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  • The most reassuring thing is getting feedback from the audience». Belarusian independent media’s take on the year’s results and their plans for the future

    In 2023, Belarusian journalists launched new projects, conducted investigations, and exceeded their targets. Meanwhile, they also faced personal problems such as the death of loved ones and burnout. Some took their first holiday in years. The Belarusian Association of Journalists interviewed representatives of the independent media to find out how they fared during the year.

    Volha Loika, Plan B editor-in-chief and founder

    “The year 2023 was final­ly just nor­mal. Prob­lems arose and were solved, new projects were designed, we trav­eled, met our part­ners, and faced some tragedies. Every­thing was lit­er­al­ly fine.”

    Vol­ha Loi­ka is a for­mer edi­tor-in-chief of the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sec­tion at TUT.BY media out­let. She was detained in May 2021 in the TUT.BY case. Two years lat­er, she left the pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter await­ing tri­al. In 2023, she launched the Plan B media. 

    “The fact that you are alive and well is the great­est achieve­ment of recent years. My col­leagues and I launched Plan B. My whole fam­i­ly and many friends left Belarus. We are set­tling down, sup­port­ing each oth­er, fight­ing, build­ing a new life. And that’s a good thing. On the last New Year’s Eve, I was here alone and it seemed like that lone­li­ness was ever­last­ing.

    “Above all, our work has been affect­ed by repres­sion, fear, and the stigma­ti­za­tion of the pro­fes­sion and of myself per­son­al­ly. The sta­tus of ‘ter­ror­ist’ may seem ridicu­lous, but it is not actu­al­ly fun­ny.

    The scari­est thing is to say good­bye to friends for­ev­er. The death of my col­league and friend Aleh Anufry­jen­ka is irrepara­ble. Meet­ing him in Paris in May was one of my most enjoy­able encoun­ters this year. I am very hap­py for those of my col­leagues who have been released from prison this year. The real prob­lem is the heavy prison sen­tences my oth­er col­leagues have received.

    Our wish for the new year would be to sur­vive. To estab­lish a new nor­mal­i­ty. To help your loved ones to do the same. We dream of see­ing friends and col­leagues being released from prison. Free, safe, sound, and full of life and opti­mism.

    Our wish for our col­leagues is to stick togeth­er, sur­vive, write, and talk about things that mat­ter. Reach finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty. Final­ly see all our col­leagues on the out­side.

    As for me, I would like to final­ly imple­ment the plans I had for 2020. I dreamed of being done with the elec­toral hus­tle and get­ting a nor­mal job [smiles]. Noth­ing has changed, only the elec­toral hus­tle nev­er end­ed. But nev­er mind, I’m not in a hur­ry.”

    Pavel Sviardlou, Euroradio editor-in-chief

    “The year was dif­fi­cult, but very event­ful. We have done a lot of exper­i­ment­ing, search­ing, and find­ing new ways to reach out to Belaru­sians. We test­ed a vari­ety of for­mats. We had to come to terms with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. And we are good at what we are doing.”

    Euro­ra­dio is an inter­na­tion­al radio sta­tion oper­at­ing in Belarus since 2006. In 2020, they lost their office in Min­sk and failed to get accred­it­ed.

    Our achieve­ments include part­ner­ing with Psiphon VPN ser­vice, which has result­ed in our site being vis­it­ed by 400,000 unique users per month, most­ly from Belarus. Anoth­er advan­tage was the con­sor­tium formed with Malan­ka Media, which is now start­ing to broad­cast on the Reporters With­out Bor­ders satel­lite. The next achieve­ment is the Gen­der Gap show, in which we dis­cuss women’s rights and gen­der stereo­types. It has allowed us to learn a great deal about our­selves, about our audi­ence, and about Belarus in gen­er­al.

    Attend­ing large con­fer­ences such as RightsCon has influ­enced both our work and world­view. It takes you out of your bub­ble and gives you a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the world. And final­ly, we hap­pened to put in a good word for Belarus in front of a large audi­ence.

    I think the most ter­ri­ble thing is that we’ve become used to vio­lence, as a media and as a soci­ety, influ­enced by wartime news. Mur­der videos no longer fright­en, sur­prise, or evoke much emo­tion.

    The most pleas­ant thing is when our lis­ten­ers get in touch with us and give some feed­back. For exam­ple, in May, a res­i­dent of Min­sk informed us that he had seen a motor­cade with a sick Lukashen­ka on its way to the med­ical com­mis­sion. Or when we received some doc­u­ments on how Belaru­sian Steel Works was cir­cum­vent­ing sanc­tions and con­tin­u­ing to trade with the Euro­pean Union. 

    The voic­es of Belaru­sians should sound loud­er in the world. And it is the Belaru­sian media, and not some­one else, who should inform for­eign­ers about the events in our coun­try. I think it’s very impor­tant to do this.

    I wish my col­leagues sta­ble devel­op­ment and clear prospects. I’m not going to say what I want for myself, oth­er­wise it won’t come true.”

    Fiodar Pauliuchenka, Reform.By editor-in-chief and co-founder

    “This year has been a time of exor­bi­tant repres­sion in Belarus and the swing of the war between Rus­sia and Ukraine. Per­son­al­ly, I saw every­thing through that prism.

    I hoped that the author­i­ties would stop the repres­sion, but it’s only get­ting worse. The mad­ness seems nev­er-end­ing.

    I asso­ciate Ukraine’s suc­cess­es in the war against Rus­sia with many oth­er events. It became clear by autumn that the war would be long. Noth­ing good awaits us all.”

    Reform.by has been oper­at­ing since 2018. Due to the per­se­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists, crim­i­nal cas­es, and inter­ro­ga­tions, its staff have left Belarus. In Decem­ber 2023, it became known that the project was on the verge of clo­sure. The read­ers donat­ed 17,000 euros with­in a few days to keep the project run­ning.

    “My life is our project, Reform.by. We have con­duct­ed thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tions and received the Free Media Awards. Over­all, we have been suc­cess­ful in our work. This is an achieve­ment in itself.

    We can­not con­tin­ue our work due to a lack of funds and oppor­tu­ni­ties for devel­op­ment. The fund­ing impasse is lim­it­ing progress.

    I went on vaca­tion for the first time in many years. It was the most pleas­ant event of the year [laughs]. I pre­fer not to dis­cuss any ter­ri­ble events. Against the back­drop of repres­sion and war, every­thing is bear­able.

    I want Reform.by to sur­vive. This is impor­tant because I don’t want to lose our team. This is my dream and my inten­tion.

    What are my New Year’s wish­es for my col­leagues? Remem­ber to hyper­link when re-pub­lish­ing! But seri­ous­ly, Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists are very cool. What is sur­pris­ing is that against all odds, the Belaru­sian media mar­ket is qual­i­ta­tive­ly dif­fer­ent from many of its neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

    My wish for myself is audi­ence atten­tion, pros­per­i­ty, and suc­cess.”

    Nasta Utkina, Palatno copy editor

    “We launched in the sum­mer of 2022, but we had to go through a rebrand­ing process and that sto­ry dragged on until 2023. Real work on the project start­ed in Feb­ru­ary. By June, we achieved the desired qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty of pieces.

    It was a year of exper­i­men­ta­tion and attempt­ing to find our place among oth­er Belaru­sian media. We work as a small team, so it’s much more dif­fi­cult.”

    Palat­no is a project run by inde­pen­dent Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists that focus­es on life in the Belaru­sian provinces. It was cre­at­ed by jour­nal­ists of Rehi­janal­na­ja Haze­ta who emi­grat­ed from Belarus due to polit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion. In Novem­ber 2023, Ali­ak­san­dr Mant­se­vich, the edi­tor-in-chief of the news­pa­per, was sen­tenced to four years in prison.

    We planned to issue two pod­casts, but in the end, we have four. This was our first achieve­ment.

    Anoth­er one is we chose not to cre­ate a Russ­ian ver­sion of the site because Belaru­sians typ­i­cal­ly read in Belaru­sian. We are not seek­ing to expand our audi­ence.

    The third achieve­ment is that we have been able to retain the core crew and expand the team, as well as estab­lish work­ing pro­ce­dures in a short peri­od.

    The PlaySta­tion has had the biggest impact on my per­son­al work. The effec­tive­ness of the team has been pos­i­tive­ly influ­enced by the plan­ning of both con­tent and work in gen­er­al. The sit­u­a­tion in Belarus that none of our jour­nal­ists can escape remains the neg­a­tive side of our work.

    On a per­son­al lev­el, the worst thing this year has been the death of my father. The most pleas­ant aspect was work­ing on our project, which dis­tract­ed us from all the sad stuff.

    Palat­no found it most frus­trat­ing when grandiose plans were made, and a large amount of pieces were con­ceived, only to find that lit­tle could be achieved. Cal­cu­lat­ing the strength and avail­abil­i­ty of staff mem­bers is cru­cial for effec­tive plan­ning and man­age­ment. The most enjoy­able aspect is the team-build­ing meet­ings.

    Our focus for 2024 is launch­ing two new pod­casts and design­ing the visu­al com­po­nent for pod­casts.

    The Palat­no team wish­es our col­leagues suc­cess and dili­gence in their work for the bet­ter­ment of Belarus and its peo­ple. We hope to come back home soon, full of ideas, strengths, and oppor­tu­ni­ties, as our read­ers are eager­ly await­ing our return.

    I want my team to main­tain their pro­fes­sion­al­ism and hon­esty.”

    Editor-in-chief of GayPress, a Belarusian LGBTQ+ media outlet (name withheld for security reasons)

    “This year has brought us many new things, includ­ing authors, spe­cial projects, read­ers, and view­ers. Gay­Press has a growth point in its spe­cial project for Belaru­sians, which focus­es on LGBTQ+ migra­tion.

    We have designed detailed guides, includ­ing texts and videos, for LGBTQ indi­vid­u­als in eight dif­fer­ent coun­tries. As well as pod­casts fea­tur­ing Belaru­sian queer peo­ple, psy­cho­log­i­cal guid­ance, instruc­tions on obtain­ing refugee sta­tus for LGBTQ+ indi­vid­u­als in the EU, and more.

    The main accom­plish­ment of the year is the increase in audi­ence size. Tak­ing into account the web­site, social media pages, and the Telegram chan­nel, we reach about 100,000 peo­ple month­ly across all plat­forms. In March, the site had almost 60,000 unique vis­i­tors. Our activ­i­ty did not go unno­ticed and we were blocked in the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion.

    The sec­ond achieve­ment is our spe­cial projects. In addi­tion to cov­er­ing LGBTQ+ migra­tion, we are the only media out­let report­ing on LGBTQ+ Belaru­sians through our HUKANNE [The Call] spe­cial project.

    Third, we give the floor to LGBTQ+ indi­vid­u­als who are mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the lives of both those who remain in the coun­try and those who have left. For instance, our pod­casts fea­ture a queer poet and per­former Artur Kamarous­ki, as well as LGBTQ+ ini­tia­tives such as ‘This is OK’ and ‘Future’. We also high­light the sto­ry of a gay man from Belarus who crossed the bor­der into the Unit­ed States 11 times and is now pur­su­ing an act­ing career there.

    The tight­en­ing of the human rights sit­u­a­tion in Belarus influ­enced the work. The imple­men­ta­tion of a new dis­crim­i­na­to­ry law against the LGBT+ com­mu­ni­ty, raids on gay clubs in Min­sk, and video record­ings in which secu­ri­ty forces expos­ing Belaru­sian indi­vid­u­als who iden­ti­fy as gay. Police harass­ment of LGBTQ+ indi­vid­u­als on dat­ing apps has been one of the most trou­bling events of the year.

    One of the most sig­nif­i­cant events for me was deliv­er­ing speech­es to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in Brus­sels.

    Although the polit­i­cal agen­da is dis­heart­en­ing, I am pleased to have informed Euro­pean offi­cials about the sit­u­a­tion of LGBTQ+ indi­vid­u­als in Belarus. Addi­tion­al­ly, I was able to bring atten­tion to our issues and gain the sup­port of offi­cials in Brus­sels.

    In the new year, I hope to add to the improve­ment of atti­tudes towards LGBTQ+ indi­vid­u­als among my fel­low cit­i­zens. We are all human beings and we have equal rights! 

    We hope our col­leagues have the chance to take a break. It is very dif­fi­cult to work in the cur­rent con­di­tions. Burnout is our con­stant com­pan­ion in work. I wish we could rest.”

    Aliaksei Shota, Hrodna.Life editor-in-chief

    “2023 was a tough year for many of us. I attempt­ed to bal­ance work and rest to avoid burnout, but the scale tipped too heav­i­ly towards work. The end of the year was par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing due to long work hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

    Hrodna.life is a region­al media orig­i­nal­ly based in Hrod­na. In Novem­ber 2022, the orga­ni­za­tion was deemed extrem­ist, prompt­ing its employ­ees to quick­ly depart from Belarus.

    Through­out the year, I man­aged to find time for hob­bies, includ­ing a new one – jog­ging. Run­ning 10 kilo­me­ters with­out col­laps­ing is a per­son­al achieve­ment for me, as I have nev­er been par­tic­u­lar­ly ath­let­ic. A year ago, I did not expect to be able to run even a thou­sand meters.

    I man­aged to read more books than I could have imag­ined. I planned sev­er­al short trips and vis­it­ed the coun­tries I had long want­ed to see, includ­ing Andor­ra and Nor­way.  How­ev­er, it was impos­si­ble to com­plete­ly dis­con­nect from work and take a break for at least a week, like most peo­ple do. I am accus­tomed to this because if you have nev­er had a nor­mal vaca­tion, you do not expect it.

    We have been work­ing remote­ly for a year. While some progress has been made, I am not com­plete­ly sat­is­fied with the results. There is still much work to be done. Enter­ing 2024 with uncer­tain­ty about the future is unpleas­ant. How­ev­er, every­one is accus­tomed to the uncer­tain­ty of the future.

    Per­son­al­ly, I con­sid­er it an achieve­ment to have been invit­ed fre­quent­ly as a train­ing facil­i­ta­tor. I enjoy work­ing in the field of non-for­mal edu­ca­tion and feel ener­gized by it. I rarely decline requests to facil­i­tate work­shops. This year, I was pleased to con­duct class­es offline for the first time in a long time, rather than through Zoom. It felt like the good old days.

    I am pleased to have joined the Belaru­sian pub quiz com­mu­ni­ty in Bia­lystok, where I cur­rent­ly reside. We fre­quent­ly orga­nize our own down­home quiz nights, which has its own audi­ence, allow­ing us to earn some extra income. I enjoy the role of the pre­sen­ter as it is sim­i­lar to that of a tour guide, a role I have often per­formed in Hrod­na.

    My work was pri­mar­i­ly influ­enced by the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, and I need to sleep for at least 6 of them. There­fore, I did not have time to do every­thing I want­ed to.

    I pre­fer to not describe my per­son­al life changes. In gen­er­al, I share sim­i­lar­i­ties with oth­ers in our field, as we are all affect­ed by the same events and fac­tors. Some­one got out of prison — great news. Some­one has passed away. It’s a trag­ic event. That’s it.

    In the new year, I aim to enhance the man­age­ment of our edi­to­r­i­al office. We spent the entire­ty of 2023 in a state of cre­ative chaos, and it is time to put an end to it.

    I want to increase my stress tol­er­ance and that of my col­leagues. If every­one per­ceived their work and sur­round­ings with more calm­ness, it would ease the work­load for the entire edi­to­r­i­al staff.

    I wish my col­leagues good health and pros­per­i­ty – some­thing that is con­sis­tent­ly lack­ing. Every­thing else is either there or quite eas­i­ly acces­si­ble.

    What do I wish for myself? I’ve already made a wish. And I am not going to tell you, because then it will not come true.

    Read more:

    Support for journalists and media, solidarity campaigns, European awards, and TikTok launch: BAJ yearly closure

    E‑newsletter “Mass Media in Belarus”, #4 (74)

    Aliaksei Batsiukou, vlogger and journalist from Mahiliou, reportedly detained

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