From Bauhaus to Akrestsina

Letters from Minsk

11 September 2020 | Alena Makarava,
Weimar. A sign that shows the houses where the Bauhaus teachers lived.
Source: Yuliya Rempel via

On 21 March 1919, the grand opening of the Bauhaus took place in Weimar. Director Walter Gropius gave a throne speech that started with what the Bauhaus will not do. It included the creation of a single style, system, dogma or canon and something else that I have already forgotten. Then he formulated the Bauhaus goal, which is “to seek the expression of life spirit in ever-changing forms.”

On the Bauhaus Manifesto cover, there is a cathedral with five-pointed stars on the spiers. This cathedral is reminiscent of a Masonic temple and Kremlin towers at the same time. The National Socialists will name the Bauhaus “the Church of Marxism”, and the engraving author, the artist Feininger, will be portrayed as a freemason with a hammer and sickle in his hands.

The Bauhaus never aimed to nurture Nazis, Communists and Freemasons. These labels were hung by History. Everything was simpler. The post-war world became a design workshop where the building of the future in which we live today was created.

The artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1989, Vienna – 1944, Auschwitz) studied and taught at the Bauhaus. During her time at Terezín concentration camp, she gave drawing lessons to kids.

About 5,000 children’s drawings created during her lessons and Friedl’s camp notes about the essence of children’s creativity have survived to our times while she and almost all of her students were destroyed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

I have been re-thinking this story both as a writer and as an art therapist for many years. In her lessons with children in Terezin, Friedl reinterpreted the knowledge that she received at the Bauhaus from teachers such as Johannes Itten and Paul Klee. And now I reevaluate it in my art therapy practice. A holistic experience. This is the base of the moral and artistic program that is known for those generations who grew up on my books and art therapy seminars.

Movement creates a form.

I had two seminars in Minsk, and many people from Belarus have attended my seminars in different cities and countries. We talked about what was going on in the country a long time before the Ku Klux Klan outrage began.

I see everything on a computer or smartphone screen. Like in a nightmare, there are people in dark clothes with balls instead of heads. They burst into white and red peaceful march and beat with truncheons living, innocent people… Human desire is to run there, to save, to shield them. But you cannot move. If it is really scary, you can turn off this movie with one click of a button, but even being turned off, it continues to run. Solipsism does not work.

Then I thought about inviting everyone who wants to study online with me: Fridl never left her students. But then the problems with the Internet began: it was up, and down, and so on.

On social networks, I started to check posts from close friends and students. I asked them to write what was going on, not in general (since I can see it on my own), but personally with each of them.

To my surprise, everyone immediately responded. They wrote at night since I received the texts early in the morning. It was necessary to tell these stories immeditely rather than to delay it until old age, as happened with Gulag and Holocaust survivors.

“I am going to read books about ghettos and concentration camps,” an online seminar student from Minsk writes. “Because the country is turning into one big concentration camp. There are endless prisoner transport vehicles, and forces in civil clothes on the streets. And there is a sticky fear that they will come to you now … And you are powerless in the face of chaos… ”

Three letters from Minsk (10 September 2020)

Yuliya Belka, whom I have known for many years, sent an old seminar work with sculpted figures from a Bosch painting. “It’s surprising that I chose to set my plasticine heroes in front of the Kupala Theater with a partially visible “presidential coffin”(building of Presidential Administration of the Republic of Belarus) right behind it. Today this picture came to life on the streets of my dear Belarus. Just existing law and institutions that execute it were needed. It would be better if they play with plasticine …”

Source: Yuliya Belka via

“Lena, thoughts are crumpled. I am not a poet, not an artist, who can rise above her own pain, gaze into the eyes of horror and pour it into words, lines and strokes. I am knocked off my feet by this horror, deprived of all human desires and powers to fulfill these desires. And every word flying out of me today is crumpled, squeezed by this horror.

I am scared to walk the streets alone or write to my friends on social networks when I am in a public transport. Because now forces in civil clothes are everywhere. They are unidentified objects in tights, caps and masks. Only a rubber truncheon or a minibus without numbers standing somewhere around the corner can make them identified.

I walk in a crowd. I stand in the solidarity chains during every one hundred thousand people Sunday march in Minsk, women’s rallies and prayers. And every time I ardently look at the faces of those standing next to me. It is kind of connection with someone else in pain, love, and belief in light forces. And I feel good. And, perhaps, this is the only time when I feel good now. It is possible even to fall asleep with a couple of tablespoons of motherwort tincture.

And in the morning I read the news. Another woman was kidnapped from the street or from her own apartment. Another one, two or three intelligent people were expelled from the country. Those people saw their duty to their people in helping the People to reach desired freedom. The students who sang the Belarusian “Kupalinka” at their university were brutally dispersed, detained by riot police, who for some reason were on duty there. And so. My children are already cooking their own breakfast … Then a friend calls and in tears tells how she bought an ice cream for her children and managed to leave a cafe a couple of minutes before the shop window was knocked out by the forces in the civil clothes. Later, we discuss with another friend how to convey all these horrors to those for whom Belarusian television replaces reality. And what we personally can do.

It seems to me that a bunch of minutes, hours passed from the first explosions in Minsk till today’s attempt by the same forces in civil clothes to get into the apartment of Alexievich, the only free member of the Coordination Council in the Republic of Belarus. Time became a pillar and is moving into the abyss, breaking through any attempt to comprehend reality. And for the first time I consciously choose uncertainty, because the path back to Lukashenko’s Belarus is the worst nightmare for me and my children.”

I met the artist Nina Marhaieva at a seminar in Lviv in 2015.

Львовский семинар. 2015<br/>Нина — на первом плане в серой кофте »/><figcaption>Lviv seminar 2015. Nina is wearing a gray jacket in the foreground. <br/><sub>Source: Yuliya Krot via <a
Львовский семинар. 2015<br/>Нина — «Красная шапочка» »/><figcaption>Lviv seminar 2015. Nina plays Little Red Riding Hood. <br/><sub>Source: Yuliya Krot via <a

“Elena, I write at night whatever comes to mind.

Today I burst into tears for the first time in this month on my way home. I was going back home from a teacher-parent conference in a private school on the other side of Minsk. My nine-year-old son who will study in that school according to an individual plan, was waiting for me at home. I was worried that he would be scared that I was detained. Nina Bahinskaya, a 73-year-old small (150 sm, or even lower) female, a legend, entered the tram. She sat behind me. She and her stick – the long staff of the flag – were behind me. I cried. I don’t know why. Maybe I will understand now while I am writing this text. We got out with her at the same stop, and she walked in the other direction – into the darkness, alone. She walked with the stick, which was twice of her height.

Everything that has been happening to me and around me would seem unreal a month or even month and a half ago. I remember myself at rallies when I was 13. I studied in the lyceum, which was unloyal to the government. They tried to close it all the time when I was a student there, and they succeeded to close it two years after my graduation. Maksim Znak (one of the Coordination Councils’ leaders; lawyer) also graduated from there. Now my lyceum’ building houses the Tsentralny District Court, and the first considered case in this court was the case about an anti-government terrorist organization. The verdict was guilty, and another graduate of my lyceum went to jail: he was announced to be the leader of that organization. Most of the lyceum graduates and my classmates do not live in Belarus, the rest are the Belarusian cultural elite, who is trying “with blood and sweat” to preserve culture and language.”

Nina Marhaieva. Tonsured an emigrant.
Source: Nina Marhaieva via

Now I am writing about what struck me most this month, what I’ve learned about myself and people around me, about fear and about faith.

I am an artist and an art teacher. I am 36 years old. And I am raising my son alone in a country where a dictatorship has reigned for 26 years and human life means nothing.

In my election district, early voting was held with exceptional cynicism. This is particularly painful for me because the voting was held in the Svetoch Children’s Art House, and I, as an artist, have worked in such institutions for many years. I can understand very well how you can force to forge votes. I know how teachers are humiliated in our country and what a person turns into after years of slavery. But what happened here is called a sophisticated mockery of independent observers, and I am ashamed that it was done by people who given the right to teach our children.

The results were predictable: I had no illusions. And this was the first and probably one of the most difficult choice I had to make. To go [to the Stella] or not to go? I was aware of what happened to those who came out to the Square… I knew. I was in the Square in 2006 and 2010. Now I had something to lose. In addition, the thought that nothing depended on me and it was pointless to go to Stele, does not leave me. And that was especially scary. I sent my son to my mother, then packed my backpack and went out. It was like a choice without a choice. It is impossible not to go, but “to go” is almost a suicide. I made up my mind about what I can do: I decided to stay near my voting place. I knew that I was not so brave to go to Stella.

That first night I was still full of some kind of adrenalin.

Situation changed on 10 August. There was no information. Absolutely. We knew that something happened on Stella, but what? Horrifying rumors were spreading. During the day, the city died out, people went to work. In a public transport, everyone was with clenched teeth, looking at the floor. Towards the evening, I went out with the same backpack, I was looking for my people, with white ribbons on their hands, signs, gestures… Spontaneously, people came to a large supermarket Riga, near Bangalore Square. We lined up into chains, the cars had hummed for three hours, we were raising our hands with the gesture of greeting and victory. We sang, we shouted: ”Zhyve Belarus!” [“Long live to Belarus!”] I want you to understand that I am a shy person, and it was extremely embarrassing for me to raise a hand and greet some stranger at first. It was something out of my comfort zone. But it was a joy too. And at the same time, I acutely felt that I was alone here, among people who feels the same like me, but alone.

Nina’s friend, Maria Kalesnikava and Nina, 10 August 2020.

The car with the riot police drove behind us, they were always behind people, attacking from the back… I ran, everyone ran. People scattered in all directions like peas, you ran and you did not even see where, how. It hurted to swallow the air. By courtyards, I returned home in the dark. And then the explosions began. It lasted until three in the morning. The Internet was down.

On 11 August, a friend called me and said that he was able to load several websites, and told me the latest news and rumors about tortures. And you have to live somehow with such news. But that was impossible. It is impossible to contain this horror and live on. It is impossible, even if you are a mother with a child. It is impossible, even if your actions are useless. So I went to my mother to pick up my son and began to think how to connect with people: we need leaflets. My mother did not let me print them. She shouted that I had no right, that I would be imprisoned for 15 years, etc. I left. I printed them elsewhere, and in the evening I went out to distribute them together with my son. That was so scary. But! We were not alone. There were a lot of us. Two or three people walked around the yards and streets and glued them on wherever they could.

NOBODY gave us an order: we just realized that it was impossible to continue to live as before. Texts were different, some of them were even handwritten. Some of them addressed the military and police, some were calling for a strike: there was only one goal – to stop the blood.

And then there were two most terrible nights when riot police walked around the courtyards and hunted people. How terrifying it was when people were screaming, screeching with pain, yelling at night in the empty courtyards: they were beaten to cripple or kill. I ran, while feeling i am too slow. While I ran, I was so scared that my knees would not bend.

And then they turned on the Internet. And there was an avalanche of all kinds of information. There were sea of ​​lies and a sea of ​​cruel truth. And again it became impossible … and then women with flowers went to the streets.

I participated in the second day of a women’s rally. It was a day of miracles. And I began to believe that everything is still possible for our proud little country because there was a quantum leap in one day. We walked in a group, then in a crowd, then in a giant mass. There were so many of us that streets could not fit us: girls, and women, and grandmothers were still coming. But the most amazing thing was that in the evening we could walk by couples and even alone. I could walk alone along a street and raise my hand to greet everyone, holding above my head my flower and a white ribbon. It was impossible in the morning.

Then I accidentally ended up near the Slutsk LTP, where some of the people were transferred after being tortured at Akrestsina. This is how the road from Hell looks like: there is a night, forest, headlights of cars; a man comes out from the darkness; he is afraid of people and he runs … He does not know what day is today. He does not know if he is allowed to sit… At any sound, he falls to the ground, like during a bombing, and he cries. Five days ago, this man was the general director of the company; he is 35 years old,  knows 4 languages ​​and he is raising a child. All he wanted was truth, freedom and change. I do not know how long it will take for his physical recovery. His mental and psychological recovery can take years. Among the victims were two of my 18-year-old students, one of them had a cross knocked out on his back. I met my classmates, colleagues, parents, children there – on this road to the LTP, and also near Akrestsina because everyone understood that it was no longer possible to expect that someone else would change everything, would become a leader, would come up with a trick. Every day, do what you can to become a human being, and be ready for whatever happens.

I had waited for a very long time for the teachers to say something, to confess, to admit their guilt. All conceivable and inconceivable possibilities were there. But that did not happen. And that was horrific. Because we knew about tortures, deaths and murders… There was no strike on 1 September either. So I decided that my son would not study in a school. Now the prosecutor’s office announced that they will check every family that made similar decision. It’s so scary. But I cannot enter the school where the election results were rigged. A student of this school was beaten, and his parents were imprisoned for a day and deprived of insulin when they tried to find him. The school is the mirror and the front line of the system, where every day a person is humiliated, and a parent has no right to pass the turnstile.

I tried to participate in teachers’ protests. During the last one, I experienced the most humiliating moments of my life. I should say that most of the teachers who gathered near the Ministry of Education were very young and many of them were from private schools. Three water cannons, six prisoner transport vehicles and several minibuses with people wearing black were standing against those teachers. I had to force myself not to run. I managed to stay 20 minutes. Then I wanted to wash it from myself, leave and forget forever this place where I was forced to experience this terrible and paralyzing fear. But evening came, I dressed and went to the Square again.

We do not know what freedom is: we have never had it. We can only try to imagine it. And we are winning freedom back every 24 hours despite our own fear. Every single day. For example, there is a fine for flags in the windows. I live in an area with ​​small five-story buildings. We had two flags – mine and in the opposite house. Yesterday there were 24 flags. The neighbors had white and red underpants, towels, flowers, shirts, rags and banners painted on A3 in large new houses. Nobody discussed it, everyone just did their own thing.

I believe there will be more acts of solitary courage. We all go despite our fear. Because it is impossible to endure it any longer, because we want to be Human.

What is happening now in our country is probably an agony of violence – trials with nameless black masks, numberless cars, delirium of the former president, the arrest of the best and bravest people… This refers to the memory of the Great Patriotic War. And at this time, the choice is a vital act of each individual person. To remain human, you first need to become one through an act, every day. And people, my neighbors, do such things by themselves.

This is probably why I cried when I saw Nina Bahinskaya. Because this brave little woman with a flag is alone. Because she does act alone. And it seems to me that now there are such actions every day when a person (and not only one person) confronts the system alone. Previously it was practically impossible, now it is impossible not to act.

Nina Bahinskaya.

“Many people write and say now that we are controlled and led. Believe me, the pressure on us is huge: bandits are operating on our streets, knocking down doors, conducting searches without witnesses, confiscating things without inventory, etc. No idea that is alien to the internal censor could make us hold on. There was something more than an apartment, a job, and benefits. It did not appear just on words. It was carried out and is being born now on the streets of our cities.

I am very scared every day. I am flying like on a swing between fear and hope, despair and faith. The word “impossible” is repeated in my text more often than the others words. Because it became possible – an impossible evil and an impossible joy. Sometimes when I read the news, I have no more strength to somehow react to the horror around. This is a war with an armed hunta that has seized power. And all I can do is to take a backpack and go out, testify that I am against it – against violence, lies, humiliations, against tortures, genocide and destruction of everything that is dear to me – language, people and culture. I want my son to finish school, but the other one, the one which is impossible in a country with a dictatorship.

First it was only Nina Bahinskaya… Now there are many of us. Walking in a crowd is also scary, but it is easier. Every day someone new does it – a single act that is feats like a heroic deed: spread the flag, save a man in the water, warn of a danger, stay in the mine, tear your passport, stay and stand in place of your husband, go out and say “stop”.

Yesterday I wrote a text about it.. And today I read about the miner. Yesterday I told a worker from Kozlov that now everyone decides for himself… Now not only all is for one, but also one is for all, and this one will multiply, crashing the system. This is a revolution in the head. This is freedom!”

Once, I was given flowers and two disks from her before the start of an art therapy workshop in Minsk. At night I listened to her mind-blowing songs with an accordion. They were French songs, but they were sung in Russian. This, she said, combines French grace and agricultural simplicity. Slava Polunin described Sveta’s gift better than me:


“Benya is, of course, something. It is impossible to find words to describe this person. I could compare her, probably, with the modern Edith Piaf. This is such a little sparrow that is full of strength and sincerity. She is probably the hope of a modern cabaret. She is so fantastically captivating the audience, and so sincere, so involved in everything she does! Her images are infinitely varied. She goes on a journey and drags us along. I envy those who have yet to meet this miracle of nature, and will see this wonderful creature on stage!”

Eugene Erchak.
Source: via
Source: via

Sveta’s letter:

“Dear Lena! Thank you for the great support. We have been ill with the virus, and now we are fighting a totalitarian regime. I enjoyed reading “Guide of the Lost” (I gave this book to Sveta in Moscow. – EM). Now this book is needed and becomes more important than ever!!!! Thanks!!!!! for all!

I would be happy to tell you everything that is possible and as soon as possible. I will try to write tonight. I would not be able to hide my emotions. It will be clumpy, like if someone was tearing the paper.

I will start with the story. Once a close friend of mine, a cameraman, was filming a commercial for a meat processing plant. He unintentionally got into the place where they slaughtered animals. And he stopped eating meat. One day he told me what he saw there. So I also stopped eating meat:  some pictures are always in front of my eyes. It would seem that we all have a general understanding of what was going on there. But it is one thing to imagine a meat processing plant, and the other one is to visit it or hear a detailed and emotional eyewitness’s account. And I thought that it would be great to have such rule that each person should visit a meat processing plant and decide whether to be a vegetarian or a meat-eater once the person becomes 18-year old. I think that it would be very honest to know how a cutlet becomes a cutlet and whether a person is ready to support his choice morally and ethically.

So this is exactly what happens in Belarus now. We were brought to the meat processing plant and everything was shown. All mechanisms were exposed. All processes became clear and transparent. All their inhumanity, ruthlessness, and relentlessness became visible at a glance. The depth of the victims’ suffering became clear. The pain became obvious. It got apparent HOW a cutlet becomes a cutlet. And here we are in this spot now, but the only choices we have are either continue to eat meat, or become meat ourselves.

It is so scary. The city lives, and the laws seem to work. You will not be fined, for example, if you have a bus ticket. And if you have not, they will not beat you, but you will be fined as required by law. And this is true with regard to everything… EXCEPT! If the slightest attack against the regime could be seen in your actions, the law closes its eyes, puts earplugs in the ears and snores loudly, and a sadist in bloody boots enters the field of your rights. And you are completely, completely defenseless and infinitely small. And so far no one understands how to fight it. The only choice is to turn into Spirit. So the feeling of unreality of everything that happens is close to the limit. And everything is incomparable – going to the store, drinking a cup of coffee, feeding a guinea pig … And then there is a new death in the news.

It is so absurd like in Ionesco’s and Mrozhek’s plays. The logic of everyday life has been destroyed. A lawyer was arrested for intention to defend his client. OSVOD rescuers were arrested for saving people who had to jump into the water to escape the riot police officers. A doctor was arrested for wanting to help a beaten peaceful demonstrator. The best specialists, the best people were fired, fired, fired for publicly expressing their point of view.

It is so beautiful. A beauty confronts the regime. Girls with passionate eyes wear white clothes and scarlet lipstick. All August the city was in flowers. People sang in the subway, in the streets. The opera house played in the square so that everyone could hear. The Philharmonic Society sang on the avenue for everyone to hear. When all this was banned, when they began to fine and detain, a marvelous partisan choir was created. A group of unknown people led by the conductor began to sing in unforeseen places – at the train station, in shopping centers, in the central market. Every day there is a new action. Artists paint, poets write, choreographers dance, the theater breaks hearts with performances that touch souls. It is mainly about Beauty, about eternal things, about something that makes your heart lose a beat.

It is so desperate. The entire Kupalovsky theater resigned following the disgraced director. This is our diamond, our pride, our history. It is the oldest theater, a legendary theater, where the whole troupe is Stars and Masters. This year the theater was supposed to celebrate the centenary. Everyone standed up and left. They left the shameful game. They left as aristocrats. It was a tragic departure like the departure of the “steamer with the philosophers”. But most of all, It was like the self-immolation of Tibetan monks in response to the Chinese occupation. It was a Victory of the Spirit over the body, over fear, over everyday hardened logic.

It is so joyful. The people are incredibly united. We have never seen our country like this. Probably, the authors of all Utopias dreamed about it. There are a bunch of responses for every request for help. People began to make friends in the courtyards, to take a cup of tea, to listen to music, and fight off forces in civil clothes together. Armed men in unmarked uniforms smashed a shop window in a cafe where the protesters were hiding. The citizens gathered and put up a new shop window. The cafe became so popular that it made a month profit in a few days. There were so long lines for a coffee! The urgent help of incredible solidarity is received by everyone who was fired, who quit to avoid following the criminal orders, who suffered during the arrest, who is on strike.

It is on many different scales. On Sundays, there is a human sea on the streets. About 200,000 people is a giant crowd. It cannot be imagined without being there. And this is not just a crowd: this is a sea-ocean! It’s warm, cozy, joyful, and calm. This is a kind of  psychotherapy when you walk in a very friendly stream of those who are with you. This is a day of happiness. And then there is a Solo Heroes Week. The miner handcuffed himself in the mine face – this is such a desperate strike. The student went to a solitary picket in a small town. The guy from the Ministry of Emergency Situations refused to remove the flags, his colleague warned the residents of that area that the “guests are coming”. Cyber ​​guerrillas enter the battle and derail enemy sites. Boom! And the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and then the website of the Chamber of Commerce does not work! And all this is not a game. This is a risk. It is very dangerous, and deadly in general. But people take this risk and make such decisions.

It is so funny. There are many funny, really funny posters. There are many witty jokes. Or here is an absurdity: riot police are guarding a wall painted with black paint. Under layers of paint, there is a mural with portraits of two DJs who played Tsoi’s song “Changes” at a pro-government rally. The mural was painted every day (!) by employees of housing maintenance services, and local residents restored it every day (!). And now this wall with a “black square” is guarded by big, strong guys with truncheons. They are on duty, they work, they receive a salary. So that people would not be able to wash off the black paint. So that the portraits of the boys, who once turned on the song, would not be seen. And the song has only one scary word: “Peremen!” [“We want Changes!”] Isn’t it funny?”


But it really, really hurts.

Then it is beautiful. Then it is scary. Then it is funny. Then it is joyful.

Then it is desperate, it is painful. It is scary.

Then it is painfulscaryfunnybeautiful… 

Nina Marhaieva. Megapolis.