GRASSROOTS SOCIOLOGY, DATA HIERARCHIES, AND THE CHALLENGES OF POSING RELEVANT QUESTIONS IN AND ABOUT BELARUS
For years, the Lukashenka regime has been suppressing credible statistics on public opinion and independent sociological reports. As a result, the data on Belarus obtained by local grassroot initiatives, independent researchers, and established institutions both within and outside the country are severely distorted. The essay outlines how sociological work is hindered on many levels in Belarus. It then describes how various groups in the society try to compensate for the deficiency by deducing sociological knowledge from available sources or conducting surveys on the grassroots level. Finally, the text presents arguments for more flexible and sensitive ways to approach empirical data given the major challenges that sociological work faces in the country.
“My personal story is a simple and, alas, a widespread example of the regime repressions, described by the new expression “If you were not in prison, then you are not a Belarusian”. I was sentenced to 15 days for participation in an unauthorized event (Article 23.34). … My imprisonment led to an acquaintance with women of different ages, characters, spheres of activity and interests, forms and manifestations of their civil position.”
The (non)work group presents an ultimate guide into the pleasures of laziness, radical idleness, non-work, and unproductivity. Together with the invited experts (n i i c h e g o d e l a t, Welcome to the DollHouse, Mila Pavicevic and Aleksei Borisionok) “Lazy simulator” assembles techniques, exercises and methods on how to waste time in the most political way.
In this essay, curator and writer Aleksei Borisionok addresses labor structures and working conditions within the artistic field of the USSR and Eastern Europe, and continues with a closer look at Belarus, focusing on its outrageous “parasitism tax” and the artistic reactions to it.
Alena Chekhovich, a lawyer from a Belarusian human rights organization Human Constanta, examines the Culture Code in detail, discussing in simple terms the concepts of cultural and creative workers, registration and taxation of the activities of creative workers, the process of obtaining a certificate of a creative worker and much more.
Belarusian artist Uladzimir Hramovich talks about his experience in obtaining the official status of a cultural worker – a forced reaction to the Belarusian law on “not employed in the economy”. The artist describes the process of collecting documents for the commission, the committee meeting at the Ministry of Culture and shares his reflections upon the state of Belarusian contemporary art as well as his civic position.
Using her project Sauna for the Unemployed as an example, Swedish artist Frida Klingberg talks about her experience in working with self-organized initiatives, comparing and contrasting it to the traditional art world hierarchy, which praises individualism.
Photojournalist and visual artist Maxim Sarychau reflects on financial insecurity and exploitation in the field of art and photojournalism. Are we free fuel? Or did we learn how to say no? “It seems that no state union or existing independent organization can defend our rights today. We all found ourselves in a crystal clear situation: self-organize or die.”
Independent researcher Elisabeth Kovtiak presents the results of the workshop of the STATUS project, Designing the Parallel Society, which was led by two Swedish artists John Huntington and Lars Noväng in Minsk. As a response to the problematic aspects of the Ministry of Culture and the KGB, and a wider problem within Belarusian official discourse, the workshop team invented the Ministry of Uncertainty – a space to train one’s ability to become an active member of society and to enjoy it.
Curator and researcher Tania Arcimovich presents the final version of the essay, based on a collection of personal reflections from the everyday life of cultural workers from Belarus. She questions why non-public and non-visible lives full of anxieties and affects hardly could be found in artistic bios and CVs.