Belarus, one of the nations formed in 1991 from the breakup of the Soviet Union, is a strange and little-known country in a region of growing strategic importance, a country that’s been called “Europe’s last dictatorship.” In filmmaker Andrezj Fidyk’s Belarusian Waltz, one man — post-modern performance artist Alexander Pushkin — is determined to challenge dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s power through wheelbarrows of dung, mock patriotic displays and portraits of condemned Nazi collaborators.

Pushkin is determined to get Belarusians to talk about what is happening in their country. But if there’s one thing Belarusians seem to agree on, it’s that they should keep quiet about history, politics and culture — which makes Pushkin’s avant-garde street theater perhaps less of a challenge to the regime than a continuing irritant to Pushkin’s family, neighbors, old girlfriend (and mother of his child) and a series of nonplussed policemen and passersby.

While we see Pushkin fighting against the totalitarian system in Belarusian Waltz, we also seehis cruelty to his ex-girlfriend, and his abandonment of his daughter. Is it possible to reconcile the brave artist with the man who seems indifferent to the hurt he has caused to his ex-girlfriend and daughter?

Filmmaker Fidyk says “Pushkin is a complicated man. On the one hand, he is a hero, fighting for freedom in Belarus. On the other hand, he is not as good a person as everyone wants him to be…He has destroyed his former lover, and he doesn’t feel sorry for her at all. He never wanted to meet his daughter and acts like his daughter doesn’t exist. That scene reveals that as a man, he turned out to be a different person than he was as a political hero.”

Is Alexander Pushkin a hero or a cad? Were you surprised by this glimpse of contemporary Belarus? Do you think that performance art is an effective way to fight totalitarianism?

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Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.