By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
EWC: ‘Under Illegitimate Governance’Today (October 5), the European Writers’ Council (EWC) is notifying its membership that one of its national chapters—the Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW, Саюз беларускіх пісьменнікаў)—was “forcibly dissolved” on Friday (October 1) by the regime in Minsk of Alexander Lukashenko.
This, in the council’s records, means that more than 284 organizations and individual citizens in Belarus have been disbanded by the country’s high court, including—as Publishing Perspectives readers are aware—PEN Belarus and the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The writers’ union is said to be among the country’s oldest cultural organizations, founded in 1934.
The author Nina George, president of the European Writers’ Council, writes to the council’s membership of some 160,000, “It’s true that the illegitimate Lukashenka regime has already abused forced liquidation as a popular means of pressure to bend unpopular opinions and frighten people in the decades before.
“However, what we’ve witnessed since July 2021 is a strategic extermination mechanism against free speech, against democracy, against culture–and against the Belarusian nation.”
Reports from the Norwegian Writers’ Union (Den norske Forfattere Forening) tell of the now-disbanded union’s chair Barry Piatrovich and press secretary Tsikhan Charniakievich describing the three court hearings and other procedural hurdles required by Minsk to be “Kafkaesque.” For example, the union was charged with a failure to submit paperwork after that paperwork had been sealed in July raids and computer equipment seizures by the state.
It’s also reported that legal representation is hard to come by now for NGOs, non-governmental organizations, when they’re called into court because “a number of lawyers,” the council reports “have lost their attorneys’ licenses” after defending these organizations and associations.
Today’s message from the European Writers’ Council closes with a statement of support issued by George and her associates on the governing board:
“You can shut down the Union of Belarusian Writers but you can never shut down the writers themselves. We absolutely do not accept the decision of a court under illegitimate governance. For us, the UBW will live on, and we will work together with the writers and translators of Europe to make their voices heard.”
- Nina George, president, Germany
- Maïa Bensimon, vice-president, France
- Miguel Ángel Serrano, vice-president, Spain
- Myriam Diocaretz, secretary-general, the Netherlands
- Eystein Hanssen, board member, Norway
- Markku Loytönen, board member, Finland
News from Belarus
On Saturday (October 2), CNN released an exclusive interview with Lukashenko by the network’s Moscow-based senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. The video and write-up by Chance with Zahra Ullah is here. A transcript of the interview is here.
In the interview, that Kafkaesque quality referenced by advocacy organizations is unmistakable in many of Lukashenko’s responses to Chance’s questions about the state’s violent crackdown on protests of the August 2020 election. Lukashenko claims he won re-election, while much of the international community disagrees, as does the Belarusian opposition.
Chance has encounters on the streets of Minsk in which citizens dash away from him and his crew, unwilling to risk speaking critically of the government for fear of reprisals.
When Lukashenko is asked why his people are afraid to speak out about the situation, he tells Chance, “In Minsk, people know very well that your channel [CNN] is biased, and they simply didn’t want to talk to you about it, because they knew that you were going to distort anything they said anyway. So I’m sorry, but that is a fact. And the fact that the people of Minsk didn’t want to talk to you—look, that’s your problem. You are a journalist, a talented person, you should have got them to open up. You didn’t succeed. What’s that to do with me? That’s not my fault. If you asked for my help, I would have helped you. But you didn’t ask me for it.”
Reuters reported on September 28 that Lukashenko has called for “changes to the constitution that would prevent an opposition movement that rose up against him in mass street protests last year from taking power” according to reports from the state news agency Belta.
And the Associated Press Berlin on October 1 reported that the German government has called for “the ‘humane’ treatment of migrants at the European Union’s external border with Belarus … The 27-nation bloc has accused Belarus of helping the migrants in an effort to put pressure on the EU, which has placed sanctions” on the Lukashenko government.”
Outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel “said Friday that Lukashenko was ‘instrumentalizing refugees and migrants, and that is totally unacceptable.'”
In his CNN interview with Chance, Lukashenko responded to European charges of “weaponizing” migrants, he responded, “This is madness.”
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 international literary translation is here.
More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.