The European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations (CEATL), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the European Writers Council (EWC) call on the governments of Europe and the international community to demonstrate firm support for the democracy movement in Belarus and to provide refuge and humanitarian assistance to those fleeing the country.

Brussels, 6 August 2021   One Year after the rigged elections in Belarus, the country is being overrun with a radical crackdown on free speech and humanitarian organizations by the dictatorial Lukashenko regime. More than 1,500 organizations have been targeted by the “radical cleansing”, 41 are already on trial for state-ordered dissolution, including the writers’ organization PEN Belarus and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). The chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers, poet Barys Piatrovich, is under house arrest and communication ban.

Since Lukashenko’s rigged re-election on 9 August 2020, over 40,000 people have been arrested in Belarus, including over 500 media workers, 1,200 cultural workers – writers, translators, musicians, actors – and human rights activists, as the immersive 2021 Report by the Belarusian PEN Centre shows.  “It’s a radical crackdown against the free press”, says EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregård. “In recent weeks, the newsrooms of 70 media outlets have been raided, 28 journalists and media workers arrested and 50 websites blocked. EFJ Member, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), is to be liquidated; the court case will start on 11 August. Arrested journalists, bloggers and editors have had to serve prison sentences and are being abused in prison. The situation of press freedom in Belarus is worse than it has been since independence in 1991.”

State-owned printing houses refuse to print independent newspapers. In May, dictator Lukashenko passed an amendment to the law on the mass media, which allows the authorities far-reaching interference with regard to freedom of information. It is forbidden to accompany demonstrations with live streams. Anyone carrying a mobile phone risks being named as an active organizer of the demonstration. Belarusian authorities have characterized anti-government protesters as “criminals” and “violent revolutionaries backed by the West”, and described the actions of their law enforcement agencies as “appropriate and necessary”, to “fight terrorism”.

More than 1,500 organizations and individuals have been targeted by this “radical cleansing” of the Belarusian regime, more than 50 are on trial for state-ordered dissolution, including the writers’ organization PEN Belarus, which will face charges from the Minister of Justice on 9 August. On 13 July, the office of the EWC member, the Union of Belarusian Writers, was also raided, and the chairman of the independent association, poet Barys Piatrovich, received house arrest and a communication ban, his technical equipment was confiscated.

“As PEN Belarus reported, the literary scene is being targeted in a particularly perfidious and arbitrary manner”, adds Shaun Whiteside, President of CEATL. “The news reaching us daily from Belarus becomes more dreadful by the day. The attacks on freedom of speech by the Belarusian government, especially as they affect writers, journalists and translators, is utterly intolerable, in Europe or anywhere else.” As the PEN Belarus Report says, pensioners who read books by Nil S. Hilevich, Yakub Kolas, Uladzimir Karatkievich on the train were accused of taking part in an “unauthorized protest action” because they read “opposition books”. Authors and translators critical of the regime are unerringly discredited on state television and their works sorted out in state bookshops. Customs inspect books sent abroad or from abroad, and confiscate works classified as “extremist”, including the novel “Revolution” by Victor Martinovich. Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich is probably one of the most censored writers: it is now forbidden to mention her in school literature classe.

We are witnessing a hateful state power that resorts to all means to slaughter the democracy movement and the freedom of speech,” says Nina George, President of EWC. “There are public calls on Belarusian state television to hang opposition members. Recently, the head of the Belarusian House in Kyiv, Vitaly Shishov, was found hanged in a park; he mainly helped fleeing Belarusians to find protection and stability in Ukraine. Our colleagues who are on the run ask us to call on European governments on their behalf to actively support the people of Belarus. After a year in which neither sanctions took effect nor the culture ministers of the EU and EEA were at least able to agree on a common stance in favour of the press and cultural workers of Belarus, it is time for Europe to actively defend the values of democracy – by supporting those who are suffering under Lukashenko’s violence.”

The European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations (CEATL), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the European Writers’ Council (EWC) call for solidarity on the part of all Ministers of Culture and Foreign Offices.

We request not only a clear protest in a common statement to the ongoing violence and repression in Belarus and to press the illegitimate Lukashenko’s regime to release political prisoners immediately. Furthermore, we demand extended and accelerated humanitarian and/or Schengen visas for fleeing Belarusians, especially, but not limited to, persecuted media and cultural workers, as well as financial and political support for those NGOs in neighbouring countries that intercept and support the fleeing Belarusians.

We also call on our colleagues in the press and the book sector to give a voice to those who are denied it in Belarus. Do not stop reporting on Belarus, print “banned books”, advocate for local scholarships and residencies. Because our commitment to democratic and human rights proves to those in Belarus who are fighting for their democracy that their resistance and immeasurable suffering is worthwhile. 

Mogens Blicher Bjerregård  – President of EFJ
Shaun Whiteside – President of CEATL                   
Nina George  –  President of EWC

**

The European Council of Literary Translators’ Associations (CEATL) is the federation of 35 member associations from 29 countries, representing 10,000 individual translators.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is the largest organization of journalists in Europe, representing over 320,000 journalists in 72 organizations across 45 countries.

The European Writers’ Council (EWC) is the federation of 46 national organizations of writers and translators in 31 countries, representing 160,000 writers and translators.

Overview on selected reports:

16 July 2021 Publishing Perspectives (International)

European Writers Council and PEN America Slam Belarus Raids

The European Writers Council and a consortium of agencies working with PEN America blast the Lukashenko regime for its ‘targeted and concerted attack’ on cultural and rights organizations in Belarus. To the article

16 July 2021 Börsenblatt des Deutschen Buchhandels (Germany)

Wave of repression against writers’ associations

The European Writers Council condemns the Lukashenko regime’s attacks on its member, the Union of Belarusian Writers, as well as on the writers’ organisation PEN Belarus in Minsk. To the article

16 July 2021 Nyheter (Norway)

Writers’ organizations raided

Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus has recently raided the premises of several Belarusian writers’ organizations. The leader of the writers’ organization The Union of Belarusian Writers, Barys Piatrovich, has had his freedom of movement restricted, among other things through a refusal to travel abroad. The European Writers’ Council (EWC) condemns the incidents. The leader of the Norwegian Writers’ Union, Eystein Hanssen, who also sits on the board of the EWC, is deeply concerned about the serious development in Belarus. The Writers’ Association writes in a press release.
“The Writers’ Union condemns dictator Lukashenko’s repression of our fellow writers, journalists and human rights defenders in Belarus. He tries with violence and restrictions to gag all forms of free thought and criticism in Belarus. The authorities in other European countries must react sharply to how the authorities in Belarus persecute critics and the opposition in the country, says the Chair of the Authors’ Association, Eystein Hanssen, about the serious development in Belarus. Hanssen also sits on the board of EWC, the European Writers’ Council.” To the article   To the Solidarity Address

16 July 2021 Actualitté (France)

Belarus: Police raid authors’ associations’ offices

The already difficult situation of freedom of expression is becoming dramatic in Belarus: several authors’ associations, including the Belarusian Writers’ Union and the local branch of PEN, were raided on 14 July. Documents and materials were seized and some members were banned from leaving the country. To the article

July 20 2021, Strade (Italy)

SOLIDARITY WITH BELARUSIAN AUTHORS

Strade expresses its full solidarity with Belarusian writers for the serious attacks on freedom of expression and the escalation of violence carried out by the Lukašėnka government and the security forces. On 14 July, the offices of the Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW) and PEN Belarus, together with some 20 non-governmental organisations, were violently attacked by the security forces.  To the Solidarity Address

July 21 2021 CEATL – European Federation of Literary Translators Association
July 22 2021 Publishing Perspectives (International)

Lukashenko Regime To Close PEN Belarus in Minsk

“In the last 11 days, 63 offices and flats of journalists have been stormed, as well as 51 offices and private apartments of chairs of cultural associations, human rights organizations, and writers’ unions, such as the EWC member UBW and its president, the poet Barys Piatrovich. Soon it will be the anniversary of the rigged elections, and Europe is still making Sunday speeches. Our colleagues are on the run, and Belarus is experiencing a drying-up of culture, intellectuals, scienctists, who are leaving their beloved country, terrified. If international politics continues to hold back so helplessly, it’s up to the book community to carry on the voices of Belarus. Publish Belarusian authors. Demand exile residences in your cities. Let them have their say in the free media. Award scholarships. A democracy is not destroyed overnight. Those who now keep quiet about Belarus are belittling the freedom of the word.”  To the article

23 July 2021 The Society of Authors (UK)

SoA condemns raid on Union of Belarusian Writers #StandWithBelarus

We strongly condemn the raid this month on the offices of our sister union in Belarus. The Union of Belarusian Writers’ (UBW) offices in Minsk was raided by government officials on 14 July.

According to reports from the European Writers’ Council, the Combating Organised Crime and Corruption Directorate of the Belarusian Ministry of the Interior last week conducted what it calls a nationwide ‘radical cleansing’ operation against independent groups of writers, journalists, cultural workers, and human rights organisations, including the UBW and PEN Belarus.

We have written to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP to call on the UK Government to apply further diplomatic pressure on Belarus to end violence and repression across the country.   To the Open Letter

23 July 2021, German Writers Union VS together with PEN Germany

Freedom of speech, of opinion and of criticism are not at the disposal of politics, but its foundation.

The VS and the German PEN Centre, together with the European umbrella organisation for writers, the European Writers’ Council (EWC), firmly stand by the UBW and PEN Belarus and its members and representatives. Both organisations strongly condemn the actions of the Belarusian government and call on Germany and the EU to take steps to protect Belarusian writers and journalists and to proceed with sanctions against the dictatorial Lukashenko government.  To the press release

23 July 2021, Delo (Slovenia)

The Lukashenko regime will close the Belarusian Pen Center

From January to June, 621 violations of the rights of the cultural sector were listed in the Belarusian Pen Center, 39 of whom are political prisoners.
Nina George, President of the European Writers ‘Council, said in a statement supporting the persecuted writers’ colleagues that the Belarusian KGB had broken into and searched 63 offices and apartments of journalists and 51 offices and apartments of cultural leaders in the last eleven days. human rights organizations, opposition groups and writers ’associations, several activists were arrested. To the article

23 July 2021, Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany)

“It will hurt”

For weeks now, literature and journalism in Belarus have been dealt a heavy, if unsurprising, blow. What dictatorship is interested in the free word? (…) The chairman of the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, Barys Piatrovich, is not allowed to leave the country, is banned from communicating and lives under house arrest. To the article

28 July 2021 Aftenposten (Norway)

Belarus tightens: It is a battle of life and death

Search of offices and homes. Extensive arrests. Belarusian authorities attack civil society. The EWC demands that European politicians take responsibility. –
“After talking to writers on the run, I see that the most important thing now is to give visas to those who need it. Let them study and work in the EU and EEA. And let them share their experiences and opinions in the free press. Lukashenko would hate that, says Nina George, EWC President. 
To the article

Background and history