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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

The Crown

I must admit that like much of the world, I am fascinated with the British monarchy. Therefore, I was more than a little intrigued when a friend mentioned recently that he was heading to London to witness his sister Natalia Kaliada receive the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The honor, one of the final acts of the late Queen Elizabeth II, was bestowed on Ms. Kaliada at a Buckingham Palace investiture ceremony presided over by Princess Anne, the late queen’s daughter.

Ms. Kaliada and her husband Nicolai Khalezin (who will receive his honor in early December), are the Founding Co-Artistic Directors of The Belarus Free Theatre (BFT), the only theatre in Europe banned by its government on political grounds.

From the BFT Website - Belarus Free Theatre is more than a theatre. Alongside exploding taboos on the world stage, BFT has pioneered an award-winning global model of “artivism” that unites artistic, geopolitical, environmental, and human rights concerns.

Deploying a three-pronged approach that combines theatre productions, campaigns, and education, BFT has illuminated how artists can drive real social change by inspiring audiences to take positive action.

In the fifteen years since it was first founded, BFT has conceived 14 campaigns on subjects including climate change, the rights of LGBTQI+ people, police brutality and equality of access and opportunity for disabled people. Many of these campaigns are ongoing, reinvigorated every year until positive change becomes a reality.

BFT and its co-founding Artistic Directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, have successfully lobbied politicians and policymakers to bring targeted sanctions against perpetrators of human rights abuses. In November 2020, they received the prestigious Magnitsky Prize for Courage Under Fire, presented by stage and screen luminary, Stephen Fry, for their indefatigable work defending democratic freedoms.

Additional information on BFT can be found at:

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