalyada, my wife, instructed him."
Jagger then recorded his greeting in a short video:
Ten days later, Khalezin said members of Belarus Free Theater, as well as 60 audience members, were put on a bus by police and kept in detention from six hours to 15 days.
"That was a special act to threaten us," he said
According to Khalezin
, the meeting with Jagger was arranged with the help of two other famous patrons of the theater group:
Our patrons and friends [playwright] Tom Stoppard and [former Czech President] Vaclav Havel are on good terms with Mick, and they must have told him quite a lot about us. I assume this was exactly what influenced the decision to arrange the meeting in the shortest possible terms. … It was only in the process of preparation when we realized that making an appointment with any of today’s presidents is much easier than with Mick Jagger. But that’s obvious – there’re a lot of presidents and Mick Jagger remains unique for many generations all over the world.
The Belarus Free Theater group remains active to this day -- in Belarus (which saw a disputed presidential election in December 2010 that returned Lukashenka to office) and around the world. Kalyada is now based in London and works with the group in New York
, where dozens of shows have been staged