Stephanie Pan (an American actress and singer) and Esther Mugambi (an Australian actress) finally managed to fly out to Amsterdam through Prague after 20 ours of custody within the walls of the Minsk airport. The actresses flew out of Minsk at the expense of the Czech airlines as a result of an agreement between the Czech air company and representatives of the Belarusian government.
Stephanie Pan and Esther Mugambi came to Minsk on October 5th by invitation of the Belarus Free Theatre. During a week they were to rehearse the Free Theatre’s productions in the course of the “Eurepica” project. However, after their arrival in Belarus they were held up at the airport “Minsk-2”. Belarusian customs officers informed the actresses that they are on the list of individuals who are not permitted to enter the country and their visa applications are rejected.
Welcome to Belarus
The actresses, who flew to Minsk from Amsterdam, had never visited Belarus before. The staff of the Minsk airport didn’t explain them the reason for prohibition to enter the country only referring to the fact that “this is confidential information of the Belarusian Ministry of foreign affairs”.
Belarusian customs officers informed them that they would be able to fly back home only at their own expense, but the return tickets of the girls for the flight Minsk-Prague-Amsterdam was booked for a week later.
The actresses were accommodated in the airport in prison-type rooms, so-called rooms for detained travelers. Their freedom was limited, they were locked up. In order to go to the restroom the woman had to knock on the door and ask to be accompanied. In total, there are eight rooms of this type in the airport of Minsk. In the other rooms citizens of Bangladesh, Azerbaijan and Iraq were kept.
Both actresses speak only English and thus the communication with the airport stuff appeared to be a problem. The Free Theatre directors Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin had to specially return to Minsk, which is located 30 km away from the airport, to buy food and water for them, as all the cafes at the airport had already been closed.
They had to stay at the airport till 4pm the next day and then finally managed to fly back to Amsterdam through Prague. According to Nikolai Khalezin, the Belarus Free Theatre’s creative director, representatives of the Belarusian government came to the airport to negotiate with the Czech air company about the deportation of the American and Australian actresses.
Questions remained unanswered
“We are very sorry that the two actresses’ acquaintance with Belarus ended with the impressions of a day’s stay on the neutral line and the following deportation. Unfortunately, we will have to work on the Eurepica project only abroad. When they finally had a chance to talk to them through a glass window, they said: “You were right, Belarus now is really the main challenge for Europe”. All the day we couldn’t help the feeling of a bad perestrojka-type movie, where the airport staff doesn’t speak English, customs officers are not capable of providing at least some kind of food supply to the detainees and none of the governmental structures is able to make any decision.”
www.charter97.org October 6, 2008