Ales Pushkin, Belarusian Dissident Artist, Dies in Prison at 57

Ales Pushkin, a Belarusian opposition artist whose gruesome work often focused on the country’s leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, at one point with a pile of manure dumped outside the presidential offices in Minsk, has died in prison while serving five years. He was 57 years old.

His wife, Janina Demuch, announced his death in a Facebook page on the morning of July 11, he writes, “Tonight Ales Pushkin died in hospital under unknown circumstances” in the prison of Grodno, western Belarus.

Belarusian authorities have not commented on his death. Some media outlets reported that Mr. Pushkin was not known to be ill, although the Belarusian opposition website Majority, based in Bialystok, Poland, cited an anonymous source as saying that Mr. Pushkin was suffering from a medical condition. perforated wound which was left untreated and that he was taken to the prison hospital when he fainted.

He was arrested in 2021 for a photo he made in 2012, depicting an anti-Soviet soldier, which the government said was aimed at “rehabilitating and justifying the Nazis.”

Mr. Pushkin “died as a political prisoner of the state and the responsibility lies with the warden, Lukashenko and his friends,” the exiled Belarusian opposition leader. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

“Dictators are afraid of artists,” he added. “Why? Because they have the power to express ideas and opinions that challenge the lies of the government. “

The artist has been a thorn in the side of Mr. Lukashenko.

The president, an ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in the war against Ukraine, was first elected in 1994. Since his re-election in a very difficult election three years ago, he has launched a brutal campaign against the opposition, mobilizing the opposition, journalists, lawyers, media critics and even. people who may have insulted Mr. Lukasjenko in private conversations that were overheard and reported.

Thousands of political prisoners have been arrested, according to the human rights group Viasna, including Ales Bialiatskiwho was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October.

Mr. Pushkin was arrested several times over the years for protesting against the authorities, including through pieces of art, which cheekily included the legal process. He said: “The police and the judge who gives the fine are part of the job.

In 1996, he caused national outrage with a large painting he painted on the walls of an Orthodox church in his hometown, Bobr. It showed the day of judgment, when Christ is on the right hand and the righteous on the left sinners condemned to hell. Among the victims were figures similar to Mr. Lukashenko and other government officials. Soon the sad parts of the picture were painted over.

Mr. Pushkin narrowly escaped prison with his famous song “A Gift to the President” in July 1999. Paying tribute to Mr. Lukashenko as a farm worker during the Soviet Union, Mr. Pushkin, dressed in traditional clothes, stood outside the president’s office and watched. a red wagon filled with horse manure, Belarusian coins with Soviet symbols, and dung dolls, covered in feces and a picture of Mr. Lukashenko impaled on a gallows.

Mr. Pushkin got off with a two-year suspended sentence.

“Playing with holy fool“he said in an interview with journalist Max Seddon in 2011 on the OpenDemocracy website, “it is the highest freedom that has never existed in our country.”

Alexander Mikhailovich Pushkin was born on Aug. 6, 1965, in Bobr, about 80 kilometers northeast of Minsk, in central Belarus.

He grew up when his country was part of the Soviet Union, and after graduating from boarding school at an art school in 1983, he served in the Soviet Union’s army in Afghanistan for two years during Moscow’s occupation of the country.

“I was the only one in my army who became an artist,” he told Mr. Seddon. “That’s when I stopped being afraid of the government, the KGB, the police. And it wasn’t until 20 years later that I realized that I was painting pictures of Orthodox and Catholic churches in repentance for my cruelty — even though I was in a faraway country.”

After his military service, Mr. Pushkin returned to his studies Belarusian State Theater and Art Institute in Minsk, where he also looked at monolithic decorative paintings, a well-known form of Soviet murals, and also began to practice art. After completing his signature work as a student – a large mural in the lobby of his old boarding school, celebrating his history – he was hired as a government-sponsored artist in Vitebsk, a place he had previously lived. Chagallwho was born there.

By that time, Mr. Pushkin had begun to show oppositional behavior. A notorious Belarusian soldier during the late Soviet Union, he was arrested for participating in anti-government protests in 1988 and 1989.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, he raised funds to restore the church’s icons and let out his house. It closed when Mr. Lukashenko took power and ushered in a new era of censorship and repression.

Information about survivors besides Mr. Pushkin’s wife was not immediately available.

Mr. Pushkin final arrest came on March 30, 2021, when he was accused of “reforming the Nazi party” 2012 recording which shows Yevgeny Zhikhar, an anti-Soviet resistance After World War II, carrying a gun.

He was sentenced to five years in prison in March 2022. When the sentence was read, according to Viasna, Mr. Pushkin removed his shirt to show that he had wounded himself in the stomach like a cross.

In all this, Mr. Pushkin was just doing his job.

“There are two types of Belarusian artists,” Mr. Seddon said in a 2011 interview, “official and unofficial. But it’s not a question of ‘this art is good, this art is bad.’ It’s a question of integration and consistency.”

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