Official Statement of the IV International queer-history festival DOTYK 2018

Queer-history festival DOTYK 2018 was held from 6th to 8th of April in Minsk. This year’s festival included 7 events (academic conference, lectures, workshops, talks and a concert). The main event of the festival was the academic conference with 13 guests from Oxford, Paris, Riga, Moscow, Tallin and Stockholm. Around 120 people took part in the events of the festival.

The organizer of the festival was Culture-Educational Institution Centre “DOTYK”. The preparations for the festival took around 6 months. The dates of the festival were chosen based on the schedule of our international guests, whose lectures were a core part of the program.

This year’s festival coincided with the celebration of orthodox Easter, and this might have caused some orthodox activists to publish calls to orthodox community to “prevent the festival at any cost”. We’d like to emphasize that these calls included hate speech.

We, the organizers, didn’t set the goal to offend anyone. At the same time we don’t coordinate our events with the orthodox calendar since we live in a secular country, where anyone can practise any religion they want or don’t practise a religion at all.

 

What happened?

The opening of the festival was scheduled for 19.00 on April 6 in the gallery “Stolovka XYZ”. We’ve been renting this place for more than a year for exhibitions and various events. It was there that the third DOTYK festival took place in 2017. Therefore, the place was fully prepared for hosting guests and holding lectures, conferences and discussions planned for the festival.

On April 5, at 10.31 pm, a letter was sent to our Lessor, open joint-stock company Caliber, which belongs to the state, with a request to provide access to our space at 2:00 pm for monitoring. The letter was sent as a response to the request of the Lessor. That is, on April 4, 2018, the Lessor itself applied to the administration of the Moscowskiy district of Minsk with an inquiry, and the administration decided to monitor the premises one day before the opening of the festival. This is not the first time that inspections have been carried out in relation to the Cultural and Educational Institution Centre DOTYK. Since the beginning of the rent of premises from OJSC “Caliber”, we have successfully passed more than 10 different inspections from various administrational bodies.

At 14.00, access to the premises was granted. The monitoring commission included representatives of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, the Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology of the Moscowskiy District of Minsk, the ideological department of the administration of the Moscowskiy District of Minsk. It is important to note that the festival does not violate any norms of the Belarusian legislation, including the law on public events.

At 4:35 pm, a fax from the Moscow Regional Emergency Situations Ministry arrived at the fax of the Lessor with a request to take measures to ensure compliance with fire safety rules on our premises. It is worth emphasizing that six months ago we successfully passed the inspection from the Moscowskiy Regional Emergency Situations Department and took all appropriate measures to ensure fire safety. At about the same time, the letter from the Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology of the Moscowskiy District of Minsk was received about the suspension of works and services on our premises.

On the basis of these two documents, at 6.00 pm on April 5, we were summoned to the Lessor where an Act on non-admission to the premises we rented was drawn up. The premises themselves were closed and sealed, and we lost access to them. At the same time, the Lessor insisted on signing the Act only for the festival days – from 6 to 8 April.

Such prompt “monitoring”, as well as the further behavior of the Lessor, give us grounds to draw conclusions that the real reason for all that is happening is an attempt to prevent the festival.

Since we lost the site, we had two options: either cancel the festival, or look for alternative venues.

In the evening of April 5, we managed to find a venue for the grand opening of the festival, as well as to find areas for planned events: lectures, master classes and the conference itself. As a result, thanks to the professional work of the festival team, we managed to find the site in a few hours and a day before the opening of the festival.

On the opening day of the festival, from 10.00 to 15.00, the Director of the Cultural and Educational Institution Centre DOTYK received 4 calls from anonymous women and men with insults.

At 3 pm on April 6, we learned from the owners of the second site that they were also “inspected” by representatives of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, the ideology department of the district, law enforcement agencies and the Sanitary Station – all in all about 10 people. At the same time, not only our events, but in general the continued existence of this space, were under threat. The inspectors had printouts of our announcements indicating a new location. Thus, it became impossible to hold events in the second space that we had found so promptly.

So, in two days we lost two spaces: the main one and the reserve one, which was found very quickly.

Under such circumstances, the festival team decided to cancel the opening scheduled for April 6 and transfer the party to the online format. The rest of the events were unchanged, but in order to secure the participants and guests of the events, we had to introduce preliminary registration and limit wide access. The place of the event was shared only with the registered guests. At the same time, all the events that took place had a direct broadcast to social networks, which broadened the audience of the festival and enabled those wishing to attend the festival events to be there virtually.

 

Why did we withdraw from making all this information public during the festival?

During the festival it was the main priority for the organizers to carry out the festival despite any difficulties that we faced and to provide a safe space for our guests and attenders. Therefore, we decided not to contact the media before the end of the festival and hold a press conference on Monday, April 9, where we could share all the information.

 

CONCLUSIONS

  1. During the previous three years, queer-festival DOTYK did not face such a large-scale pressure. Such actions surprised our foreign guests, partners and embassies of Sweden, Great Britain and the USA, who supported the organization of the festival. The festival was always held with the support of international organizations, which positively influenced the overall image of the Republic of Belarus as an open and tolerant country.
  2. In general, most of the planned events of the festival took place, albeit in a different format. Of course, planning our future work, we will take this experience into account, to be more effective and useful both for the community and for the society as a whole.
  3. In the near future we will decide on further cooperation with OJSC “Caliber”. We are faced with the fact that even the lease with the Lessor for our own space does not guarantee the holding of planned events.
  4. We are not going to get involved in judicial and other procedures concerning what happened. We all understand the likelihood of a just outcome. Therefore, the efforts that we would have spent on this, we will apply in order to follow our mission – to combat discrimination, promote the principles of equality through educational and cultural activities and support LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones.

We express our gratitude to the volunteers of the festival, our allies and LGBTQ + community for their solidarity!

  • Cultural and educational institution "Cinemaclub "Dotyk"’
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