Russian department hosts staged reading of new play, “Insulted”

In Belarus, local and Russian authorities are brutalizing people who are protesting the rigging of the recent election for the last dictator in Europe, Alexander Lukashenko. This environment caused many members of the opposition to flee the country to avoid imprisonment or death. One such individual is Andrei Kureichik, a Belarusian screenwriter and author of the play “Insulted.”

On Sept. 26, the St. Olaf Russian department put on a staged reading of “Insulted.” Performer and director Hadley Evans Nash ’21 described the process.

“Mark Robinson, one of the Russian professors, emailed me and a couple other students about a week-and-a-half ago, and he said, ‘This needs to go up within a week or two’… and that was our job,” Evans Nash said. It is safe to say that they did their job extraordinarily well.

The piece revolves around seven characters and their series of monologues, showing the ways different perspectives intersect in the crisis. Most of the characters are real people, including dictator Lukashenko himself and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the legitimate president-elect of Belarus. The most touching parts tell the stories of regular people who became embroiled in this political upheaval.

The performance provides a sense of power that is not possible to convey in journalistic accounts of the atrocities. There is not only an emotional understanding of the pain of the victims but a deep comprehension of the mental state of the perpetrators. While they are not sympathetic characters, Lukashenko, a sadistic riot soldier, and the bureaucrat responsible for rigging the election all have important perspectives in the story. Understanding the pathology of authoritarianism is necessary for dismantling it. “Insulted” gives us the tools to see authoritarianism across the world and in our own country before it’s too late.

The crisis in Belarus is not some distant hypothetical. Sasha Kazharskaya ’22, who played the genuine president-elect of Belarus, is herself Belarusian.

“I’ve been in the youth wing of the opposition party for as long as I can remember,” Kazharskaya said. “I was offered the position of the president, but then I had to leave the country.” Kazharskaya’s personal connection to the crisis and knowledge of the on-the-ground experience helped inform the production as a whole and added to the textured and moving performances.

“Insulted” does the necessary work of revealing the violence in Belarus to us in the U.S. and other countries, making us aware of the human rights atrocities happening in other parts of the world. “Insulted” also allows us to see the potential consequences of allowing authoritarianism to rise in America and abroad.

However, it would be wrong to characterize the play’s message as hopeless. The strength of the Belarusian people and their righteous hunger for freedom rises above even the stories of rape and murder. The reading ended in a beautiful rendition of a Belarusian protest song, and called the audience to ask what it means to be free and what they’re willing to do for love: love for each other and love for their country.

Despite the terror, Kazh-arskaya has hope. “I have never been more proud of my people, of my country,” she said.