Belarus Crisis: IPA and Publishers Federation Join With the European Writers’ Council

In News by Porter Anderson

With the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich declining to testify before the State Investigative Committee, the Union of Belarusian Writers asks for international support.

On Prospekt Nezavisimosti, Independence Avenue, in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the State Security Committee complex. Image – iStockphoto; Viktoria Ruban

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Alexievich: ‘We Need the World to Help’
The International Publishers Association (IPA) and the Federation of European Publishers this morning (August 26) have joined the European Writers’ Council in a joint statement calling “on Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko to cease his brutal campaign of violence and intimidation against peaceful protests.”

An entry point to the humanitarian community’s crisis for the IPA and the federation is today’s interrogation of Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015.

As Reuters’ Peter Graff is reporting this morning—his report is carried here by The New York Times—Alexievich has called on Moscow to prevail on Minsk to negotiate with protesters flooding the streets daily for two weeks to object to what they say is Lukashenko’s August 9 election fraud.

“Now Lukashenko speaks only to Putin,” Alexievich is reported to have said to reporters outside the Investigative Committee facility where she appeared for questioning. “We need him to speak to the people. Maybe the world can help us, so that Lukashenko will negotiate with somebody. We need the world to help, and maybe Russia.”

Alexievich told the press that she had declined to testify, invoking her right not to testify against herself. She is a member of the opposition’s recently formed “coordination council,” which hopes to negotiate for a change of leadership after what they assert was a rigged election.

The Associated Press’ latest wire this morning reports the government detaining more than 50 people in various parts of the country. “The brutal suppression of peaceful rallies fueled public anger,” the AP report (without byline) has it, “helping swell the number of protesters, reaching an unprecedented peak of about 200,000 participants on two consecutive Sundays.

“The huge crowds forced the government to back off and allow the demonstrations to take place largely unhindered for the past two weeks.”

The Union of Belarusian Writers is a member-organization of the European Writers’ Council, and the council has steadily conveyed the Belarusian group’s announcements. On Tuesday (August 25), the Belarusian group wrote, in part, “The authorities are trying to maintain a propaganda divide in Belarusian society—as recently in Ukraine. By imposing and spreading false information, the authorities want to sow hostility among the participants in peaceful protests and, above all, to show external observers, primarily Russian ones, that Belarus currently needs to actively intervene in internal affairs, including domestic affairs, including [use of] the military.”

And here’s the Writers’ Council statement that the IPA and the Federation of European Publishers are backing today.

Nina George

The European Writers’ Council on Monday (August 24) condemned the Investigative Committee’s opening of a case against Alexievich.

The German author Nina George, president of the European Writers’ Council, wrote, “We condemn Lukashenko’s threatening gesture against the will for freedom and justice of the opposition willing to engage in dialogue, and call on him to drop the case against the Coordination Council and to release the arrested two members of the new body, Sergei Dilevsky and Olga Kovalkova.

“We support our EWC member, the Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW), in its efforts for democratic and free elections, and in its commitment to freedom of speech.”

The International and European Publishers’ Statement

From left, the International Publishers Association’s Hugo Setzer and Kristenn Einarsson, and the Federation of European Publishers’ Rudy Vanschoonbeek

The IPA and Federation of European Publishers’ statement today joins with the Writers’ Council in its statement.

Svetlana Alexievich. Image: Nobel Media AB, A. Mahmoud

The president of the Brussels-based Federation of European Publishers, Rudy Vanschoonbeek, says, “We call on all the international publishers of Svetlana Alexievich’s books to make their voices heard. We need you to raise international awareness of the horrific situation in Belarus and help bring about a diplomatic, peaceful end to this crisis.”

Mexico City-based publisher Hugo Setzer, president of the International Publishers Association, says, “We stand in solidarity with all those in Belarus who are using their freedom of expression to achieve change through peaceful, constructive dialogue.

“The repression we are seeing in Belarus is despicable and must stop.”

And Kristenn Einarsson, who chairs the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee—the producer of the Prix Voltaire—says, “There is a long history of repression of freedom of expression in Belarus.

“In 2014, the IPA awarded its Prix Voltaire—for bravery in upholding Freedom to Publish in the face of intimidation and harassment—to Belarusian publisher Ihar Lohvinau. After receiving the award, Lohvinau had his license to publish cancelled and was forced to publish in exile from Lithuania.”

The joint statement from the International Publishers Association and Federation of European Publishers can be seen here.

The mass protests underway in Belarus also are raising additional national and international alarm, of course, because of the presence of the coronavirus COVID-19. At this writing, the 4:28 a.m. ET update (0828 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center cites 79,727 cases of the contagion in the relatively small national population of 9.5 million. That’s a jump of almost 10,000 cases since our last report on Friday. The country’s death toll from the pathogen stands at 657.

More from Publishing Perspectives on freedom of expression is here and more from us on the freedom to publish is here

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.