Svenska Dagbladet, a leading Swedish newspaper, has written about the situation in Belarus.
The article “In Support of Moving Hockey World Championship from Belarus” took two-page opening of the newspaper on March 25. We offer the full text of the article:
Influential Swedish politicians advocate moving the Ice Hockey World Championship – 2014 away from Belarus. Natallya Radzina, a well-known Belarusian journalist, who was granted political asylum in Lithuania, is among thousands of Belarusians who are in favour of moving the Ice Hockey Championship: “Such a possibility of PR should not be offered to the dictator.”
The story of Natallya Radzina shows developments of the situation in Belarus, the state in central Europe, bordering on the EU states: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Natallya first became a professional journalist in 1996, while she was a student of journalism faculty.
- It was my dream. I thought that I would be able to influence development of our country with the help of my future profession, - Natallya says. She has arrived to Sweden in the framework of the Days of Belarus, organized by Östgruppen.
However, exactly in 1996 Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had been elected as a president by a majority of votes two years earlier, disbanded the parliament and made it clear that he would like to rule alone. A new dictator emerged in Europe.
- 1996 was a landmark year for our country, for Belarusian journalists and me personally. It was a year when Lukashenka started to destroy freedom of speech, - Natallya said.
A gap between independent mass media and state-controlled media yawned on that year. TV and radio stations were immediately gotten under control of Lukashenka, while there was still place for opposition in printed media. The choice between a career of a propagandist and a real journalist for Natallya Radzina was obvious, but the price was high. Today she lives and works in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, in an involuntary emigration.
Natallya Radzina was arrested on December 19, 2010 right after the election of the president. Lukashenka became a winner officially, and about 50,000 Belarusians took part in the peaceful rally, demanding fair election. The demonstration was cracked down by special services with exceptional brutality: about a thousand of protesters, including all Lukashenka’s rivals in the presidential election, were arrested, many of them beaten. Crackdown on opposition activists was increased, and some presidential candidates, whose only “crime” was participation in the peaceful rally, were sentenced to several years in prison.
- I was there as a reporter, and conveyed information to our online editorial office. First I was beaten on the square, but I returned into the office, where I wrote a long journalistic story. In the article I compared mass arrests on the square with Stalin-era terror of the 1930ies, - Natallya Radzina told.
She spent the whole night in the editorial office, but at 4 a.m. KGB officers burst open the steel plate door. Natallya was taken to the KGB prison, where she was charged with organizing mass riots, and was facing up to 15 years’ imprisonment under these charges.
- I have spent a month and a half in prison, and it seems to me that for Swedes it’s hard to imagine what a Belarusian prison is like. Small crowded cells without toilets and beds – we had to sleep on the floor. But the most awful thing was crying of those prisoners who were subject to brutal torture. We were kept in complete isolation in hope we would be forgotten. Thanks to international support I was released from this hell in a month and a half, and I was to wait for the trial at large.
Understanding what the outcome of the trial could be, Natallya Radzina fled the country. It was still possible to go to Russia without a passport then, and then to go to Europe. Today Natallya is an editor of the most influential news website in Belarus, charter97.org. But neither she nor her colleagues can work in their homeland.
Holding the Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus is treated in different way by representatives of Belarusian opposition, but Natallya takes a firm stand.
- Everyone knows Lukashenka is a hockey fan, and an opportunity to hold a hockey championship in Belarus would be a prize, an award for him. But an award for what? Is it an award for crackdown, elimination of expression? For being the last dictator of Europe? I am very glad that Sweden supports moving the world championship. The mass-media controlled by Lukashenka are going to show the Belarusian nation a picture of international support to Lukashenka’s policy, - Natallya Radzina states, and adds that it would be a dangerous signal for other countries.
- In case the EU continues trade relations with Belarus, the IMF gives us new loans, major sporting events are allowed to be held in Belarus, it would mean that Europe accepts Lukashenka, though he is a dictator. But Belarus is not situated in Africa or Central Asia, our country is situated in the centre of Europe, and nevertheless such awful things are happening there.
The EU is the main trade partner of Belarus. In particular, the EU countries buy oil products, produced by Belarus from Russian oil, bought at reduced prices. As said by Natallya Radzina, the KGB and other Lukashenka’s secret services are financed by this money. Besides, she does not agree that “the sanctions have a negative influence on common citizens.”
- My mother’s retirement pension is Br 500,000. It is about 400 Swedish kronas. Prices in Belarus are little less than in Sweden. It is unlikely that the situation could become worse. And the main thing is – it would help to liberate the country from Lukashenka’s regime, - Natallya Radzina said.