But for the creation of the Charter in 1997, we would have never observed the real situation in Belarus.
Editor-in-chief of Charter97.org Natallia Radzina was the guest of the Interview of the Week on Radio Svaboda. Vital Tsyhankou was an interviewer.
- On November 10 the Charter-97 marks the 20th anniversary, a program document signed by hundreds of thousands of Belarusians. What is the meaning of the Charter? What does it aim at now? Why does it barely exist as an active political movement?
- The story of the Charter continues. Twenty years ago its establishment was supported by 100 outstanding Belarusian figures, almost all of the true Belarusian elite, more than 100 000 Belarusians signed the document. the Charter was the response to the coup d'etat that took place in the country in 1996. At that time, Lukashenka seized control over the majority of media in Belarus, Svoboda newspaper, 101.2 radio were closed, repressions against journalists began.
There should be a response, and the Charter made people of different political views and then public leaders come together. I am convinced that if not for the creation of the Charter, we would have never observed the real situation in Belarus.
It was an attempt to unite the opposition, but, unfortunately, many leaders did not want to move in one direction and decided to act alone. Marches of Freedom, boycott of parliamentary elections, the establishment of the People's University, the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces are merits of the Charter.
- Leaders of the Charter are accused that at one point they privatized this broad popular movement in a certain sense, and it became the expression of political interests of only a small group of people.
- I absolutely disagree with such accusations. After all, after the Charter no other worthy unifying structure was created. It was a good initiative; it was created following the example of the Czechoslovak Charter-77. I am convinced that personal ambitions of individual party politicians made the unification possible.
- How would you, the settled editor of the Charter website, analyze the site's achievements and its prospects? What is bothering you? Did you expect that it would take one of the leading positions among Belarusian social and political sites?
- Today the Charter is a true leader, our website traffic exceeds those of other independent websites in Belarus. Today the Charter is read by 200-300 thousand unique visitors every day, it's 2-3 million visitors every month, we have 45 million views of articles every month.
For 20 years we have been reaching for such a result. And it has been done to change the situation in the country. After all, the more people know what is happening in Belarus, the better they understand that it is necessary to fight, they understand that freedom is worth fighting for.
I am pleased with the result, although I also understand our weak points and problems.
- Speaking of weak points, it is necessary to turn to some conceptual, principled things. If journalists discuss what the "right" journalism means, it is obvious that "detachment" and "reliability" is not the Charter's strong side. After all, you are the media which first of all is fighting against the Lukashenka's regime. In this regard, do you consider the Charter a traditional media that must comply with general rules, or these rules do not apply to you in connection with the specifics of the Belarusian situation?
- Figures speak for themselves. We have 45 million views per month, the website of the Svaboda Belarusian Radio - 800 thousand, Nasha Niva - 8 million. It is a great indicator. People are interested in the Charter today.
I'd like to quote Volha Mikalaichyk who delivered us the congratulation on the anniversary:
"The Charter sometimes is like emergency doctor, it saves you from extensive heart attack, saves our information space from lies of our tyranny, from an information hunger, from the blindness people live in under the dictatorship and who do not know where to go in despair, and the way the society can take to develop to live not worse than other Eastern Europeans."
- Do you believe that the number of visits determines everything and is the main factor? But tabloids are always more popular than serious newspapers...
- Let's do without insults. We write almost the same things Svaboda does, but we write more. And if we talk about the Belarusian independent media, then they have a lot of self-censorship. And it does not exist in the Charter. We went through repressions, we are forced to work abroad, but our journalists work in Belarus. But why there are so many people who visit the Charter, while Radio Svaboda have larger budget?
- The answer is obvious. The Charter is primarily an aggregator of foreign news, it collects everything interesting from around the world, and Svaboda gives out virtually only its unique product.
- Today almost all world media work like that: information of agencies, other sites plus unique information.
But let's better discuss the problem of self-censorship. Belarusian journalists argue with fervency about principles of journalism, but they hush up that today many independent media have KGB curators. Editors-in-chief of independent media personally told me about it. These curators call and say who can't be interviewed, what topics should not be touched at all. Why do not we discuss this?
- It is not discussed, apparently, because there are no reliable facts. No one has publicly admitted it. It's impossible to discuss rumors.
- They are silent because there is a great fear that a source will be closed, and there will be no work. I know how it happens, I challenged it. When I was released from prison, the KGB officers offered me: "You will work as an editor of the Charter, but we will meet for a cup of coffee, have talk, and give you a piece of advice." I did not want it as well as to work with curators.
- I would like to hear the answer about detachment and reliability. By the way, I do not insist that these are completely universal criteria. Can, for example, the underground publication of dissidents in the USSR be reliable? In this regard, does the Charter perceive itself as an edition that do not adhere to classical principles of detachment and "two sides", since you are the media that not only informs but also fights?
- Yes, an independent journalist is more than a journalist in Belarus. And we are forced to fight for our right to freedom of speech. Power makes us act like that, you do not even choose this path because you cannot but this way.
As for detachment under the dictatorship, Lukashenka has a great propaganda machine that does not give a word to the opposition but only informs about "successes" of the regime. And in this situation should we rely on the point of view of the power? I believe that we should give the ground to people who want to see Belarus as a democratic country.
I had a conversation with one of the leaders of the AFP agency, and I told him about the criticism of the Charter in connection with the fact that, they say, it does not give "two sides". And he said «Listen, it's as if during World War II the world's democratic press wrote: according to the Jews, 6 million Jews were killed, and according to German Nazis, there are no casualties."
- Another common claim to the Charter is a strict political censorship of comments. At the same time, not only comments of "good ole boys" or Lukashists but also democratic visitors who, for example, criticize those politicians the Charter supports are not published.
- Today comments are moderated by everyone. And this must be done because there is a hybrid war on the part of Russia, when trolls of the KGB or the FSS write comments on sites. Comments are a part of a content. And there's nothing to be done.