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Belarus in Focus
Online guide for journalists writing about Belarus. Find out who's who in business, society or politics, get practical tips and contacts, and read about other journalists' experiences. Got some more questions? Get in touch with us.

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Belarus in Focus 2011

15 Nov

Magdalena Bożko, Dziennik Wschodni (Poland)

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Speak loudly about what others only whisper

- In Aprill Andrzej Poczobut, a correspondent of "Gazeta Wyborcza" was arrested. Are you afraid about him?

- "Our Niva" newspaper, for which I write, published an article "They don’t break Poczobut". And another: "Pole Poczobut will drink the Belarusian’s bitter cup to the bottom." Andrzej Poczobut is a man who knows what he's doing and what can happennen to himt. He is not afraid and I'm not afraid about him. But I also think: Are the rules through which Poczobut could be the next president of Belarus? I, Ukrainian, would vote for him! The motto of his blog is: "Only the truth is interesting," It is very close to me. What he does is also close to my heart.

-You are a journalist of "Our Niva", the oldest independent newspaper in Belarus. In the last e-mail you wrote to me: "Lukashenko's governmentw closed our newspaper, which appeared 105 years. Even the Tsar of Russia wouldn’have done something lika that. But current “Tsar” of Belarussia did it.

- The government closed the "Our Niva" and "Will the nation" for the - I think - "our merits." Both newspapers have been like a "cataract on the eye of authority” for a long time.  I have to say that pressure on independent media in Belarus was always manifested in various forms. The government had a monopoly on the newspeapers subscription and limited a distribution of the independent press. There were the persecution of journalists, lack of opportunities to open new radio channels... After the presidential elections on 19 December 2010 editor of "Our Niva" Andrei Dynko went to jail unduer trumped-up charges.

In the editorial of "Our Niva" and at homes of some journalists have been carried out searches. A few months after the election, pressure on civil society, including, of course, for journalists, has intensified. Intimidates, searches, arrests ... The economic situation in the country was sharply deteriorated: the crisis of our currency, order to close many organizations, the problems with the purchase of many products ...

- And there are 11th April of 2011 ...

- That day there was an explosion in the Minsk subway. It was the main reason for the closure of several newspapers, including ours. The pretext for the closure was "throwing a false light on the case of explosion in the subway and the perception of not objective way." In fact, it was that our newspapers presented different position from the government media, which began a nasty and wide-ranging propaganda campaign. The titles sounded like: "Opposition blew up the metro."

Independent media, in contrast to the government media, gave an objective, timely and comprehensive information, which spoiled the perfect image of power. "Our Niva" and other independent media announced the outbreak immediately. Our reporters were at the place of explosion as one of the first, after the signals that we received from people, citizen journalists. At the place it turned out that the photos and videos, which were sent to us - it all confirmed.

- The government’s media were silent for several hours until they received a clear signal from authorities that they can release information.

- Very significant and characteristic is that it broke in the first hours of heated debate online about the explosion. Most regular users concluded that this outbreak is beneficial for the government and was organized by him in order to distract people's attention from economic problems and completely destroy the opposition. The next morning in our editorial KGB officers arrived and removed the pictures and videos taken in the subway by the correspondents of "Our Niva".

What was happening in the next few days?

- A day later in the evening, when I signed my books in a bookstore, I suddenly received a phone call: our chief editor, Andrei Skurko, was taken to the KGB. At night he returned. He got a clear warning what threatens him for disclosure the secrets of investigation. The next day the attorney general threatened on television to our newspaper: "We will respond adequately to such illegal activities" - he announced. What actions he has in mind? It turned out that it was about appearing in "Our Niwa" article of former counterintelligence officer, who is currently "in exile", titled: "Bomb was planted by special services’ employees."

 - What the comments were?

- Minister of Information said that we "feeds on drama" and asked the court for the closure of our two newspapers. No one had any doubt that the sentence will be consistent with the lawsuit: in Belarus had not been the case in which a court objected to the executive power. Why exactly did they do this? It’s hard for me to judge. Perhaps indeed the government is terrified that the independent press has an increasing impact on the Belarusian society.

Perhaps also, version of involvement in the explosion intelligence and some groups associated with the government was close to the truth. Maybe the authorities have closed our newspaper to provoke economic sanctions and explain using this these economic collapse, which seems to approach?

 - What do journalists of "Our Niva" do now? Are they be intimidated?

- Frankly I admire my colleagues who really are not afraid of anything! They are just very professional and without any compromise carry out their duties. In particular, I admire our girls - photojournalist and cameraman Julia Doroshkevich and Tatiana Havrylchyk. It is through their work, our readers have seen all the events of recent months: shock treatment of presidential candidate Neklyaeva, provocateurs, who smash windows at the building of government, bruised, bloodied victims of the outbreak ...

And our political journalist Zmitser Pankovets? I was so proud of him when the next day after the election of Lukashenko's, at the press conference he asked the question: "Do not you think that the assault on the seat of government was nothing but a" Reichstag fire "?

 - What will happen now with "Our Niva"?

- "Our Niva" will not disappear. Closing of newspapers does not mean the closure of editors mouths. As long as the newspaper will have readers, so far will they receive it. In these days when the editorial was discussed what to do in this situation, I realized that people who create "Our Niva" work not only without fear, but also intelligent and thoughtful manner. So will they find a way to continue their work despite the obstacles. Although, of course, it would be better if these obstacles were not ...

 - Revisions of the KGB, beatings, harassment, election fraud. How did you find in this? Also, as a writer.

- In addition to all this evil is still a great solidarity and warm words from my readers. It came out the second edition of my book "City of Fish’s" in the Belarusian language. Incidentally, the file with the novel was confiscated along the entire contents of the computer during the search, but I succeed to restore it and the novel came out in time.

I received a nice news from Poland: "City of Fish’s" was nominated for the prestigious Angelus award. It gives me great pride! But it's all about good news. Time in Belarus is very difficult today. The press is under unprecedented pressure. But in order to get out of it, you have to go through it.

 - How in this situation, do you do your job as a journalist?

- We are in the middle of important events. We inform, think, analyze and share our experiences with readers. And do you know what is important? "Our Niva" is just a small group of journalists and team co-authors who write in spite of threats, and sometimes even in prisons. And now the number of visits to our site is ten times larger than the sites of all newspapers published by the State!

The State newspapers, for the purpose of which was built a great, well-equipped House Press, is the most advanced technology, excellent writing conditions and salaries for journalists. With these greenhouse conditions they could provide true, accurate information. But no! For what? So what we have is a total zero. Fortunately, readers are not stupid and prefer independent publishers with reliable information.

 - And how ordinary people find themselfs in this situation?

- I believe that in a recent years Belarus society is becoming, more politically aware. More and more people understand that the law in Belarus is immoral and unjust. That our system is similar to "ochlocracy" and it is needed to change this. But, unfortunately, I do not see in our Belarusian Walesa: the man who will be able to give an impulse to people to fight against injustice and immorality of power and lead us to victory.

 - Are you not afraid to talk about it so forward?

- I'm not afraid. Silence is much worse. I repeat it to my friends, when they indignate with whisper: "Speak loudly, otherwise it will only get worse."

 - Do you think fear it is a feeling, on which the rule of Lukashenko is based on?

- No, the Lukashenko’s rule is not based on fear. Maybe I don’t quite understand the Poles - the people, with a powerful, unwavering sense of independence and statehood, but a much bigger problem I have with the answer to the question, what is the reason for such a long reign as odious governments.

I have come to the conclusion at the end - but I not claim myself to be the revelation of absolute truth - that in the case of Belarussians, everything is very complicated. After they were massively deprived of their national language and culture, cut off from their roots, Belarusians were very changed, internally they were broken. Today they have a deep inferiority complex. This caused that the Lukashenko’s government without any moral restrictions persists for so long. He uses the Belarusians’ complexes to manipulate them and have power over them.

What do you feel, if not a fear? Sadness, anger? Or maybe helplessness?

- Optimism. I still believe in the Belorussians, in justice.

 - You're a writer. If you had to write about Belarus for 20 years ...

- Ooops! This is a task for Sienkiewicz! I can only say that after the closure of "Our Niva" inside me was established a vague impression that I gather the material for a new book. And today I am sure that I will write another novel.

Please watch for yourself. And please tell us about all this, which we are discussing, in the next book.

- Thank you for your interest in Belarus, for solidarity. Believe me, that your support and warmth really means a lot for us. The faces of my Polish friends, my Polish readers ... I often thought about them in those months when I had to calm down and gather strength. Therefore, the new novel will certainly not be about Lukashenko. It will be about people's faces and the face of the earth: the earth on which there is a room for Poland and for Belarus. And also about all the tracks on our faces, which for always leave this time today.

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