The poem Counterattack was written by Wladyslaw Szlengel, a Jewish Polish poet, in 1943, during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The armed uprising intended to resist deportations of Jews to the concentration camps. The suppression of the resistance was inevitable and a complete shock for the Nazis. Wladyslaw Szlengel was also killed in the uprising.
Arkadiy Kots is a contemporary band from Russia that is politically engaged. They sing songs about multiple struggles, and hold performances at political actions and events. This autumn, in the midst of the anti-government uprising in Belarus, they approached me to make a music video, as a gesture of solidarity, for the song “Counterattack.” The song reperformans Wladyslaw Szlengel’s historic poem. Given the moment and context of this invitation — the moment when I felt I needed to urgently relate everything I was doing to Belarus, I decided to accept the invitation and featured footage from the protests against the fraudulent presidential elections.
Living abroad and not being able to immediately and constantly join the struggle physically, at home, being detached from Belarus was even more pronounced by the conditions given by the pandemic. For months I had been collecting documentation of the protests. These videos and photos, often made by the protestors themselves, as well as journalists, extensively circulated through Telegram channels — the main media to disseminate the protest, while the state attempted to conceal the dissent. They captured choreographies of the various marches, the strikes, the police violence, the collective mourning, the gestures of struggle and care; the flashes of fireworks fired at the police. Keeping such an archive also wouldn’t be safe for someone living in Belarus.
The song used in the video is an homage to the Warsaw ghetto uprising, but the attempt was not to compare the contexts or say they were equivalent. Rather, there was an urgency to echo past unrests. The impossible fight against oppression reaches us from 1943, fired through the words of the poem. And the very recent, still ongoing events from 2020 still transmit the fever of resistance even through their mediated effects. When I watch them now, another layer of distance is added to the spatial one, which is time. In the current reactionary moment brought by enhanced state-repressions, we are reminded today that this didn’t just happen, and thus will happen again; but that this is still happening. This is not a story about loss and separation, but about togetherness, proximity between events unfolding in different times, on various speeds, simultaneously.