Belarusian writer and Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, the first leader of independent Belarus Stanislau Shushkevich, former prisoner of conscience Ales Bialiatski wrote letters in support of Belsat TV. They want the channel to continue contributing to the development of democracy in Belarus.
Another two other former political prisoners – poet Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu and politician Mikalai Statkevich – expressed solidarity with the first independent Belarusian TV station. In 2010, the both contestants for the presidency were arrested shortly after the announcement of the victory of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Mikalai Statkevich spent 4.5 years in prison.
Politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Lukashenka’s rival in the 2006 presidential run, and Zhanna Litvina, a co-founder of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, also spoke out in letters of support and solidarity with Belsat TV.
Svetlana Alexievich, the holder of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, believes that the closing down of Belsat TV and Kastus Kalinouski scholarship program would leave the Belarusian opposition in the state of distress:
“We lack our own internal strength to fight, not to mention will-to-win spirit. The ‘purges’ conducted by the authorities from time to time have yielded their results. That’s why we need help, help in standing up to them. It is the work that hardly can be seen and it takes a lot of time. Let me repeat once again: our freedom is a long road, a long road of enlightening the nation. When new times come, different people, new people will be in demand – and one has to raise them. Therefore, one should not give up cultural and educational work, just the contrary, it needs to be expanded.
According to the famous writer, if deprived of support, Belarusian civil society will have to start from point zero in the future.
Mikalai Statkevich, the leader of the Social and Democracy Party Hramada, whose putting to prison was politically motivated, describes Belarus’ media space:
“It is Russia that reigns in the television space of Belarus. For example, of 8 TV channels, included in the free to the public package, only 3 are from Belarus. Others are Russian or Russian with the inclusion of some Belarusian programs. Among the cable TV the Russian channels dominate by a much greater extent.”
According to the politician, the imposition of the Kremlin world vision to the Belarusian society resulted in many Belarusians’ supporting the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s actions in Donbas.
“Every year, more and more Belarusians watch Belsat – our only defense against the Russian TV agression. Belsat is known in all parts of Belarus. Thanks to the professional and dedicated work of its staff, the credibility of the single Belarusian television channel grows. However, with the growing crisis in our economy, falls credibility to the always upbeat official Belarusian TV. If the work of Belsat stops, the Belarusian tv viewers will be left with only one choice – Russian chauvinist channels,” he writes.
“If you do not want the Russian World here, save Belsat”, Statkevich sums up.
In his letter, politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich compares Belsat TV to the Radio Free Europe which spread the free word from the West for several generations of Poles. In his opinion, Belsat is watched most in the places where the need for free and true information is greatest, i.e. in smaller towns and villages where there is no cable television.
“Now the information space of Belarus is dominated by the Russian World. Without Belsat we will lose the fight for the country’s geopolitical choice to Kremlin,” he warns.
According to poet and politician Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu, Belsat extends not only the democratic views in society, but also its national consciousness, which is very important in upholding statehood and independence of the country.
“Reduction of the Belsat broadcast, and especially the cessation of its work, can have a very negative impact on the state of the Belarusian society. Therefore, activity of TV channel Belsat deserves deepest attention and full support, Chairman of the movement ‘For Statehood and Independence of Belarus’ says.
“Leave us a breath of fresh air of information! It will contribute like nothing else to the democratization of Belarus and turn it into a state of law, which will without doubt contribute to the further prosperity of the Republic of Poland. Your costs will be repaid by the kindness of the reformed Belarus,” Stanislau Shushkevich, Chairman of Belarusian parliament in 1991-94, directly appeals to Polish decision-makers.
Shushkevich stresses that his compatriots strive to follow that same path to democracy, which was followed by Poland, but confronting antidemocratic propaganda is even harder for Belarusians than it was for Poles.
Ales Byalyatski was sentenced to 4.5 years of imprisonment affter a mistake made by Polish and Lithuanian officials who handed over the documents about his activity to the Belarusian investigators. According to him, hundreds of thousands of Belarusian citizens receive independent and objective information from Belsat. The head of the human rights centre Viasna also stresses that Belsat’s staying in democratic Poland deprives Belarusian authorities from the possibility to influence the content and quality of its broadcast.
In his view, Belsat TV has become a real incubator for independent journalistic staff which greatly strengthened the democratic community of professional journalists in Belarus.
“TV channel Belsat is a shining example of solidarity of democratic Poland with the Belarusian people, the Belarusian democratic society, which is under pressure of the autoritarian authorities. Belsat is an excellent tool for promoting democratic principles in the media, aimed at strengthening the stability of the Eastern European region,” Byalyatski says.
In her letter, Zhanna Litvina, a co-founder and the first chairperson of the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), puts emphasis upon the uniqueness of this project. She recalls that ‘its journalists, without a press accreditation in all the years of work in the country, have been able to build a professional media outlet, which shows to the Belarusians the part of the information society, which is hushed or deliberately distorted by the state television’.
According to her, the staff of Belsat are really courageous people, and they are also the journalists that are most devoted to their profession.
“I would like to appeal to those who can influence futher existence of this media initiative with a request and a call to save this treasure created by for the future and good neighborly relations on our continent,” Zhanna Litvina asks.
The letters of support were handed over to Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other foreign donors of Belsat TV.