Judge Ihar Milto of the Supreme Court in Minsk has decided on 1 October 2021 to shut down the independent Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW). Once again the illegitimate Lukashenka regime proves its willingness to violently suppress democracy and free speech.
Brussels, 04 October 2021 Our EWC member, the Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW) Саюз беларускіх пісьменнікаў, was forcibly dissolved on Friday. The independent association was founded in 1934 and is the oldest cultural organisation in Belarus. It was stripped of its legality – a process that UBW board members describe as “Kafkaesque”.
“We observe in real time the deterioration of a state into a fascist regime, in the direct neighbourhood of Europe”, says Nina George, President of the EWC. “It is true that the illegitimate Lukashenka regime has already abused forced liquidation as a popular means of pressure to bend unpopular opinions and frighten people in the decades before. However, what we have witnessed since July 2021 is a strategic extermination mechanism against free speech, against democracy, against culture – and against the Belarusian Nation.”
Over 284 organisations and individuals, out of 1500, against whom Lukashenka is directing his so-called “radical cleansing” have already been forcibly dissolved by the Supreme Court, among them the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and PEN Belarus. In the first half of 2021 alone, over 600 political prisoners were registered, spending an average of 4 years behind bars – sometimes for a Facebook post, a bumper sticker in the colors white-red-white, or for reading the recently banned literary classics on the train.
Barys Piatrovich, Chair of the Union of Belarusian Writers, and Tsikhan Charniakievich, UBW’s press secretary, describe the procedures against the UBW and the three court hearings as “Kafkaesque”, as the Norwegian Writers’ Union Den norske Forfatterforening reported. On 14 July, the offices of the UBW were stormed, the PC and archives raided and sealed. Subsequently, the Union was accused of not having been able to submit papers on time – the same papers that the State itself has put under lock and key. Since a number of lawyers have lost their attorney license after representing non-governmental organisations, or been imprisoned for defending human rights and cultural organisations, it is hardly possible anymore for persecuted associations to defend themselves against the state’s malevolence.
You can shut down the UBW, but you can never shut down the writers themselves. We absolutely do not accept the decision of a court under illegitimate governance. For us, the UBW will live on, and we will work together with the writers and translators of Europe to make their voices heard.
Nina George, President, Germany
Maïa Bensimon, Vice President, France
Miguel Ángel Serrano , Vice President, Spain
Myriam Diocaretz, Secretary-General , The Netherlands
Eystein Hanssen, Board Member, Norway
Markku Loytönen, Board Member, Finland
Overview on selected reports and statements:
Euronews, 12 January 2022
Autocrats vs the arts: Which European nations are cracking down on their cultural sectors?
13 October 2021: EWC Member The Society of Authors stands with the Union of Belarusian Writers.
“The independent Union of Belarusian Writers (UBW), the Society of Authors’ (SoA) Belarusian counterpart, was forcibly dissolved on Friday 1st October following a court order from the Minsk Supreme Court.
This is the latest instalment in a series of efforts by the Belarusian authorities to repress writers, translators, and the independent cultural scene in Belarus – see for example the appeal earlier this year to press the illegitimate Lukashenka’s regime to release the political prisoners.
#freewordsBelarus #standwithBelarus #justice4Belarus (7 February 2021)
SoA condemns the arrests of translators in Belarus (18 September 2020)
SoA condemns violence and repression in Belarus (1 September 2020)
This persecution is simply unacceptable in a democratic regime and is in direct violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, including free speech.”
5 October 2021: Publishing Perspectives – EWC: ‘Under Illegitimate Governance’ . From the feature by Porter Anderson, Editor in Chief. (…):
“On Saturday (October 2), CNN released an exclusive interview with Lukashenko by the network’s Moscow-based senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. The video and write-up by Chance with Zahra Ullah is here. A transcript of the interview is here. (…) In the interview, that Kafkaesque quality referenced by advocacy organizations is unmistakable in many of Lukashenko’s responses to Chance’s questions about the state’s violent crackdown on protests of the August 2020 election. Lukashenko claims he won re-election, while much of the international community disagrees, as does the Belarusian opposition.”
Today’s message from the European Writers’ Council closes with a statement of support issued by George and her associates on the governing board: “You can shut down the Union of Belarusian Writers but you can never shut down the writers themselves. We absolutely do not accept the decision of a court under illegitimate governance. For us, the UBW will live on, and we will work together with the writers and translators of Europe to make their voices heard.”
4 October 2021: The EWC member A*dS – Authors of Switzerland, declares its solidarity with Belarusian Writers: Solidarity of the A*dS with the authors from Belarus.
“The wind is rising – we must try to live”. This sentence by Paul Valéry is universal, but it is not appreciated everywhere. In Belarus, it is life-threatening to try to live if you are an author. Those in power persecute “political opponents”, artists and especially writers, solely because they are observers of the society in which they live. And what is writing but that: trying to understand how people manage to put one foot in front of the other.
In Belarus, this is a crime. Which means that people like you and me, people with the ordinary courage of an ordinary person, whose only fault is that they cannot look away and report what they see – that these people are in danger. Writers are persecuted, convicted, imprisoned, put to flight. (…)
The Association of Authors of Switzerland A*dS would like to publicly express its solidarity with them with these lines; some of them may be “political opponents”, as they are called in the media. But probably they are all just ordinary people who, like you and me, cannot help but keep their eyes open and soberly tell the small, everyday stories of people who, like you and me, like us and them, try to live with the dignity that an autocrat denies them. In addition, the A*dS calls on the Swiss authorities, as well as foundations and other organisations, to support and advocate for Belarusian authors: by appealing to the Belarusian authorities, providing residence permits, scholarships or residencies for authors on the run, or by facilitating printed or electronic publications of Belarusian literature – including translations – so that authors from Belarus can continue to write and Belarusian literature continues to find its readership.
2 October 2021: The Chair of the EWC Member the Norwegian Writers’ Association Den norske Forfatterforening:
“I am deeply appalled by the repeated attacks on freedom of speech in Belarus, and now the regime’s closure of the soon-to-be-centennial UBW, including Nobel Prize-winning Svetlana Aleksiyevich member, says Heidi Marie Kriznik, Chair of the Norwegian Writers’ Association Den norske Forfatterforening. From the Statement:
“The two remaining board members, Barys Piatrovich and Tsikhan Charniakievich, describe the court hearings as absurd and surreal, and also the courthouse – a huge new but empty building with interiors like from a palace, where a few guards walked around and where the association’s lawyer hour after hour was required documentation that could only be obtained in the offices closed by the regime. The Norwegian Writers’ Association has since 2018 had a friendly contact with the Belarusian Writers’ Association, and can be helpful in getting in touch with the chairman of the board of the Writers’ Association in Belarus. There is a massive monitoring that takes place in the country and communication by phone, e-mail and FB is avoided.”
1 October 2021: EWC member the Swedish Writers’ Union reacted on the news, that the Саюз беларускіх пісьменнікаў Union of Belarusian Writers is liquidated: “Judges I. Milto of the Supreme Court in Minsk has decided to liquidate the independent Belarusian Writers’ Union UBW – the oldest writers’ organisation in the country (…). The Swedish Writers’ Union condemns those in power in Belarus who seek to stifle free speech. We unreservedly support our fellow Belarusian writers and consider the ruling to be unlawful and ineffective. The fascist regime in Minsk lacks any legitimacy after the rigged presidential elections of 9 August 2020 and its subsequent wave of extremely brutal violence – a violence that continues to this day. The Board of the Swedish Writers’ Union has unanimously proposed to the highest decision-making body of writers and translators – the General Assembly – to elect UBW President Barys Pyatrovich as an Honorary Member of the Writers’ Union. The struggle for freedom of expression and human rights knows no national borders, the free word cannot be silenced!”
23 August 2021: In response to the news that the Belarusian Justice Ministry intends to liquidate the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, the European Writers Council (EWC) stands up high against the outrageous violation of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.
6 August 2021: 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.
Background and Media:
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
- Read more: https://europeanwriterscouncil.eu/freewordsbelarus/ and www.ceatl.eu/ceatl-condemns-the-unlawful-arrest-of-belarus-translators
- The #freewordsbelarus-EWC campaign: 36 Presidents, Chairs and board members of 33 writers’ and translators’ organisations from 22 countries representing 120,000 authors, joined voices to support the democracy movement in Belarus. On 26 November, the 90th birthday of the Belarusian writer Uladzimir Karatkievich, the video reading campaign #freewordsbelarus was launched on the EWC Daily-Motion-channel: europeanwriterscouncil
- Read the full monitoring: PEN BELARUS Report “With No Right To The Culture”
- Read the documentation Voices from Belarus, provided in August 2020 by the Union of Belarusian Writers: https://europeanwriterscouncil.eu/voices-from-belarus/
(content note: violence, torture).
- Fighting against the monster: To be a writer in Belarus. A report by Nina George, EWC President.