#FreeAllWords Now Has 71 Translators from 24 Nations

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Bialiatski and more: The #FreeAllWords initiative, new this year, focuses on translating the work of Ukrainian and Belarusian writers.

In Minsk, December 3, 2019. The election that Lukashenko nullified followed on August 9, 2020. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Vera Aksionava

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

Bialiatski: ‘Minsk on an August Night’
A new development this year, the #FreeAllWords initiative is led by the European Writers’ Council as “a European support project by authors for authors.”

As we wrote in July in introducing the effort, the program is a “fee and translation fund” geared to support the voices of writers “who are condemned to silence” in “countries under pressure.” In updating the progress this fledgling effort has made near year’s end, we learn that the program now has 71 translators from 24 nations registered with it, all of them experienced in translating from Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian.

The program reported during Frankfurter Buchmesse that the first texts and translations by up to 30 authors from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia are to be published in as many as 31 countries in the coming months.

And as it turns out, #FreeAllWords achieved a demonstration this autumn of what it’s doing, when it was announced that Belarusian political prisoner and writer Ales Bialiatski had been named a Nobel laureate, along with the beleaguered Russian human-rights organization Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties.

As you may know, Bialiatski’s wife Natalia Pinchuk reported on December 8 that Bialiatski was being prevented by the Lukashenko regime from sending his Nobel acceptance speech to Oslo. Yuras Karmanau reported for the Associated Press from Tallinn that Pinchuk would give a talk in her husband’s stead at the Nobel ceremony. Jay Nordlinger, writing for The National Review, has noted that Yelena Bonner did the same in 1975, speaking for her Nobel-winning husband Andrei Sakharov.

Bialiatski is the founder of the Belarusian Viasna Human Rights Center, and has been imprisoned by Minsk for a second time, on accusations of smuggling, contraband, and financing protests.

In updating the progress that #FreeAllWords is making, we’ve learned that translators associated with the initiative have produced excerpts from Bialiatski’s 2014 prison diary, “The Brown Notebook,” and other writings into English, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Finnish, French, Spanish, and Danish.

In them, Bialiatski describes his experiences during his first stay in prison, which spanned from 2011 to 2014.

The English translation by Jim Dingley is available on the #FreeAllWords site. In it, you can read, in part:

“I thought that maybe it’s just another routine search.

Ales Bialiatski

“A little bloke stops me on the Round Square. He shows me his ID, his hands are trembling. There’s a whole team waiting in the yard. They show me the warrant for my arrest.

“We go upstairs. They conduct their search. They find the petty cash, I hand over my lanyard with a flash drive.

“There are two guys in black ski masks and all the rest of their riot gear, and a cop in civvies (his jeans are torn) filming. He threatens Adam. They take some papers, the petty cash, a notebook that belongs to Adam’s girlfriend, and a hard drive from the loo.

“Then there was an odd search in Viasna. They seized the TV, the Xerox and the fax machine in our apartment. They took a few sheets of paper, but left the old notebooks that were lying inside the sofa.

“I’m driven off to the KGB ‘office’ (HQ). First interrogation. I refuse to make a statement. I am taken off to ‘sleep’ in Kolas Lane. I’m driven there in an unmarked car. Minsk on an August night.”

The German-language edition translated by Lydia Nagel is expected to be out before December 25.

George: ‘A Reminder Not To Look Away’

Speaking about the project and Bialiatski’s plight, author Nina George, president of the European Writers’ Council, says, “In Belarus, a dictator has been attacking his own people with terror and violence for years now.

Nina George

“Ales Bialiatski’s diary excerpts document fear, anger, hope, and pain, and should be a reminder to us not to look away, and not to forget the people and the attacked culture in Belarus.”

#FreeAllWords has a project goal of publishing 1 million words on its site “for peace and freedom of expression, for understanding between cultures and nations, and as a key contribution in persuading people for a free, democratic, peaceful and inclusive society.”

Authors’ and translators’ fees are paid from the project’s fund, making it possible for writers who are under political pressure to be read in “short, topical, existing as well as original texts, as well as interviews, reports, essays, poems, and other literary forms,” the works brought by translators into European and other international languages.

Foundations so far involved in supporting this work include:

  • Fritt Ord, Norway
  • Kopinor, Norway
  • Landis&Gyr, Switzerland
  • Karl und Sophie Bindung Stiftung, Switzerland

Other supporters are the Irish Writers’ Union, the Society of Swedish Authors in Finland, the Lithuanian Writers Union, and the Swedish Writers Union.

Writers’ associations in the European book sector and literature institutions are welcome to request texts, to bring the work of these authors to public attention. The European press and media can also register for texts and translations. Literary translators from the language regions of Ukraine and Belarus are also invited to register. The site has an FAQ on the program for more information.

Minsk, December 10, 2017. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Karp


More from Publishing Perspectives on the impact on publishing of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine is here, more on the crisis in Belarus is here, more on the European Writers’ Council is here, more on translation and translators is here, and more from us on freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is here.

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.com, 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.