TOLS’s executive director, Jeremy Druker, asked in a blog post back in February, “What is it about Belarus that brings out the best in photojournalists?” I’ve been wondering what it is about Belarus that brings out the funny in dissenters. In April, we wrote about a satirist there who besieged officials and got readers of his blog to join him in a campaign to restart production of low-fat yogurt.

Then there was the campaign to use applause as a form of dissent, which resulted in a presidential address being met by an uncomfortable silence (and this funny YouTube video):

And the stuffed toys that showed up in front of the government building holding placards with messages like, “Toys Against Lawlessness!” And the teddy bears dropped from a plane with free speech messages pinned to them.

The yogurt crusader, Evgeny Lipkovich, accounted for the mischievous streak in the Belarusian opposition this way: “I don’t think my position is absurd, because the situation we live in is even more absurd. In general, our reality, when taken to its absurd conclusion, is perceived more clearly.”

I’m thinking about this now because we’re preparing a story about another dissident/prankster, and today I came across another incident that made me laugh out loud.

The punchline, from Charter 97, a dissident-run news website:

Police began to hunt Ivan Amelchanka after a rally on April 26. The young man raised a poster “Musorok” (a Russian slang word for a policeman literally meaning “garbage”) near a plainclothes police officer who was filming participants of the peaceful sanctioned rally. Ivan Amelchanka said in court he used letters of the Latin alphabet and the poster should be read as “MY COP OK” that can be considered a praise to police. The judge didn’t take this explanation into account. Ivan was jailed for 15 days and then to 10 days.

Because these struggles for freedom and still going on, and because each one is different, who knows if this approach is more effective than playing punk music in a cathedral? What I do know is that if you are in a fight for the hearts and minds of ordinary people, you want the funny guys on your side.

Barbara Frye

Barbara Frye is Transitions Online’s managing editor. Email: barbara.frye@tol.org

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