We wanted to raise the people.
In November, 20 years have passed since the proclamation of the civil initiative Charter'97. On November 10, 1997, a document was published that became the starting point in the history of the initiative. The document was first signed by the 100 most famous politicians, public and cultural figures, journalists. Later the document was signed by over 100 000 citizens of Belarus.
The website Charter97.org continues publication of the interviews with the people who created Charter'97 20 years ago. Publisher of the well-known Belarusian independent newspapers Svaboda, Naviny, Nasha Svaboda and Vremya, director of the Channel 8 Pavel Zhuk is answering our questions today.
— If the Czechoslovak Charter'77 acted in support of the arrested musicians, the driving force of the Belarusian Charter'97 was the journalistic community. Why did you, the publisher of major independent newspapers, join the initiative?
— I made friends with founders of the initiative Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bandarenka. I clearly remember the moment when it all started, because it was happening in the editor’s office of Piotr Martsau’s Belarusian Business Newspaper, and many decent people were in the organizational committee of the Charter’97 back then.
Besides, the newspaper Svaboda was closed on November 19, 1997. It turns out thay it’s the 20th anniversary of the Charter’97 and the closure of Svaboda at the same time.
We needed to do something, to defend the freedom of word in general, and Svaboda in particular.
In the independent newspapers, we published the number of people who had signed the Charter’97 every day. We thought it would be good to do it in the form of a counter. When people signed the initiative, a new figure appeared in the counter. I remember that the number of signors reached more than 100 thousand at the time.
The counter was published by many newspapers, for instance, by the Belarusian Business newspaper, Narodnaya Volya. PR was the task of the first importance at the time, it was necessary to turn the people’s attention to the initiative. However, Belarusians not only signed the initiative, some even brought their earnestly earned pennies, because they believed they could do something decent and wanted the Charter’97 to develop and bring results. And so it happened.
The civil initiative Charter'97 was created in order to raise the people. Encourage them to fight for ideals. Then it was clear that the Belarusian People's Front or the newly formed United Civil Party cannot lead the people alone. Belarusians did not believe this. That's when the idea arose to create the Charter'97.
— What was the difference between the Charter’97 and the BPF or the UCP?
— In fact, it was a very serious rise of thought, ideas, desires. People believed, reached out to this initiative, supported it, and not just put a tick.
The Charter'97 always stood on the edge of political events, tried to move democratic structures in one direction, to unite people for joint struggle.
The people who were and are members of this organization played an important role in the political events that took place in the last 20 years in our country. The products of Charter'97 are actions, marches, pickets, newspapers, leaflets, the Zubr youth movement, and the People's University, and an attempt to unite the opposition. Or maybe the main result is the same website Charter97.org. I still can tell a lot about the activities of the Charter, but even now it's dangerous to talk about this.
In itself, the emergence of the civil initiative Charter'97 positively influenced the course of events in the country. The goal we all have is an independent democratic Belarus. We need to find supporters and expand our activities. We also need to understand what is happening in our country, how much we depend on the world, on the neighbours and so on.
— What is the secret of success of the Charter97.org, in your professional opinion?
— The thing is, the Charter97.org is made by the people who differ from the others. Basically, any press or source of information is the people who make this product. Charter’s Editor-in-Chief Natallia Radzina is totally different from Pavel Yakubovich and even Joseph Siaredzich.
In my opinion, it is important in which direction the media goes and what it wants to achieve. If it wants to convey to the people the eternal ideals, which call for good and justice, then this is one thing. And there are other media outlets that do the opposite, for example, the Soviet Byelorussia.
I believe that the Charter97.org is a very positive phenomenon. Although the same Narodnaya Volya also wants to achieve something, but its audience is smaller. They are trying to do something, but the Charter has broader coverage.
The website is trying to show the people what country they live in and how to get out of this situation. Any source of information is education, forwarding the brains of people in certain direction. Therefore, it is important that the media work for the benefit of the country and the people.