How violation of human rights leads to violence in general

Motherland is above everything – this is the idea, which goes through the whole documentary film – although the harsh picture we are shown completely mirrors the reality, too.

In this reality, trustworthily reflected in Mihalkovich and Badziaka’s film, Motherland, we are once again reminded that the most significant things we (theoretically) have are not safe as they must be. For instance, such as entire lives and human rights that should naturally go with them. Lyudmila, the main heroine, seeks to find justice after her son has been murdered during the military training. Nikita and his friends, the other protagonists, watch how their liberty, safety, and freedom of speech and even of thinking are gradually collapsing. The only thing that does not collapse to the misfortune of millions is a violent and soulless machine named regime. It always takes something from its people, from money to lives, but never gives anything back. In Motherland, we observe in horror how this regime is supposed to grow decent human beings, to defend their values and keep them safe. But in fact, it turns them into the same monsters as it is itself, breaks all the rules it has set with its hands covered in blood, and endangers the rights and the lives of its own people.

“Violation” shares the stem with the word “violence”. And therefore, no wonder that violation of the human rights, in the end, breeds violence – this is what Motherland screams about. When we first see Nikita and his friends, we see young, almost carefree men who are unaware of what the future holds. Then, in the scene when friends are talking about Nikita’s turn to go to the military training and their plans, we hear a very important, deep, and sad phrase of one of them: “Our city is still on its place. Army is not a threat to it.” This metaphor is not just about the city – it is about the whole system which seemingly cannot be threatened by anything, and no matter if somebody passes away, no matter how many lives it takes, it will remain still.

When the scene with Nikita and his father having dinner unfolds, we hear the voice of the older man: “You will become a good and average person.” However, this voice also belongs to the notorious propaganda machine that needs such average people that are only good from its perspective. When our hero is already in the military training, we see nothing good about his conditions, his comrades, and his own changes.

Such changes are obvious for his friends with whom Nikita is having a video call. “How can they shoot their own folks? How can you legally kill a man in our country?” His friends yet do not grasp what Nikita is talking about but the latter now understands. Nikita himself admits: “The system influenced me as well”. If it took a couple of years and caused such drastic changes, then how much has it done to the whole generations? And it seems that the regime is winning in turning people into what it craves.

And mayhap it is winning because many of the rest believe they never will. In the scene in the train, in the dialogue between the mother of the killed son and the mother of a baby, we are told: “No matter how much you fight, it is impossible to win.” It makes the viewer outrageous and confused: how can a mother say that so calmly and trust her own flesh and blood’s life to the regime she perfectly knows she cannot trust? And this is when we come to realize one more significant thing: not only does violence breed violence, but it also becomes a new norm and, therefore, gets no response to and takes no responsibility. Motherland makes it clear showing how the mother of the murdered boy cannot seek justice, and how Nikita comes to enjoy satisfaction with his own power when he gets the chance to order absurd things to his comrades.

So, is an average and good person in fact a monster? First, a frightened one, and then, when tired from being constantly scared stiff, indifferent and agreeable, and after – willing to support the same violence and fear it once experienced itself?

“They all look the same.” The guys describe the military men during the parade. And this is what scares the most: if average and good people are monsters and they are all the same, it might mean that the whole nation can turn into them as well.

As a human rights film, Motherland calls to the minimal active concern – to spread awareness, at least, that such an amoral and inhumane picture is an everyday reality, and not just for the protagonists, but for the millions of people as well (Nash: Knowing Through Human Rights Films). Does it manage to generate such an active concern for people to go outrageous, go protesting and fighting for their rights with the system machine that is supposed to protect them, not violate? One could definitely feel it while watching, even if things they see are habitual and normal for them. However, let us not forget that “a norm” does not always equals to “normal”.

Motherland is above everything – the film makes it out of question. But at the same time, makes us ask ourselves another crucial question: how have we ended up here where Motherland is above the law, humaneness, and human rights, too?


Assembly, UN General. "Universal declaration of human rights." UN General Assembly 302.2 (1948): 14-25.
Hinegardner, Livia. "Action, organization, and documentary film: Beyond a communications model of human rights videos." Visual Anthropology Review 25.2 (2009): 172-185.
Kolarzik, Nina, and Aram Terzyan. "The State of Human Rights and Political Freedoms in Belarus: Was the Crisis Inevitable?." Eurasia Institutes. (2020).
Nash, Kate. "Knowing Through Human Rights Films." Human Rights Quarterly 44.1 (2022): 193-209.


Polina Vardanian
ELTE BTK Film Studies