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The Republic’s Ritual of Guilt and Shame

Gleb Burnashev 2022
  • video installation

Selected events

  • Gleb Burnashev author
  • Roma Tozhe_mne designer
  • Artyom Grintsevich реализация
  • Stenismi мантажор
  • Adam Pańczuk curator

Curator: Adam Panchuk 

Designing: Roma Tozhe_mne
Mounting the installation: Artyom Grintsevich
Video montage: Stenismi

Plaques of honour are a relic of the Soviet Union: massive marble or concrete walls installed at the entrance to large enterprises and state institutions, on which portraits of productive ‘shock workers’ were added. In Belarus, plaques of honour never disappeared, becoming a kind of cultural code epitomising the modern Belarusian state system.

On the wall of The Republic’s Ritual of Guilt and Shame, instead of photos of ‘exemplary’ employees, there are screens playing ‘apology’ films—confessions forced from ordinary people taken into custody by the state security services. Individuals who are blameless, but have been publicly humiliated simply for leading their lives: for ‘inappropriate’ social-media subscriptions, for being part of the LGBTQ+ community, and so on.

This practice became prevalent in Belarus in 2020, with law enforcement empowered to detain an individual and then to use ridicule, intimidation, and torture to force the victim to ‘confess’ to their guilt, misguided attitude, actions, views, beliefs; and to compel them to apologise for these views and actions. The session is recorded on video in the form of a monologue or as responses to questions asked by an off-camera interrogator, and then disseminated on the internet via state media, the official accounts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and pro-government social networks.

The videos are designed to degrade and break a victim, to intimidate other opponents of the regime, and to cement the ‘rightness’ of the regime in the eyes of its collaborators. Until a year ago, such videos were a rarity; now they are standard practice. A ritual of guilt and shame. Another horrific symbol of the domination of the state security services in Belarus, and further evidence of their terrorist character. Not only does the regime not attempt to conceal its cruelty, it flaunts it for the world to see. Are we ready to simply accept this?

The artist also sees the work as having liberating potential. To help the victims of shame move forward; to show that they are not alone in this, that there are many others who have been subjected to the same treatment. That it is not about their personal shame, but a mass protest against such rituals in a modern-day European country.