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‘Queer is a protest’ Journalist Karen Shainyan releases YouTube documentary about LGBTQ culture in Minsk

Russian journalist and host of the YouTube talk show “Straight Talk with Gay People,” Karen Shainyan, has released a new hour-long film about queer culture in Minsk. The documentary, titled “Minsk: Queer and Techno Protest Against the OMON,” focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ+ artists amid the ongoing crackdown on the opposition protest movement in Belarus.

In Karen Shainyan’s words, his latest Youtube documentary features prominent residents of Belarus “who make art, culture, and are living queer lives here […] despite the repressions.” 

Be warned. If you speak Russian, this video contains language you may find offensive.
“Minsk: Queer and Techno Protest Against the OMON”
Karen Shainyan

In the film’s description on YouTube, Shainyan explains that he thinks it’s necessary to talk about the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Belarus “at such a difficult time in history.”

The whole point of queer art and queer culture is the pursuit of freedom. A categorical demand for freedom, dignity, and respect for rights. Queer is a protest and it’s fitting here too.

In the film, Shainyan speaks with LGBTQ+ people living in Minsk about the brutality of Belarusian law enforcement officials (who violently disperse opposition demonstrations and beat up protesters), as well as how locals are experiencing the ongoing political turmoil in the country. In addition, the film touches on the topic of gay weddings and queer party culture. Shainyan himself performs at a queer techno party, organized by one of the main protagonists of the film, Andrey Zavaley. 

Among others, the film features artists Andrey Anro and Vasilisa Palyanina, the technical director of the Belarus Free Theatre, Svetlana Sugako, as well as singer Denis Ivanov (who is involved in flash mobs where people sing Belarusian songs in various places, for example, in shops). 

Svetlana Sugako (Belarus Free Theater) on the Okrestina Street detention center in Minsk

I got the impression that they had this unspoken competition there, who is harsher, who can make the more vulgar joke. They show off who can do what in front of each other. “What can you do? Can you hit? Oh, cool.” So now we’re sitting...Again, you and I wanted to get away from the topic of politics, this entire [nightmare] that’s happening, but we can’t. So now we’re sitting in Okrestina, we were all taken into the hallway to sign some protocol. I wrote on the protocol that I did not agree with it, well, the information there was nonsense, it generally isn’t information that corresponds with reality. And one of the guards began to strangle me, she put me on my knees and choked me with her elbow from behind. And I said to her: “You’re going to strangle me now — this will be on your conscience.” She picked me up by the scruff of my neck [and put me] against the wall [...] I stood there for a while with my legs spread wide. And then she took me to a cell. I heard her say: “Listen,” complaining to someone there, to her colleague. “Listen, I can’t do it, not like you.” He told her: “Well come on, learn.” That’s [the answer] to the question of what’s happening there in general. Aggression training. 

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Text by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart