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Winter. How protests went underground, but the Free Choir remained active in Belarus Back

Winter. How protests went underground, but the Free Choir remained active in Belarus

19 May 2021

Journalist Hanna Valynets reports on the Free Choir, Volny Khor, in Belarus. Names in the article are changed on request of the heroes of the article for safety reasons, gender is preserved. According to members and leaders of the choir, it is inadvisable to make their participation in the choir publicly known. You can read the complete report in our annual magazine Common Ground.

Photo collage by Belarus photographer Andrei

By the winter, the protests started moving underground, because of the increased police presence in the streets. However, the Free Choir still performed, although less often. Here is what people wrote about it:

“Murderers are chasing and beating people in our neighbourhood! But music saves us! What a strong, brave choir!”

“Between their performances, I always worry if they are okay. Your singing gives us strength and is very touching. Thank you!”

During the quiet time in February, the choir staged one of its most famous performances, singing in a shopping mall in front of a three-storey-long national flag.

“It was so quiet, there were only the riot police everywhere. Everything came to a standstill, everybody was arrested – and suddenly I saw a huge white-red-white flag in a video. That happened on the day when the authorities threatened to declare the flag extremist and severely punish for using it. My first thought was that it was in Czechia, Poland, or the USA… But that was in Belarus!” one of the choir’s leaders, Maksim Sokolov, said.

After that performance, the choir had to go underground for a month: one day the riot police surrounded a building during the choir’s rehearsal. However, it was the wrong building, and the police just wasted time searching for the singers in empty offices.

In the spring, the choir resumed its activities, but its leaders stressed that it became harder to find a place for rehearsals, and they constantly remind the participants that if they join the choir they might be arrested.

Many members do not know each other and are not eager to make acquaintance. Neither are the leaders. Irina Stankevich knows only a couple of the members, she does not even know the names of most singers, although they have rehearsed together for half a year. How is that possible?

“I might be taken for an interrogation any day. The less I know, the easier it will be for me not to reveal anything,” she said.

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