19 November 2018, Monday, 21:50
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Natallia Radzina: We See How Hard People Need Us

Natallia Radzina

International French Radio informed about the 20th anniversary of website "Charter'97".

"Charter'97" celebrates its 20th anniversary. Now the opposition news resource works in exile; its chief editor Natallia Radzina escaped from Belarus in 2011, though she had signed recognizance not to leave, International French Radio informs.

Natallia Radzina joined "Charter'97" as a student in 2001. After the Square-2010 she was arrested, spent a month and a half in the KGB prison, was released under recognizance not to leave and instead of going to the interrogation she left for Europe transiting Russia. First, she went to Vilnius; now she lives and works in Warsaw.

"Charter'97" is often blamed for an excessive radicalization. The editorial office shows its strict opposition orientation, but even its opponents admit that the website is one of the most popular resource among Belarusians. On Janyary 24, 2018 the Ministry of Information blocked the access to "Charter'97" within the country.

In her interview Natallia Radzina says that creators of "Charter'97" believed in popularity of the Internet-resource, but did not intend to spend two decades underground.

- I was convinced that "Charter" would be popular. Of course, I hoped the Charter would develop in free Belarus, but our fight has stretched well into 20 years. We are still on the march and keep doing our work. We know that Belarusians need independent, unbiased information. No matter what hardships we face, we will keep working hard. They say, if not us, who?

- How did the blocking influence the website?

- Before the blocking, this January, our website traffic equaled to 2.5 million unique visitors per month. We had around 45 million views of articles per month. Several months prior to the blocking we were read by 4 million unique visitors from Belarus - that is, almost a half of the population of the country. Of course, after the blocking the number of visitors reduced. But now we have managed to restore a half of our audience. Belarusians actively use ways to bypass the blocking. We know that people need information the Charter provides. They like the website and can take every action to read our articles. As a result, by now we have more than 100 thousand unique visitors every day, more than a million per month and more than 20 million views of our articles per month. We remain the leading position among independent Belarusian websites.

- You have recently informed about threats directed against you.

- I also received them in Belarus. But then they were implemented: I was in the KGB prison where I was tortured. Then I was threatened when I managed to run from Belarus to Lithuania, and later to Warsaw. Then they subsided for a while. Now it has started again. I guess I should take them seriously, because we can see what, for example, Russian special services do abroad.

Several days ago in Warsaw I participated in the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. Representatives of opposition in Tadjikistan told that the authorities sent death squads in Europe and they killed political opponents abroad. That is, it's a tendency: dictatorial regimes neutralize their opponents both within and out of the country. Modern technologies make the communication easier, and the authorities are afraid of it and do their best to prevent it. EU countries should realize this and use reasonable efforts to defend people on their territory and to keep working upon democracy development in their own countries.

- In early September you announced problems around "Charter'97", about shifts in the European policy line towards non-governmental media in Belarus, and asked your readers for help.

- Today independent media and civil organizations of Belarus suffer great challenges. Media and human rights organisations constantly lose support. Today we can barely find an independent organization in the country, which has no financial difficulties. It is also true about independent websites and newspapers. "Charter-97" is not an exception. Despite of our long-term work and success among other independent websites on the Belarusian information space we also suffer these problems.

Many funds which announce their support of democracy in Belarus deny aid for weak reasons. I see here some tendency. After all, we can observe networking between European officials and Lukashenka's regime. Now it seems that heads of these funds do not want to annoy the dictator with their assistance rendered to opposition, independent organization, such as "Charter" or other Belarusian independent organizations. I'd like to say that such a tendency is observed on the entire post-Soviet territory.

Russian Novaya Gazeta also informs about financial difficulties. Crimean Tatar ATR TV channel suffers great problems. It is almost the one which tries to broadcast on the occupied Crimean territory. At the OSCE Meeting I talked to Armenian representatives and journalists. They also inform about problems with financing. Civil rights defender from Azerbaijan Emin Guseinov told me that over the past five years the aid to independent media of Azerbaijan had decreased tenfold. I heard the same from representatives from Kazakhstan. The situation is really severe and it will bear disastrous consequences.

It should be discussed openly. European officials should be asked: "What is going on?" We permanently hear highlight declarations of European politicians that Putin's propaganda is being opposed. We know that much money is allocated for it. But what is it spent on? Why do media which really oppose and bear losses - many journalists die or suffer great challenges - find themselves on the verge of the shut-down?

- Did the address to readers make any sense?

- Yes, of course. We realize how much people need us. Our readers started to transfer money. It is clear they are not capable of transferring huge amounts, because now the country suffers severe economic crisis. But people do their best to help us. And we are really grateful for their assistance.

I also addressed to Belarusian businessmen who are also in an unenviable condition now. We can see that Lukashenka uses every effort in conditions of the economic crisis to find means. He puts businessmen behind bars. It is always like this, when the power needs money. According to testimony of political prisoners, the major part of prisoners are businessmen. I also asked other independent media for help, I hope they will hear me. It's a chance for them to restore respect and to make a difference in the country. Belarusians are the ones who can help themselves, their independent organizations and, thus, to change the situation for the better.

- Natallia, you're working in exile: there are people, not only your opponents, who believe that the resource has estranged itself from the real situation in Belarus, it makes its way strictly to barricade journalism. What could you say?

- Website traffic, its popularity within the country is indicative. We give a reasonable estimation of the situation in the country, tell the truth about events in Belarus. Moreover, there are correspondents of "Charter" who work under cover in Belarus. They cannot be named, otherwise, they will be repressed. Key advantages of working abroad: we are not subject to censorship, we have no self-censorship. Self-censorship reaches its top in Belarus now. I'm not going to blame anyone, I perfectly know how it's hard to work within the country. But it's a fact. Many independent media hush up information. But "Charter" can do it.

I often have requests of Belarusian journalists to publish their materials which were rejected by public media because of fear being shut down. In addition, I'd like to remind about one more essential issue. We have long stated that independent media of Belarus cooperate with KGB handlers who directly censor media. Chief editors of Belarusian independent media told me that in 2012, of course, out of public viewю But today this information is confirmed by former chief editor of Euroradio Vitaly Zyblyuk; he shared it with The Washington Post. This is the very moment that needs to be discussed; it shows the level of freedom of independent journalism in Belarus.

- Do you think that the thaw, everyone talked about after lifting sanctions, is over after the latest events around the Belarusian media - searches, BelTA case, weekly levied fines on freelancers and employees of non-accredited editions and TV channels?

- Well, I don't think there was a thaw in Belarus. For a while the authorities substituted arrests with fines. Now the political will of people is depressed, and the regime remaings tough. In Belarus the number of law enforcement officers per 100.000 inhabitants has increased sevenfold by now as compared with the USSR. This is a police state which tries to control everything and everyone. Needless to say, the thaw exists in Belarus. All elections are still fraud. Now we should deliver a wise evaluation of the situation in the country and work upon making a difference without any illusions.

It will be recalled that on September 3 editor-in-chief of Charter-97 Natallia Radzina announced the threat to informational resource cause by drastic reduction in financing and called readers for solidarity. Ways to support the website:

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