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Women Leading Protests: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava

The documentary film “Women leading protests” tells the story of a Belarusian activist and music artist and all the other brave women fighting Lukashenko’s regime
Women leading protests documentary film: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Maryna Rusia Shukiurava has been part of the opposition movement in Belarus since she was 18 years old. She has often expressed her political opinion through her work as a musician and as an NGO activist. 

Watch the documentary film "Women Leading Protests – Fighting for Democracy" by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, which tells the stories of four women, including Shukiurava, who were actively involved in the protests in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela and Lebanon in different ways.

So, when the revolution erupted in the summer of 2020, following the widely disputed presidential election, there was no question whether she should march on the streets.

What she saw there was the clash of two mentalities. The old Soviet one, represented by Alexander Lukashenko and his system desperately clinging to power, and the new modern one, represented by a generation which values freedom above everything else and is ready to fight for it.

Women leading protests documentary film: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava quote
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

“I realized that for 26 years, this man had tried to persuade me that I am nothing. That I have no right to feel at home here. That I have to serve his needs with my taxes and loyalty. But now I, not this man, am a representative of the real power here”, Shukiurava exclaims.

This female artist and activist sees the Belarusian revolution as both a painful and terrible experience, because of the violence it inflicted upon its citizens, and as the beautiful rebirth of a nation.

Women leading protests documentary film: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava quote
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

The brave sisterhood

In the documentary film “Women Leading Protests” by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Shukiurava shares how the protest movement transformed not only her but the whole Belarusian society, as women took the leading role they deserved.

Before the revolution, women’s role in society was important but hidden. By the summer of 2020, this had changed. “Everyone saw how strong, how powerful, how full of life women were. I really felt the sisterhood of brave women”, Shukiurava says.

The role model that inspired them was the opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya. When she stood up against the regime to fight for justice in the name of her husband, men felt they had no excuse not to be on the streets marching for freedom.

Women leading protests documentary film: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava quote
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Shukiurava compares the role of women in the Belarusian protests to the soft, loving hands of a mother protecting her child. “When things took a bad turn and people were scared and desperate, it was the women who lifted the spirits of others”, she recalls.

But very soon the protests were met with great violence from the regime and the police started hurting and arresting old women, pregnant women, and even girls as young as 14. When activists started to disappear one by one, Shukiurava reconsidered her decision to remain in Belarus. She had a baby and had to think of its safety first. 

Her breaking point came one evening when, after a demonstration in front of the prison in Minsk in support of all imprisoned activists and citizens, Shukiurava had a nervous breakdown. She realized that it was all too much for her mental health. “Belarusians have faced so much violence that a normal person can’t accept it, can’t deal with it”, Rusia explains and adds; “I found myself in such a state that in one more day, I would have lost my mind.”

She and her family left for Ukraine within the next 24 hours and found safety and support from that welcoming country.

Now Rusia and her daughter start every day with a ritual of gratitude for being safe. “Every morning when my daughter wakes up, I kiss her and take her to the big kitchen window to look at the sky. And I say – My baby, I am so happy that we are safe”, Shukiurava says, her voice cracking. 

Women leading protests documentary film: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava quote
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

The new identity of Belarusian women

This female activist keeps on supporting the Belarusian revolution from afar.

She was involved with the Belarusian Cultural Solidarity Foundation and now works with “Friida Bell”, an NGO based in Estonia.

The Foundation raises funds to support musicians, artists, and actors who have lost their jobs because of their political views. The NGO is focused on women and supports female activism and education on the topics of sex, gender, and feminism.

Through both her artistic work and her NGO activity, Rusia Shukiurava explores the idea of a new identity for Belarusian women. She also wants to show the personal contribution of women to the revolution, lest it melts away with time.

“For me, it was a feminist movement because women realized their power. They were so brave, creative, and supportive while fighting with the system. But some active feminists from Belarus argue against this position. They declare that in reality, feminist issues remain unchanged. Women went onto the streets as sisters, mothers, and wives. Though they were fighting the regime on the streets, at the same time no one took away their usual routines  like cooking food, cleaning the house, and taking care of their kids and husbands”, Shukiurava explains.

Her hope is that through this whole experience, Belarusian society will become more accepting of the differences between people and of liberal values. She envisions a new Belarus as a more relaxed and free space where everyone is accepted no matter their lifestyle, beliefs, or sexual orientation.

Read the full interview with Maryna Rusia Shukiurava here. 

Women Protest Leaders Documentary Film
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

"Women Leading Protests – Fighting for Democracy"

The documentary "Women Leading Protests – Fighting for Democracy" by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom tells the stories of four women who were actively involved in the protests in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela and Lebanon in different ways. Their stories represent women all around the world, who are fighting for democratic change in their countries. Several of the protagonists describe how those in power systematically underestimated them, because „they were women“, which the women in turn sometimes used to their advantage. But as their influence grew, so did the violence that many of the governments were willing to use against them.