Minsk, Belarus – On July 11, the tragic news of the death of political prisoner Ales Pushkin, a prominent Belarusian artist, was confirmed by his wife through a heartfelt post on Facebook, reports Radio Free Europe. The independent Belarusian publication “Mediazona” later verified the prisoner’s passing, revealing that Ales had died in the intensive care unit of Grodno Prison No. 1, where he was serving his sentence. Ales Pushkin’s imprisonment began on March 30, 2021, and a year later, he was sentenced to five years in a strict regime colony on charges of “propaganda of Nazism,” “incitement of hatred,” and “desecration of state symbols.”
The Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office deemed Ales Pushkin’s artwork and exhibition in Grodno as promoting Nazism due to the presence of a portrait of Yevgeny Zhikhar, a leader of the Belarusian anti-Soviet post-war movement. While the trial was conducted behind closed doors, reports from Belsat media indicated that during one of the hearings, the artist inflicted a self-inflicted injury to his stomach as a form of protest. Ales Pushkin’s artistic works have always been provocative, challenging societal norms and carrying strong political messages.
Throughout his career, Ales Pushkin’s art performances have become iconic moments in the history of Belarus. One notable example is the legendary “Fertilizers for the President” in 1999, where the artist boldly delivered a wheelbarrow filled with manure directly to Alexander Lukashenko’s residence, as a striking statement of dissent. This act led to his sentencing of two years of probation. In addition to his provocative art, Pushkin also worked as a restorer and contributed to the painting of churches.
Notably, while working on a fresco depicting the Last Judgment in the Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the village of Bobr, Ales Pushkin incorporated controversial elements by portraying Alexander Lukashenko and Metropolitan Filaret as sinners. However, the fresco was subsequently painted over, and in a tragic turn of events, the temple was destroyed by fire in 2011.
The passing of Ales Pushkin in custody has raised concerns among human rights advocates and supporters of artistic freedom. Many perceive his imprisonment and subsequent death as a result of political persecution and a suppression of artistic expression. Pushkin’s provocative artworks and his unwavering dedication to challenging the status quo made him a symbol of resistance against the authoritarian regime in Belarus.
International organizations and activists have expressed their deep sorrow and called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Ales Pushkin’s death. The tragic loss of this renowned artist serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing human rights violations and political oppression faced by individuals in Belarus.
As the artistic community mourns the loss of Ales Pushkin, his legacy as a passionate artist and fearless advocate for freedom of expression will continue to inspire generations to challenge oppression and fight for justice. The tragic circumstances surrounding his imprisonment and subsequent death further highlight the importance of protecting and preserving artistic freedom in societies worldwide.