First, they attack dissident politicians, move on to the activists and journalists, and then they come around to media developers, people who’ve devoted their careers to supporting the independent voices, rarely even showcasing themselves.
That’s where Belarusian authoritarian regime is now.
Yesterday, on Dec. 22, Yulia Slutskaya, a renowned media manager, head of Press Club Belarus, and her colleagues were arrested in Minsk. The office of the Press Club, a long-lasting media development organization, has been searched as have the private apartments of the senior team members. Yulia was arrested at the airport where she arrived from her vacation with her family. According to Belarusian news reports, her lawyer was pushed out from her apartment during the search by some random guy in civilian clothes.
I think it is safe to say that the Belarusian regime is coming to its end, even though it’s a slow death. The question remaining is who else will it hurt on the way and what we, the world media community, can do about it.
Yulia and her team have invested a lot in the bright future of the Belarusian media, ensuring that they exist and grow even in the given circumstances.
Just over a year ago I had the pleasure to participate in the international media event in Minsk (“Media Literacy Solutions”) co-organized by Yulia and her team. The three-day event brought together media managers, editors, journalists and media developers from around the world. All of this in the attempt to give a push to a civil society and create a vision for a new Belarus.
Back in 2015 Yulia and her team helped me organize an international media exchange between post-revolutionary Ukraine and Belarus, arranging partnerships with local newsrooms, helping Ukrainian reporters get reporting permits and cover Belarusian elections.
The Press Club team was on the phone with us all the time, smoothing over every encounter with the police and ready to take a hit just in order to open that door to Belarus a little bit wider. It was an extraordinarily courageous thing to do.
If you think about it, their peaceful revolution has been going on for years even before the unrest started in August 2020. It just proceeded at a different pace.
More from The Fix: Help needed: what can be done to support Belarusian media
It is now the second half of December and our Belarusian colleagues have never stopped fighting. We just stopped looking at the fight.
It was simply easier to turn away, get distracted by the US elections, the global pandemic and climate change (all worthy distractions, but nonetheless).
The same happened with the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine (before the killings started) and this is understandable. Some warnings issued, some sanctions imposed, what else can we do?
Well, we are journalists after all. So the least we can do is to never stop talking about how Belarusian authorities are treating their people – highlight the horrifying numbers of journalists and activists arrested, beaten up or killed, tell their stories, support the fight of those who fled the country (yeah, support – not condemn!), and coordinate with each other to figure out the best way to help.
It might sound like I am the most active one blaming everyone for what’s happening, but I am not. I am just as everybody else – sad, angry and lost.
It’s not too late to start.
I’ve already talked to Belarusian colleagues to see what help is needed and here are our findings. Do let me know if we can join our efforts.
More from The Fix: Three months of tragedy: An overview of the Belarusian media landscape