Editor-in-chief of Belarusian Charter'97 says on clearance of informational field for Russian invasion.
A close, even superficial acquaintance with the real functioning and logic of the daily life of Belarus and the problems it comes across with leaves the people who are not familiar with Belarus bewildered, causes difficulties with understanding of the Belarusian reality. This especially concerns those who live in the coordinates of the Western democracy. The most common feeling here is the feeling of co-existence of two parallel realms. There's the state and its formal components, formal communities and organizations. Herein, the state arranged a whole separate reality and life conditions for the non-official opposition. The state made it impossible for the oppositionists who actively disagree with Lukashenka to access politics, the voters.
The opposition media, and thus the ideas, criticism and analysis from the "wrong" point of view have no way to the mass reader; and the working conditions, whether the media will go public or not, is decided by the authorities. The authorities even decide which musicians should be allowed/prohibited to perform in their own country. In the country which is Lithuania's neighbor, all branches of government, control over finances, media, security agencies are tied to one person, who determines the extent of everything in Belarus.
The functioning of the tough system which is not naturally formed but artificially created by Lukashenka is implemented and ensured by the servants, officials loyal to the system, and other participants of the process of pursuing the governmental policy. The country has all the tools of a modern state - the media, professional unions, youth organizations etc. And those who are absolutely unfamiliar with the force method of the state management here, may have the wrong impression: a normal country, everything is here, some democratic institutions sort of exist. Moreover, under the scheme, formally everything in Belarus complies with the principles of a democratic structure. But this is the wrong impression. And here is why.
Apart from the mentioned structures, the officially unrecognized political and intellectual opposition not only to Lukashenka, but to the mentality formed by the state monopoly in all the spheres of life, simultaneously exists in the country. The opposition also has parties, analysts, organizations, media. However, the opposition politicians, civil and cultural activists, professional organizations and experts are limited by the authorities in everything. They are watching them, and control all dissidents totally at the level of the special services, decide on their destiny.
The guilty of the murders and disappearances of businessmen and politicians, once real rivals of Lukashenka, remain unfound. The state can also always show official grounds for searches, confiscating anything, detaining, imprisoning, depriving of freedom anyone whom it considers a threat to itself. This applies to all, for example, in 2010 the authorities brutally dispersed a demonstration of those who disagreed with the falsification of the results of the presidential election results, which Lukashenka invariably "elegantly" wins. The number of victims, brutally beaten by security forces and imprisoned, including ex-presidential candidates, gives a good reason to call the events of December of that year a bloody massacre over own citizens.
The authorities determine the process and the result of investigations and court proceedings, they decide where, in which conditions and for how long a political prisoner will be jailed. Moreover, the authorities decide where and under which conditions a citizen can live in Belarus in general, put pressure on own citizens which humiliates their human dignity and questions the possibility of their existence. Real ousting of people out of the country is going on, as they are deprived of the opportunity to earn for living in principle.
And Charter'97 is a visual example of this. The latest and most prominent demonstrative blows were dealt to the independent media. First, they destroyed the opposition resource Belarusian Partisan, founded by Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed in Kyiv. And more recently, the access to the largest opposition portal Charter'97 was blocked for its audience in Belarus.
The blocking of the website continues to this day. Probably, at the moment, this website was the only major platform for extremely critical and sometimes radical comments and discussions. Lukashenka is labeled as a dictator or ruler in the materials of Charter, most official institutions are referred to using inverted commas. The selection, content and presentation of news, articles and comments clearly formulate the position and direction of the website. With respect to the current authorities, a clear position is read: Lukashenka is evil, he must leave, the revolution is not excluded.
Criticism and rejection of the regime in Belarus cost a lot to the website's Belarusian journalists. In his time, Editor-in-Chief of the media Aleh Biabenin was found hanged. His colleagues are convinced that he was killed. Current Editor-in-Chief Natallia Radzina was arrested in 2010 and was held in the KGB isolator of Belarus; later, while at large, she secretly left the country, because it was not safe for her to stay in the country. The resource was deprived of the possibility to exist, and journalists at any time could be subjected to pressure, repression and the threat to their own security. For some time the Belarusians worked in Vilnius, then Warsaw accepted them.
The content of the site speaks about its pro-Western priorities, understanding of integration into the EU and NATO as the main way of development of Belarus, a positive evaluation of the US policy. It is interesting, why is it wrong to think about the possibilities of developing your country differently from the government? In addition, Charter'97 is a source of sharp criticism of the Kremlin's policy and calls to get rid of the Russian dependence. And the information from Ukraine and its presentation does not fit into the picture of pro-government Belarusian media. Consequently, such a view of objective reality potentially reaches the Belarusian reader, causing unnecessary doubts in the authorities. At the same time in Belarus, the media broadcasts a pro-Russian viewpoint, values, and the Russian propaganda with some local variations.
Probably, speaking about this resource, it is very important to stress that the aim and the sense of the existence, the very work of journalists in the current conditions Charter'97 (apart from the objective in the resource's understanding and operative work on informing) sees in a struggle. Not everyone accept their position, rhetoric, criticism, but, as Grebenshchikov used to sing "Is this the reason? Untie my hands."
Natallia Radzina, the Editor-in-Chief, and the whole staff of Charter'97, have been working in the tense regime since the moment of blocking, as they need to keep the connection with the readers whose computers no longer open the link to the Charter page. However, the most important thing, as she underlined in the interview to DELFI, is solidarity.
- What is the situation with the website now? Have the restrictions reached their aim?
- Charter'97 has been blocked in Belarus since January 24. Despite of this, the website remains the leader of the Belarusian internet. About 600 000 pageviews per day - this is the statistics of Charter97.org today. There have been 6 million pageviews for the 11 days of February already. Many our readers found the ways to bypass the blocking, some providers, despite the ban, open access to the website for a short while, our news is spread in the social networks, the number of subscribers for our accounts in the new media significantly grew. The authorities failed to fully block the website.
Many analysts believe that Lukashenka was set up: the interest to the website only grew, all the world media gave information about the blocking of Charter, while the image of Lukashenka as the Internet's worst enemy is not something that could bring investors to Belarus.
- In which way are the actions of the authorities connected with the change of the heads of the state's leading media?
- The system is gradually falling apart. We got the information that an analytical note on the state of the media market in Belarus was put on Lukashenka's desk, and he saw that the website Charter97.org was more popular than the websites of all the state media altogether, as of today.
Only in the past six months, Charter was read by 4 million unique visitors with 270 million views. In fact, today Belarus makes a choice. The country reads independent websites. People want to know what is really happening in the country and do not believe in Lukashenka's propaganda channels, newspapers and websites, in which dozens of millions of dollars were invested from the budget. And that's why Lukashenka sacked his goebbelses. They lost the information war.
- How do you assess the reaction in the EU, and shall we expect the harsh variant of the reaction?
- We know that even with regard to the aggressor country of Russia, the EU has been coordinating positions for a long time. But I know that for many "real-politicians" who were betting on the development of friendship with the dictator, the closure of the Charter became a cold shower. In absolutely calm conditions, not during the presidential campaign, not during the period of mass protests, Lukashenka rudely violated the principle of freedom of speech, closed the most popular independent website and thereby put his lobbyists in Europe and the US in an extremely uncomfortable position.
During the visit of the EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn to Belarus, the leaders of the key Belarusian political parties handed him my appeal. And, by which I was very touched, the Belarusian politicians put their signatures under the text of my letter. I hope that a European politician with the proud title of a European Commissioner will find the time and energy to answer me and those millions of readers of Charter who are now deprived of the opportunity to freely read their favorite website. Belarusians, although not members of the European Union, are still Europeans.
- How can it be explained that at the background of blocking the resource, EU Commissioner Hahn didn't find it necessary to, if not cancel the visit loudly and publicly, then at least declare the position of the EU?
- I cannot speak for the EU Commissioner Hahn. However, at the meeting in the Polish MFA, I was informed that certain diplomatic steps were made to express Poland's astonishment, at the minimum, by such move of the Belarusian authorities with regard to Charter. I also know that the Brussels diplomats of the highest level discussed the Charter issue with the Belarusian MFA.
- Did you get support from Lithuania, from your colleagues in the first place?
- I am very grateful to the Ministry of Foreign affairs of Lithuania, which condemned blocking of the website Charter'97 one of the first. The Union of Journalists of Lithuania stood for our support literally on the second day. I am thankful to deputies of the Seimas Emmanuelis Zingeris and Auronius Ažubalis, as well as to MEP Petras Austrevicius.
I would like to give my special thanks to the patriarch of the Lithuanian politics Vytautas Landsbergis for his word of support and solidarity for us. Lithuania is not an alien country to me, it accepted me when I managed to escape from the KGB captivity, and gave me political asylum.
I am grateful to the portal DELFI, which covers this saga with blocking. I would also like to call on my other Lithuanian colleagues to be more in solidarity with the website Charter97.org, at least because we are standing against the Russian hybrid propaganda machine together.
- How would you comment on the latest Makei's statement in the interview for Izvestiya?
- I share the opinion of one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition Mikalai Statkevich that in order to bring in peacemakers, the consent of both parties of the conflict is needed. Ukraine distrusts Lukashenka today, considering him the Kremlin's vassal, so there will be no Belarusian "peacemakers" in Donbas.
- Can Makei's actions related to the media and his statements be considered some serious interposition at the background of his words in the interview about NATO?
- In a hybrid war, the informational component has a very significant meaning. The blockage of the Belarusian independent website Charter97.org practically clears the informational field for the Russian invasion. As the army of Belarus, however sad it is to admit it, remains part of the Russian army, there is a danger that the military invasion might follow the informational one. As Adviser to Poland's Foreign Minister Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski already noted, the blockage of Charter'97 could be a part of the Kremlin's far-reaching plans on the destabilization of our region.
- What prospects and what further actions from your side do you see? What do you expect from the countries which declare their adherence to the Western values, what does this situation bring to the Kremlin?
- It happened so today that Charter is the mouthpiece for millions of Belarusians. As an Editor-in-Chief, I am struggling today not only for the interests of my media, but defend our readers' right to obtain free information. No one in the 21st century is allowed to break the right of millions of people with one move, like this. I think the Belarusian "elite" already got it that their decision to block the website was unwise. However, they cannot just backpedal and that's it. I hope that the reaction of Belarusians and numerous friends of Belarus in the world will help the authorities of Belarus to reconsider their wrong decision.
On this occasion, I would like to congratulate the citizens of my dear Lithuania on the 100th anniversary of the restoration of their independence. I would also add that the European Union is incomplete without Belarus. We dream to be together with you soon.
Konstantin Ameliushkin, ru.DELFI.lt