The Gang: 15 Years On & Still Silent
On Wednesday, December 17, 2014, the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Freedom House, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a the first screening of the film The Gang, which was followed by a discussion with the film’s producer Raisa Mikhailovskaya and Irina Krasovskaya, co-founder and president of the We Remember Foundation and the widow of the disappeared businessman, Anatoly Krasovsky. The conversation was moderated by Orest Deychakiwsky, political advisor at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The event was held at the Capitol Visitor Center and attended by nearly 40 diplomatic, government, and think tank representatives, as well as interested media and public.
Fifteen years ago, when Alexander Lukashenko was serving his first presidential term, Belarus witnessed a string of disturbing events that shook the population, the political opposition, and the highest ranks of the government. In the span of a few months, the Deputy Speaker of the Supreme Soviet was dead and the Minister of Home Affairs, the Deputy Prime Minister, and a well-respected businessman had disappeared. Less than a year later, a cameraman from one of the major television networks also vanished without a trace. Seemingly unrelated, the cases have remained under separate investigations, with little progress and multiple inconsistencies.
With the statute of limitations on these cases expiring in 2014 and 2015, a prominent Belarusian human rights defender, Raisa Mikhailovskaya, has meticulously examined rare documentary evidence and testimonies from family members, lawyers, and former Belarusian investigators to piece together a nuanced and unsettling picture that links the unsolved disappearances together. Her findings have culminated in the documentary film The Gang.
After the film, Deychakiwsky launched the conversation, by welcoming participants and providing an overview of the situation in Belarus, as well as the history of the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s work on Belarus. He then invited Krasovskaya to present her foundation’s accomplishments, as well as her own personal account. After her husband’s disappearance, she devoted her life to exposing the egregious injustices and human rights violations within Belarus. She detailed the long list of legal actions, meetings, events, and hearings, both within Belarus and internationally. Even after these successes, Krasovskaya expressed frustration, saying “[t]oday we still do not know what happened to our loved ones and where they [are] buried. The perpetrators are not punished yet. Belarus is still not going toward democracy.”
Mikhailovskaya continued on this theme, describing the work of her organization, the Belarusian Documentary Center, as well as her motivations for making this film. She recalled the difficulties she had in securing support, stating “I got a response from one place, but I just missed the deadline, essentially. Another funder that I went to said that, "We don't see -- we don't see the outcome. We just don't -- we don't see it how it will be useful."...So I'm very grateful to the German Marshall Fund that they believed in us and supported us in producing this film.” During the question and answer session, Mikhailovskaya also addressed the realities of conducting such work in Belarus, the political future for Belarus, and the lineup for additional international screenings of the film. Krasovskaya and Deychakiwsky also commented on the political horizons in Belarus, and how to remain involved and engaged with such human rights issues.