Juliya Slutskaya: "the State is still afraid of independent media"

Juliya Slutskaya: "the State is still afraid of independent media"
By Euronews
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Juliya Slutskaya is the President of the Press Club Belarus. In this interview, she describes the situation for independent media in Belarus, crushed by government censorship and lack of funds.

Juliya Slutskaya is the President of the Press Club Belarus. In this interview with euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat, she describes the situation for independent media in Belarus, crushed by government censorship and lack of funds.

Juliya Slutskaya:

"I think now we are seing the start of a change process, very slow and very cautious chances. And what triggered those changes wasfor a start, the lift of EU sanctions. But the most important factor was the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and the situation in Crimea.

Before that, the authorities considered the West as a threat, as the opposition. With all that has happened, now they see the threat on the other side. If we speak about the media, they demonstrate this evolution. Beforehand, the authorities fought against independent, pro-european media, lile Belsat TV channel, which broadcasts from Poland.

So, the threat was seen as coming from the West. After the events in Crimea, everything changed. The focus was on pro-western media who were criticising the authorities, were criticising Loukashenko.

But now we see that some russian media allow themselves to question the independence of Belarus, and the issue of the existence of the belarusian language. This is quite a serious threat.

It's very serious, because Belarus is under strong influence of russian media. Do your viewers know that in Belarus, 5 0 percent of media content is russian content?

Most belarusian channels are mixed, our programmes are broadcast on a russian grid. And for the viewers, most of the time, it's not quite clear what channel they're watching, what programmes, russian or belarusian.

So the threat to security is quite clear, it was obvious in 2015 and 2016. In 2016 it was acknowledged by the authorities, and they started taking new steps, very cautious steps.

The State still does not have the will to release pressure on independent media

They released the pressure, they gave more initiative to those working on the idea of national consciousness, national identity, on the issue of the belarusian language, to those working with culture and doing business with it, that's a fact.

But the State still does not have the will to release pressure on independent media, not to give them more freedom.

At the moment, the situation of independent media is the following: for 20 years in Belarus, there were no independent media. Until now, all media are governmental media and they are funded and tightly controled by the State.

Independent media were thrown out of the market by repression, and in any case depend on private funds. So both factors have affected them. This is why the media scene in Belarus is very weak, it can't resist pressure.

The State is afraid to release pressure on the independent media. The repression against journalists working for Belsat TV continue, freelance journalism is prohibited in Belarus, there is no law to protect them, and they are not allowed to have press cards. They are totally defenseless, in particular during demonstrations.

And the most important blocking factor is the lack of funds for independent media. There are no investors in the country, and western funders are leaving Belarus. So the biggest problem is the lack of resources.

I would also like to talk about what we believe in, what gives uf hope for the future.

You may know about decree number 8 wich was signed in Belarus. It concerns the development of information technology. It this sector develops well, there may be new internal investors, and the media might find a second life there.

All in all, I think the most important changes in Belarus are the following. For over 20 years, we've had two Belaruses. The first was the Belarus of the power. The second was the Belarus of the opposition, and the opposition's aim was to fight against the power. That was it's main objective, for a long time.

And then appeared a third Belarus. It was indifferent to the other two, it was neither for one or the other. So what has changed?

A new Belarus is fostering change without asking for permission

This third Belarus is making a great difference, more and more people are not siding with either of the other two.

These people are not fighting against the power, it's not their aim. What they want is to actually do things by themselves, change the world around them, without asking the authorities whether they can or not. They don't join the opposition, they don't take part in demonstrations. They organise belarusian language courses for instance. our own initiative "Mona Nanova" gathers between 300 and 400 people every week in Minsk. There are franchises in 15 regions. There is also the Imena.mag initiative. They are helping people who need help and are not supported by the government.

This is our third Belarus which doesn't ask anyone permission to do things, doesn't fight against the power, doesn't take part in demonstrations, but that is changing the world around it, step by step.

I don't meant to say that the changes have already taken place, and that everything is getting better and better. You must understand that we still have teh same type of authorities. they won't change, there will still be arrests, there will still be step backwards.

But I feel that the changes are more long lasting than in the past. First because the geopolitical situation in the whole region has changed. There is what happend with Crimea, the conflict between ukrain and Russia. And the belarusian authorities feel that national security is at threat.

And the threat comes from where they never thought it would, from Russia, which was always considered as a brother State.

Again, this is the first factor of change in this country. And the second one are the changes within the country, the changes within civil society.

This third Belarus which is growing, these people who are enacting changes without joining the opposition, without taking part in demosntrations, without fighting against the government, or wothout asking for permission to do things.

There are more and more of these people, and tehy are changing the city, they are changing the country. If you had come to Minsk 5 years ago, you could think that it was a different city from today.

Minsk nowadays is more active, much brighter, with a richer life. And all that is thanks to this third Belarus.

That is why I beleive that the changes have better chances to be longlasting, than in the past.

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