2 February 2023, Thursday, 19:57
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

Dmitry Muratov: Belarusians, There Are No Futile Efforts!

Dmitry Muratov: Belarusians, There Are No Futile Efforts!
Dmitry Muratov

An exclusive New Year's interview of the Nobel Peace Prize winner for the Charter97.org website.

May the readers of Charter97 pardon me for addressing the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on a first name basis. Muratov and I have been working together for 18 years and this is one of the biggest successes of my life. And not just Muratov, but Novaya Gazeta in general. By the way, no one was watching TV or holding champagne in ice at the Novaya Gazeta editorial office on the day the laureate was announced: it was just a regular working morning. Muratov did not answer the call from Norway, because he was in a hurry to the planning meeting. In the working chat it was suggested: let's postpone the meeting for five minutes, the laureate will be announced now, and we will have time to give the news straight away. And after the announcement and for the rest of the day the chat was full of interjections: "Aah! Oooh! Woo!" - and related parts of speech.

By the way, the Nobel Prize was shared by the editorial board of Novaya Gazeta, and not the laureate himself. The editorial board decided to divide the entire sum between the "Circle of Kindness" and "Gift of Life" foundations, that is, for saving children with cancer and SMA, and the children's and adults' hospices. Not a single cent from the Nobel Prize was taken by the recipient. And that says even more about him, perhaps, than his speech at the Oslo ceremony.

Before the New Year and after the Nobel Peace Prize Award ceremony I did not want to ask Dmitry Muratov questions about Putin, Navalny, the future of Russia and the problems of foreign agents: it is enough to read his Nobel speech and hundreds of interviews before he received the prize to understand his position. Therefore, especially for Charter 97, we talked about the details of the Oslo ceremony and, of course, about Belarus. Everything else is Dmitry Muratov's Nobel speech and his texts in Novaya Gazeta.

- Dmitry, do you know who nominated you for the Nobel Peace Prize?

- I don't know that and won't find out for another 50 years. According to the rules of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, that's how long the names of those who nominate you are kept secret - unless, of course, they want to tell you about it themselves. For example, when Lech Walesa nominated imprisoned Oleg Sentsov for the Nobel Peace Prize, he announced it publicly. And now, during the banquet after the award ceremony, the Norwegian prime minister confessed to Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, with whom we shared the prize, that he was the one who nominated Maria. So I asked the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, who had nominated me. Since this secret was revealed to Maria, maybe they could tell me, too? Berit looked at me for a long time, probably pondering: if there is no longer a secret of the nomination for Maria Ressa, maybe I have a right to know, too? But after a pause, Berit replied, "And yet, Dmitry, not until fifty years from now".

- And how did you manage to get King Harald of Norway to stand up during your speech? Did you come up with that in advance?

- To be honest, I'm very embarrassed about that. We were visiting the king, in the palace, even before the ceremony. I really liked the king and queen, and the crown prince was also present. We were talking about Gorbachev, about perestroika, about freedom of speech. King Harald is a very intelligent and understanding person. He, like the queen, is simply loved by Norway. They are really its asset. And the king is also a famous former sportsman, a mighty man, a world champion in sailing. It was he who carried the Norwegian flag at the 1964 Olympics. He's 84 now and I saw him walking with two poles leaning on them as he was greeting and seeing us off. I understood that it would be difficult for him. But on the other hand, I had sent my speech to Oslo in advance, and it said there would be a moment of silence.

- How did you send it in advance? For approval?

- No, for translation. So that the interpreters wouldn't have any trouble during the ceremony. And until the last moment I was thinking about the king, but nevertheless I knew that our murdered colleagues should be remembered standing up. I did so, and the king stood up, stayed standing for a while, and sat back in his chair. And the queen and the crown prince were standing the whole time. Then I was watching the broadcast, and I really liked the level of courtesy of Norwegian television. There were cameras everywhere, and the directing of the television image was excellent. At first the broadcast directors showed the king from behind me and then, as he made an effort to stand up, the director switched the picture and started showing him from the side of the hall and it was impossible to see whether the king was standing or already sitting down. It was a very moving and instructive moment for me.

- Instructive how?

- You have to take a lot of things into account in any, even non-extreme, situations. And I'm very grateful to the King of Norway for what he did.

- In your Nobel speech you also talked about Belarus. I know you're concerned about the situation in my country. I judge by the number of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper covers dedicated to Belarus, the number of editorial assignments and the number of texts I write. Why did you speak about the situation at the border and not about other Belarusian problems?

- I'm not a political scientist and, fortunately, not a politician. That's why what I said was the result of serious research conducted by our newspaper - in particular, by the department of big data research led by well-known physicist and founder of "Dissernet" Andrei Zayakin. The department has counted in detail how many people were brought to Belarus last year and how many this year. And the figures showed with fierce certainty that all this is a pre-planned operation of the Belarusian regime, a provocation with the help of these people, most of whom were brought by deception.

- But it all started as a big business with super-profits.

- It would be too long to explain. Don't forget the timing of the Nobel speech and the number of important topics that had to be covered. Now, when there are official lies, Russian and Belarusian - "these poor unfortunate people, and we have nothing to do with it" - I tried to show that this is another kind of hybrid warfare in the center of Europe, when people are deceived in order to create a political crisis on the borders of the European Union and show: here they are, in Europe, the cruel creatures.

It may well have been possible to say something else - about Akrestsina, for example, or about the verdicts - but both we and the European newspapers have written about it a great deal and continue to do so. Believe me, my European colleagues and I, and the whole of Europe, can't stand to think that people who have not broken any laws, but have only broken the peace of a dictator, are given such enormous sentences, are jailed and driven out of the country. But my editorial colleagues and I consulted and decided to choose the situation on the border, an episode that shows the hypocrisy of a man who is ready to bring the whole of Europe to the brink of war at any moment for the sake of his power.

- What would you like to wish the Belarusian people on New Year's Eve?

- Once, when Novaya Gazeta was just starting out - maybe twenty years ago - a colleague of mine, a wonderful TV presenter and very smart and beautiful person, Sveta Sorokina, gave me a genius picture for my birthday. It's raining, and there is a big elephant standing in the rain. A bird sits on the elephant's back and holds a small umbrella over it. The elephant is all wet, but the bird is stubbornly holding the umbrella over him. Sveta signed this drawing as "There is no futile effort." And this is exactly the phrase I would like to say to the Belarusians.

Iryna Khalip, "Novaya Gazeta" correspondent - specially for Charter97.org