In response to the request for information on the situation in Belarus as regards authors’ revenues, the Union of Belarusian Writers can say right at the outset that no one in this country has ever examined this topic in detail. This is primarily due to the fact that Belarusian writers do not in practice receive any remuneration for their books or whatever they publish in literary journals or other publications.
A report by the Union of Belarusian Writers.
Minsk, 11 November 2020 ++ update: 6 September 2020
In the Republic of Belarus book publishing is carried out via state-owned and private institutions that both operate in the following way:
– The author pays for publishing a number of copies in advance and then hopes for a small percentage of the money that comes from sales;
– By way of payment the author receives a certain number of copies that he/she can sell or give as a gift.
The print run of books is usually small – 300-500 copies. Even if all copies are sold, the money obtained is insufficient to cover publishing and printing costs. Even a five-volume collection of the writings of Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich could be published only by means of crowdfunding, and the author received no remuneration.
Most periodical publications do not pay any fees to their contributors, although the law stipulates that payment should be made.
There are no significant financial rewards attached to any of the literary prizes that exist in modern Belarus. When it comes to Public Lending Right – it simply does not exist in Belarus in any form. Writers do not receive payment of any kind.
We should add that the main factor adversely impacting the situation in Belarus is the complete disarray in the kind of authors’ rights legislation that serves elsewhere as a tool to regulate relations between authors and publishers, and – where necessary – the state. Although the concept of authors’ rights does exist in Belarusian legislation, it does not actually function on a day-to-day basis. We can observe compliance with the existing laws in the fields of music, design and visual arts, but when it comes to literature, those laws exist de jure, but not de facto.
The second factor that affects the income of writers in Belarus is the existence of two different writers unions: a pro-regime one and an independent one (the Union of Belarusian Writers, a civic organisation).
The pro-regime one enjoys state support for all its activities, eg presentations, meetings with readers, unrestricted publishing and book distribution. On the other hand the independent union is subjected to pressure and restrictions. Its members are blacklisted by the government and hence are forbidden from any form of public activity, including presentations and readings in properties owned by the state (which owns most of them). Such meetings as can be held are not advertised by the state-run media, which have a monopoly over the spread of information. One more factor that affects bookselling and possible revenues from it is the monopoly of the state on the distribution of books. Books of independent writers do not get to appear on the shelves of the state book stores.
Public libraries in Belarus also form part of the unified state-run system, and do not add books of independent writers to their collections. A recent unpleasant instance involving books by Svetlana Alexievich demonstrates the workings of the library system. A private bank funded the publication of a number of her books that were to be given away free to Belarusian libraries. In the process of transferring the books, half of the libraries refused to accept them even though they were free of charge.
The UBW was created in 1934 and today has around 470 members, including the Nobel prize winner, Svetlana Alexievich. In 2002, the UBW was prevented from publishing periodicals it had previously distributed. All the editorial staff disloyal to the authorities were sacked. The organisation used to have its own building but, in 2006, it was forcibly removed, and its Writers’ House was given to a state writers’ union. The Ministry of Justice subsequently brought a case against the UBW to shut it down, which the UBW fortunately won.
All Belarusian authors are subject to state censorship. If an author’s name appears on a statesanctioned black- or greylist, it will very often not be published and it becomes virtually impossible to reach an audience, irrespective of whether the work is political. Some UBW members’ works have been withdrawn from school textbooks following determinations by the state about the authors’ political views. It remains possible to pay privately to have your works printed, but they will not be sold in bookshops, all of which are state-run. As a Belarusian author, you cannot give a reading on any state-owned property if your work is black- or greylisted, nor will you be able to work in a state-controlled job. The Belarusian language itself is supressed, with only 15% of students now taught it in school, and no universities teaching in the language. Even Svetlana Alexievich’s books have not been published by Belarusian state-owned publishing houses since 1993.
Minsk, 6 September 2020. Since September, there is a new attack against freedom of speech in Belarus. During the first actions of peaceful protests, the police and special troops used to hinder journalists’ work, but neither detained, nor arrested them during two weeks. However, when autumn began, the police started to detain and judge journalists and bloggers as usual protesters, accusing them of “the organization of mass riots”. Thus, the journalists of the Belarusian largest mass media (TUT.by, KP-Belarus, and BelaPAN) have been criminated. In addition to detentions, there is a wave of abolitions of foreign mass media correspondents’ accreditations. Foreigners, who want to write about Belarus, are not allowed to enter the country or being deported, which means they are banned for 5 years. Simultaneously, the authorities have blocked 70 news web-sites and forbidden the distribution of 4 large paper newspapers in order to deprive the population of receiving any truthful information.
The popular politician and prose writer Pavieḷ Sieviaryniec [Pavel Sevyarynets] and the blogger Siarhieï Cichanoŭski [Sergei Tikhanovsky] are still being detained. In all regions of Belarus, bloggers are being detained and judged.
In the nearest future, we are expecting the situation to worsen only. The accrual of protests will increase the number of cases of repressions against freedom of speech, censorship at radio and television, in large state-run mass media. The distance between state-run and non-state cultural sectors will be growing; it will be difficult for independent literati to find access to their readers and the general audience because all citizens, who are struggling for democracy now, will be prosecuted, repressed, and oppressed.
The authorities are narrowing freedom of speech and disseminating “post truth” that is being broadcast through official channels of the state-run mass-media, diplomats, and government officials. Unfortunately, false statements, mendacious evidence, inveracious figures and facts are becoming the regime’s usual practice.