On February 19, the Rada of the Belarusian People’s Republic awarded Editor-in-Chief of the Charter97.org website Natallia Radzina with a medal. The ceremony took place in Warsaw, where the Charter works in exile. This year, 130 people will receive such medals. Who are these people and for what merits will they be rewarded? Member of the BPR Rada, deputy director of Belsat Aliaksei Dzikavitski explains:
“In our opinion, the BPR Rada has remained the only legitimate representative of the Belarusian authorities for the 91st year already. Because since then there have been no truly democratic elections in Belarus. This should be taken as a state award. If you even look at the list of people who will receive these awards, these are the most outstanding of the most outstanding, those people whom the modern government very often leaves in the shade. This way, we want to show that if the Lukashenka medals are won by people who often do not deserve it, then there still remains the BPR Rada, the body which remembers real patriots and those non-Belarusians who love Belarus. ”
Belsat TV channel has talked with Natallia Radzina.
- Natallia, what does this medal mean to you? Was it unexpected?
- This is a great honour as the Belarusian People’s Republic is our symbol of freedom and independence. In the actual fact, this is the state award, because the belarusian regime today is illegitimate. The BPR Rada have not transferred its powers to Lukashenka as it was done in Ukraine.
Although the award came unexpected, it was precisely at the right moment. Today, the Charter and the entire independent journalism in Belarus badly need solidarity, it was very important to receive such a high assessment.
- About solidarity. More and more renown politicians word support tot he website Charter97.org. I would let myself quote Co-Chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Pavel Seviarynets: “If there is no Charter, oit will not be BelTA which will come to replace it, but the Russian propaganda. They will destroy Charter’97 today, and tomorrow they will come for Nasha Niva, and it will be tut.by’s turn the day after tomorrow.” Do you agree with such an assessment, or do you think that Charter97.org is some special resource and the aim of the Belarusian authorities is to destroy only it?
- The aim of the Belarusian authorities is to destroy the independent word in Belarus. And they started with us when the Charter was blocked in Belarus last year. Of course, before that, they destroyed everything: television, radio, and independent newspapers. But another round of repression against independent media, even stronger tightening of screws began last year, with blocking of Charter97.org.
And then, when they noticed that there was no strong international reaction to this, that Western politicians continued to come to Belarus and develop relations with an illegitimate regime, they continued to pressure independent journalists. Constant arrests of employees of the TV channel Belsat, criminal cases against bloggers and journalists, the trial of the Editor-in-Chief of the portal tut.by, and the search for weapons at the places of residence of the activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus” are all a continuation of Lukashenka’s policy to destroy an independent society in Belarus.
Today, this causes particular concern, as Russia fully controls the information space of Belarus. When Lukashenka demolishes independent Belarusian media, he demolishes the sovereignty of Belarus.
All those who care about the future of Belarus need to turn to the West today and say: “Help Belarusian independent journalists, help independent democratic forces and civil society.” The situation remains very serious. And all these relations with dictator Lukashenka only worsen things.
- I would like to ask the following question. Your medal was awarded also for the contribution to journalism, for what you have done thoughout these years. That Natallia Radzina, who was 18 years old, was a student of the journalism faculty and worked in the newspaper “Imya”, and the legendary Chief Editor of the Charter’97 – you certainly have changed. The Charter has also changed for these years. In late 1990s, there was one mission, in 2006 and 2010 – another. Whjat is the mission of Charter’97 today? Why do people browse your website? Why do they read precisely your news?
- In fact, Charter’97 has always had just one mission. First of all, it is to tell the truth about what is happening in the country, to convey free information to Belarusians.
The time came when it became impossible to do it from Belarus and we had to flee. Let me remind you that Aleh Biabenin, the founder of our website, was murdered, our journalists were arrested, our editorial office was raided several times, I myself got into the KGB prison. We continued our work from Poland, because there was no other way out. How else? We could not hush down some things, say one thing, and keep quiet about the other. If speaking, then telling the whole truth. This is our mission.
We all dream of the free and independent Belarus. But we believe that we must not only dream, we must act. And we act.
- Charter’97 exists. You can like or dislike it. What is your audience today?
- The audience of the website Сharter97.org, despite the blocking of the site in Belarus, is 1.5 million people per month. Before the blocking, we had 2.5 - 3 million people per month. We also have about 30 million views monthly. This is a very large audience. The fact that people, bypassing the blocking, come to the site shows how much Belarusians need Charter“97. It is necessary to continue work by all means.
- You said that the website has difficulties with financing, that the Polish government has reduced financial assistance. True, the Polish side refuted this information partially, saying something else. Did the readers help you in this situation? What can you say about this?
- I will say that the TV channel “Belsat” was in a similar situation and thank God that now you are fine. I hope that the Polish government will understand how important free word in Belarus is today and that millions of Belarusians cannot be deprived of a source of independent information.
Our readers help us a lot. The last months we have been working only thanks to their help. Poland’s financial assistance ended in November.
For us the most important thing is to continue working. Therefore, we hope for journalistic solidarity and the solidarity of our readers.
- Natallia, the decrease of financing, the constant pressure, the blocking of the website in Belarus - what is it like for the journalists to work in such conditions? This seems very hard, psychologically, materially and morally.
- Yes, it is hard indeed. I have a fear that, without the support and solidarity of the West, they will start arresting the Charter'97 journalists, who are now working there in the underground. I will remind that half of the website's staff work from Poland, while the other half still works in Belarus, in the underground mode. Such policy and attitude may provoke arrests of the journalists. I will fight for them and say they are our journalists. As, these might be criminal cases not over some clearly political articles, the police could plant drugs, weapons, anything, on them. You know perfectly well how mean the current regime is,
and the pressure on the opposition today is put precisely in this way. Not directly, without mentioning politics, just so that the human rights defenders would say ''This is an ambigous story, we don't understand it.'' And the people go to jail for years. But they cannot intimidate us. We have gone through the murder of our colleague, through jails, tortures - but we continue our work. And we will continue working.
- Natallia, to sum up our conversation about Charter, the pressure on the journalism, as we are seeing the BelTA case, the arrests of journalists, summoning to the Investigatory Committee, endless fines to Belsat journalists - what do we expect, and how should we live further on?
- We must not wait, but fight. Today, we need to be in solidarity with each other. We are appealing to the Belarusian society: we must not let this regime destroy the last independent media in Belarus, it would bring catastrophic consequences for our country. The journalists should be together, remember about solidarity, and, when speaking with Western partners, politicians, deputies, ask help for everyone. Not for someone alone, like ''everyone is bad, except me, I'm good''. We should fight for each other.
- I hope we will be together, support each other no matter where we are: in Belarus or in Poland. It is important to keep solidarity, as this is the basis of our society, journalism, faith and hope for the better future.
Bank's name: Bank Millennium S.A. Address: ul. Stanislawa Zaryna, 2A, 02-593, Warszawa IBAN: PL 97 1160 2202 0000 0002 1671 1123 SWIFT: BIGBPLPW Name of the account holder: Fundacja “KARTA ‘97” Purpose/title of payment: Donation for statuary aims