Despite recent events in the neighbourhood, Belarus continues to be a country overlooked by a majority of foreign media as little has changed during last years under the incumbent president’s rule. Yet the organizers of the “Belarus in Focus” competition annually aim at reminding international readers why the country deserves more spotlight. 40 journalists – from large daily newspapers though economy newspapers to regional websites – answered the call and handed in their articles about “the last dictatorship of Europe”.
According to the organizers, the general quality of sent texts had significantly increased this year. There was also a great number of publications on Belarus in context of European politics. “This year we have also read fewer cliche articles. Generally, we expect to receive even more texts in 2015 as this is the year of presidential elections in Belarus – which traditionally means an increased interest in the country among international media”.
For now, let’s take a closer look at the awarded texts authored by professional journalists – Malgozhata Lozovskaya,Paul Flückiger and Simon Book – and beginners – Paula Borowska, Eva Coronado Alonso and João de Almeida Dias, with one special mention for Evgeny Karpov.
The Award Ceremony will be held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 in Warsaw
‘’If you want to return to the Soviet Union – just go to Belarus”! So you don’t know much about the country between Poland and Russia, his dictator Lukashenko and the case of the “disappeared”? Malgozhata Lozovskaya, Russian journalist, gives you a swift overview of the countries’ bilateral relations in the sphere of politics, language and economy in her “If You Want To Be a Millionaire, Go To Belarus”. Apart from the everlasting subject – president Lukashenko – she casts more light on the difficult internet accessibility as well as the change and persistence that nevertheless have been present despite the remains of the Soviet era It’s just enough to get a first concrete idea about the country.
The Ice Hockey World Championship 2014 seemed to bring the world’s attention to Belarus. Paul Flückiger, – Warsaw-based freelance journalist writing mainly on Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova – asks in his article “Repressions Ahead of Ice Hockey World Championships in Belarus” if the opposition could use this opportunity to wake fellow citizens from a political slumber. The Championships as a chance for a political change? Regretfully, according to former presidential candidate Alaksandar Milinkevich, ‘’Opposition forces have not yet recovered from the wave of repression following the presidential elections in December 2010… After what has happened in Ukraine over the last months, people are not inclined to take to the streets in 2015”. We have to wait.
The sudden interruption of the then ongoing opening towards the EU caused by suppression of demonstrations during presidential elections back in 2010 has resulted in even more – also ethical – problems for the Belarusian economy. ‘’Is it acceptable to get involved with scoundrels to make a difference? Or is it better to publicly demonstrate rejection, even if you slam every door by doing so?’’ is the question that Simon Book, a German journalist writing for Handelsblatt, raises in his article “Lukashenko’s Lucrative Offers“. Yet presenting the country through the eyes of management consultants and investors, the author shows us the recipe for a successful business Belarusian-style. Or rather: how to survive doing business Belarusian-style.
In her “Non-Formal Education In Belarus: Unleashing The Civil Society Potential”, Paula Borowska, Polish-born expert on Belarus, introduces you to the Belarusian education system. ‘’New grass-roots initiatives such as the European College of Liberal Arts and the Flying University are organising innovative and inspiring courses in Minsk.’’ Surprisingly the state did not abolish them yet and, since they grow larger and larger, the developing private education sector could be a new approach to encourage an active, democratic civil rights movement within the country.
Spanish journalist Eva Coronado Alonso unveils the historical and political aspects of the Belarusian language, as well as the struggle of its speakers to integrate and adapt the language into their official life, in her “The Belarusian language wants its place”. Russian or Belarusian? “Some intellectuals have been able to overcome that polarization of the language and perceive their country as ‘a nation bridge’. For them it is important that the identity of the country can be guaranteed without despising other cultures that also coexist in the territory”.
How to resist the strong regime as a member of the opposition? João de Almeida Dias, a Portuguese journalist based in Lisbon,tells a story of meeting modern times guerrilleros – tv-producers, linguists and human rights activists, such as Ales Bialiatski, Nobel Prize nominee – in his “While resisting, they expect no surprise”. Surprisingly to the most of us used to a fast pace in this line of work, patience seems to be the core issue here. Bialiatski elucidates: “There is a state of apathy because it’s said on television that everything is good. The few independent media that resist are under control and censorship is something that is far from disappearing”. This is a statement that we have been hearing for years from Belarusian oppositionists, yet the Ukrainian crisis has made people hesitate even more while considering taking the same risks to make a political changes.
Evgeny Karpov, born and raised in Belarus, is another winner who reports on the impact of the Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk in “Championship in a Strange House”. As English found its way into the the city and the infrastructure got renewed, Belarusians and hordes of fans from all over the world cheered for their teams under “Volat”, mascot of the event . The citizens seemingly enjoy the internationalisation of Minsk but the author of “Championship in a Strange House” also investigates how politicians benefited from the event and who indeed paid for the fun.