Visby: ‘Translating Literature the Regime Suppresses’Ahead of Sunday’s (February 7) International Day of Solidarity with Belarus, a new joint statement has arrived today (February 5) from the European Writers Council and the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations.
Sunday marks the sixth-month mark since the August 9 election in which longtime Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory, triggering enormous nationwide protests and security force actions, a political and humanitarian crisis that has swept many in the fields of writing and publishing into harm’s way.
As opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya issued her call for the Day of Solidarity from her self-imposed exile in Lithuania, our readers will recall, the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s publishers and booksellers association, released a new demand for a cessation of state hostilities “on criticism being voiced by the cultural and book sectors.”
And today’s joint statements by the Europe-wide associations of writers and translators comes from the leadership of 46 authors’ organizations and 35 translators’ association from 34 nations: A total 170,000 literary workers are calling on the culture ministers of Europe to take “decisive action” against Lukashenko and how he has—per today’s statement—declared war on writers, translators, bloggers and the entire independent cultural sector.”
Citing statistics provided by PEN Centre Belarus, the joint statement says, “593 writers, translators, publishers, booksellers, and also musicians, bloggers, performers, and other cultural workers, have become victims of human rights violations and attacks on cultural rights since the rigged elections in August 2020.”
You can read, in English, PEN Centre Belarus’ 17th weekly update, the latest, since the organization began tracking the cultural resistance. The incidents tumble over each other, painting not only a picture of the brutality of Lukashenko’s regime but also of its campaign of nitpicking, running down any use of red and white—the colors of the Belarusian resistance—not only in flags but also in balloons and chrysanthemums.
Morten Visby, president of the translators’ council, writes, “Most recently, translator Volha Kalackaja, a translator of Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, and Tennessee Williams, was arrested on January 15.
“The state authorities accuse Kalackaja of organizing actions against public order, but she’s clearly being targeted because, as a translator, she’s part of an independent cultural sector in Belarus, which has helped keep cultural horizons open by translating great literature—and which the regime suppresses.
“Along with the European Writers Council, the European Council of Translators’ Associations demands her immediate release.”
George: ‘Among the Main Target Groups’
In her messaging to the European Writers Council, that organization’s president Nina George, asks each member to take two of these three steps for the Day of Solidarity:
- “Forward the attached statement to your minister of culture as soon as possible
“Or translate it and submit it to the ministry of culture next week
- “And disseminate the statement on your social media accounts from today on, together with hashtags #freewordsBelarus #standwithBelarus #justice4Belarus“
In her statement issued jointly with Visby’s, George writes, “Writers and translators are, together with performers and musicians, among the three main target groups of the violations.
“They are intercepted by the Lukashenko regime’s militias, intimidated and imprisoned, because they’re in the front row of defending freedom of speech and civil rights, by reading poems, by singing and performing at peaceful protests.”
Reflecting examples of recent police action cited in the Börsenverein’s statement Thursday, she writes, “Non-state-controlled publishers are falsely accused of tax evasion, as in the cases of Hienadź Viniarski (Knihazbor Publishing House) and Andrej Januškievič (Januskievic Publishing House). And independent booksellers including Alies Jaudacha have been detained.”
Viniarski’s and Januškievič’s equipment and their new publications have been confiscated,” George says, including Viktor Martinowich’s latest novel Revolution. We’re deeply concerned also about the authors of our European Writers Council member-association, the Union of Belarusian Writers.”
Joint Call to Action: ‘Urgent Diplomatic Steps’
In today’s messaging, signed jointly by Visby and George, the two organizations write:
“The European Writers’ Council and the European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations demand urgent diplomatic steps required to end the violence and repression against writers, translators, and the independent cultural scene in Belarus.
“The European Union can no longer stand by and watch these strategies to silence the free word: This calls for solidarity on the part of all ministers of culture.
“We request from the ministers of culture of the EU member states strong intervention and protest in a common statement on the ongoing violence and repression in Belarus.
“We appeal to the ministers of culture of all European Union member-states to press the illegitimate Lukashenko regime to release its political prisoners immediately.”
The European Writers Council’s members are in the EU’s member states as well as in Iceland, Norway, Belarus, Switzerland, Turkey, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom. Its 160,000 writers work in 31 languages.
The European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations represents 10,000 translators in 29 nations.
More from Publishing Perspectives on freedom of expression is here and more from us on the freedom to publish is here. More of our coverage of the situation in Belarus is here, more on the European Writers Council is here, and more on translation is here.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.