Hviterussland – et fortjent rykte?

Hviterussland – et fortjent rykte?

 Han oste av stolthet, den lykkelige hvitrussiske president Alexander Lukaschenko, da storledere fra Russland i nord og Europa i syd kom til Minsk for å forhandle om fred. Folket solte seg i hans glans. Slik er det bare når ytre symboler virker som propaganda, ja, som henimot hypnose. Hans popularitet i folket fikk et oppsving selv om det ukrainske dilemma er truende nært for hvitrussere..
av William Nygaard

 Tragedie og seier – et skue

Storledermøtet må ha minnet de besøkende om tragediene fra en svunnen storkrig. Minsk var bombet sønder og sammen. Hovedavenyene er gjenoppbygget i konsekvent stalinistisk stil. Minnesmerkene over falne, nederlag og seier er prangende i byen. De må ha vært hardtslående påminnelser for tyske Angela på vei til forhandlinger om fred bak skuddsikre vinduer i sin svarte Mercedes limousin..

Hva står hennes vertskap for – så tett på sin russiske nabo? Betrakter den mektige nabo de hvite russere egentlig som sine egne? Tenker de som så at den oppløsende tragedien fra 1991 bør gjøres til skamme straks det ukrainske problem er overvunnet? Hvordan organiserer et hvitrussisk regime sitt forsvar i balansen for lykkelig selvstendighet mellom dem i nord og de rikere i sør? Hvordan kroker den hvitrussiske president klørne om sin makt gjennom tyve år, når det stunder mot nyvalg i november?

 Regimet

Lukaschenko og hans disipler råder over alt i samfunnet. Det propaganderes, lyttes, kontrolleres, straffebeskattes, fengsles, tortureres om ønskelig og de grove kriminelle henrettes. Du fører slett ikke en politisk samtale i en hotellresepsjon. Du kritiserer ikke presidenten. Lukaschenko vokter over sine disipler med jernhånd, likevel – Hviterussland er et land som det er langt enklere å styre enn der mangfold i kultur, religion og etnisitet råder. Korrupsjonen er ikke åpenbar på topplan og i byråkrati som i Russland, Tyrkia og utallige land i Europa og Midtøsten. Frontene er klare og utfordringene mot nord er kraftige nok. Men den politiske kompleksiteten er ikke blant de største for et land som isolerer seg fra utenverdenen og betrakter menneskerettigheter fortsatt som en relativ størrelse.

 Avkristning eller kristning?

Religionen er nok på fremmarsj. Den Røde Kirke i Minsk er fullsatt på en søndag, men hviterussere er fortsatt lite troende etter den lange sovjetiske avkristning. Islam har liten utbredelse, det er ikke en hijab å øyne, nei, et multikulturelt innslag er ikke synlig. Hvis noen tror på en gud, så finner de sin ramme i de katolske kirker. Hviterussland er så sannelig et land for den “hvite” og en ugudelig etnisitet, men noe rører seg altså i folket. Ingen kirker er stengt slik de var det i Sovjet-tiden.

 Det truende

Som et klassisk fenomen i autoritære stater, betraktes  ytringsfriheten som ytterst truende. Det finnes ikke en selvstendig dagsavis, ei heller en TV- eller radiostasjon som kan tas på alvor. Den selvsensurerte ukeavisen Gazeta er presidentens unntaksalibi. Ja, skjult i buskene finnes en radiokanal hvor hvert sendeminutt overvåkes med trussel om skattestraffer og fjerning av lisens. Og fra Polen sendes det radio på hviterussisk i polsk regi. Alt er kontrollert og termininologien er følsom. Jeg ble advart mot å sitere poeten Alice Walker i en appell på en poesifestival, når hun fremhever poesiens revolusjonære kraft. Du snakker ikke om revolusjon i Lukaschenkos Hviterussland.

 Journalister utdannes på statskontrollerte akademier, men den frie utdanning lever – dog i skjulte rom og addresser. Uavhengige forleggere og bokhandlere oppfattes truende og er truet. Hvor mye kan den nylig fengslede og skattestraffede forlegger og bokhandler Ihar Lohvinau tåle før han må flykte som så mange aktivister og idealister i Hviterussland før ham? Miljøet knyttet til frihetsdokumentet Charter 97 er alle ute av landet, og lederen ble drept i hjemlandet på mystisk vis.

 Overflaten i Hviterussland er polert. Fattigdom er ikke synlig i byene, ei heller i storbyen Minsk. Men her finnes intet rom for de såkalte «parasitter» – for tiggere, arbeidsuføre, alkoholikere som fjernes for avrusning i anstalter og dem som ikke vil produsere for samfunnet. Retten til å være fattig og uproduktiv aksepteres ikke.

 Virkemidler

Den frie stemme finner likevel alltid sine kanaler. Det hvitrussiske PEN er en av dem som ikke gir opp. De benytter litteraturen som sitt frihetsmedium og vil fremmme det hvitrussiske språket på ny. En diskret internasjonal Poesifestival er gjennomført i helgen. Det var en voldsom oppslutning av hviterussiske poeter, og mange viktige fra Kazakhstan, Latvia, Litauen, Russland, Ukrainia, – og Erling Kittelsen fra Norge og svenske Nadzia Kandrusevich. Norsk PEN fikk også avgitt sin stemme. Poetene kom i det stille. Det var de unge som kom for å lytte. Og de kom i flokk – uten myndigheters inngripen denne gang.

 Viasna og et par andre menneskerettighetsorganisasjoner holder på sitt fortløpende virke. Viasnas leder, Ales Bialiatsky, ble fengslet i flere år og kom fri takket være internasjonale skarpe blikk. Nå er hans organisasjon gjort ulovelig. Likevel – de fortsetter sitt arbeid i dølgsmål. Markedet er stort, dessverre.

 Kulturen

Den unge hvitrusseren har ikke opplevd andre enn Lukaschenko ved makten og det er kun hans verdier de kjenner. Likevel, søket mot det universelle i mennesket – den frie og egne identitet – drives frem. Den frie ytring søker sitt eget språk. Egen identitet ligger i det hvitrussiske språket. Det er under tydelig stimulans og vil kunne finne et langt større rom parrallelt med det russiskspråklige som dominerer. Regimet kan nok se seg politisk tjent med å bygge opp landets kulturelle og ikke minst språklige identitet som et langsiktig forsvar mot den uforutsigelige imperialisten i nord.

 “Lykkelige” Hviterussland følger så sannelig sin egen kurs i opportunistisk manglende respekt for UNs verdier – og til tross for landets historiske aksept av disse. Endres ikke kursen kan deres isolat på ny føre til Hviterusslands tap av sin tilkjempede selvstendighet.

 

William Nygaard

23.02.15

Hviterussland: Ales Bialiatski er fri!

Belarus:

Early release of writer and human rights defender a positive step

24 June 2014

PEN International welcomes the release following an amnesty, on 21 June 2014, of the Belarusian writer and human rights defender, Ales Bialiatski. The organisation is calling for the Belarusian authorities to clear his record of the politically-motivated charges on which he was convicted almost three years ago.

Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International, said:

“Ales Bialiatski’s unjust imprisonment is emblematic of the harsh challenges facing writers and activists in Belarus, a country whose government continues to severely restrict the rights to free expression, free association and assembly. Whilst welcoming Bialiatski’s release, we remain deeply concerned by Belarus’ systematic political intimidation of both foreign and national media, which pushes writers and journalists into self-censorship.”

Bialiatski is the founder of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, a Belarusian non-governmental organisation that campaigns for opposition activists who are harassed and persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. On 4 August 2011, Bialiatski was arrested on spurious charges of tax evasion; on 24 November 2011, he was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in a high security prison colony, with all of his property confiscated.

PEN campaigned for Bialiatski’s release, maintaining that he had been targeted as part of the Belarus authorities’ crackdown on free expression which began in late 2010. He was a key focus of the 79th PEN International Congress, held in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was selected to be the honorary ‘Empty Chair’.

At the same Congress, PEN addressed a public letter to President Lukashenko, demanding that Bialiatski be freed, that his conviction be overturned, and that he be provided with an enforceable right to compensation for his arbitrary detention. The letter was signed by PEN International’s president, John Ralston Saul, and by 51 PEN centres from around the world.

Bialiatski was kept in harsh conditions whilst in prison. On his release, he spoke of the isolation he had experienced whilst incarcerated:

‘Political prisoners in Belarusian jails are kept in different conditions than other prisoners. For instance, no one was allowed to talk to me, even if it was a friendly chat about weather or football, a person who approached me could be punished by the prison authorities. That was just one of many examples of physiological pressure political prisoners face in jail.’

He also said: ‘I am not sorry for those three years I spent in prison. This is the price you pay for making Belarus a free and democratic country. If we want to improve our life and drag Belarus out of the swamp it has been in for 20 years already, we need to be active and not to be afraid of repressions civil society faces. I knew what I was in prison for – that is why it was easy for me emotionally.’

Background
Ales Bialiatski was a founding member of the Belarusian literary organisation Tutejshyja (The Locals), and served as a former head of the Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum in Minsk. He has been awarded several human rights prizes in recognition of his work, most recently being awarded the first ever Václav Havel Human Rights Prize in September 2013. He is a Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights.

In 2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that his detention was arbitrary and urged the Belarusian authorities to release him and accord him an enforceable right to compensation.

Finsk PENs ytringsfrihetspris til Eva Neklyaeva

Neklyaeva har i lengre tid drevet  kampanjer for å bedre situasjonen for menneskerettigheter i hjemlandet Hviterussland. Hennes far, poeten og den hviterussiske PEN-klubbens tidligere lederUladzimir Njakljajeu (Vladimir Neklyaev) ble slått og fengslet i desember 2010 i forbindelse med  en fredelig demonstrasjon. Han er fortsatt i husarrest.  Finsk PEN har invitert ham som sin gjest til et internasjonalt forfattermøte i  Messilä i juni.

Det foregår en konstant trakassering av personer som ønsker å forsvare menneskerettighetene i Hviterussland. Folk er blitt fengslet, slått og dømt i urettferdige rettssaker.  Organisasjoner og journalister som er kritiske til den eneveldige president Alexander Lukashenko,  utsettes for stadig nye «tiltak» som hindrer deres arbeid.

Eva Neklyaeva har blant annet krevet at det planlagte Ishockey VM 2014 blir avlyst.

I tillegg til sin aktivisme for menneskerettigheter, har Eva Neklyaeva utmerket seg innen teater. Baltic Sirkel er en respektert og prisvinnende internasjonal teaterfestival. Den er blitt arrangert  i Helsinki siden 2000 og har presentert nye trender i moderne teater og fungert som et samlingssted for teaterfolk og publikum. Festivalen har også arrangert kurs og seminarer og deltatt aktivt i den kunstneriske debatten.  Baltic Circle er en engasjert og tankevekkende festival.  Eva Neklyaeva har sagt om den at «politikken er svart og hvit, men kunsten kan presentere verden i all dens mangfold. »

Jarkko Tontti, leder, finsk PEN

12. februar 2013

Irina Khalip:

Jeg ble truet, slått og arrestert pga. det jeg skrev.

2. april 1997, mens hun dekket en protest mot den foreslåtte gjenforening av Hviterussland med Russland, opplevde hun at faren, en dokumentarfilmskaper, ble slått bevisstløs. Hun ble selv skamslått av politiet .  Den hendelsen bare styrket henne i arbeidet med å avsløre korrupsjon i Hviterussland, spesielt fordi hun var journalist i Minsk for den undersøkende avisen Novaja Gazeta, der reporter Anna Politkovskaya arbeidet før hun ble drept.

Så truslene og voldsepisodene fortsatte.  Tidlig i 2011 tilbrakte Khalip en og en halv måned i fengsel og fikk en to års betinget dom for sin rolle under protestene mot president Alexsandr Lukasjenko´s kontroversielle gjenvalg i desember 2010.

I dag er hun i husarrest: Hun må fortelle politiet om sine reiseplaner og er utestengt fra å flytte eller forlate Minsk i lenger tid enn en måned. Politiet besøker hennes hjem sporadisk, ofte midt på natten. Hun er blitt «alenemor»: ektemannen Andrei Sannikov, som vant flest stemmer blant de ni opposisjonskandidater med 2,43 prosent i 2010 valget, fikk fem år i fengsel. Under rettssaken fortalte han at sjefen for de hviterussiske sikkerhetstjenester personlig truet med tøffe represalier mot hans kone og deres barn. Myndighetene truet med å plassere sønnen deres i et barnehjem. Khalip sier hun ikke vil slutte å rapportere om overgrep.  Det er bare en vei å gå: fremover.

Iryna Khalip er den første av 23 saker der overgriperne ikke er blitt straffet som nå presenteres ifm. IFEX-kampanjen mot straffefrihet og er foreslått av Norsk PEN og Helsingforskomiteen.

Send appellbrev til hviterussiske myndigheter:

President Alexander Lukashenko
38, Karl Marx Street
Minsk, 220016
Republic of Belarus

contact@president.gov.by
cc.
Alexander Barsukov, Department of Internal Affairs of the Minsk City Executive Committee

oios@guvd.gov.by
Miklós
Haraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
sr-belarus@ohchr.org

XX. November 2012

Your Excellency,

As we begin marking the International Day to End Impunity on 23 November, we would like to respectfully draw your attention to the case of independent journalist Irina Khalip, living under house arrest for her reporting in Belarus, whom we believe to be subject to undue psychological pressure.

 Khalip, the Minsk-based correspondent for the Russian paper «Novaya Gazeta», spent a month and a half in jail in early 2011. She was given a two-year suspended sentence for her role in protests surrounding the elections in December 2010.

 Her husband Andrei Sannikov, an opposition candidate in the 2010 election, was given five years in jail for his role in the protests. During his trial, he said the chief of Belarus’s security services personally threatened harsh reprisals against his wife and their child. Authorities also threatened to put their son in an orphanage.

Today, those threats have come true. While Khalip lives under house arrest, she must tell police her travel plans, and is banned from moving or leaving Minsk for longer than a month. We are extremely alarmed by reports that police visit her home sporadically, often in the middle of the night – traumatising her and her five-year-old son. This is not acceptable under legal standards, and unfairly persecutes her young child, who has the right to special protection under the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

 Article 2 of the Declaration states:  «The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.»

 We ask that steps are taken to stop the police visits to Khalip’s home, particularly in the middle of the night, and that the conditions of her house arrest comply with international standards, so that her child may live free from intimidation and psychological abuse.

 We also ask that the fundamental human right to freedom of expression and assembly be upheld in Belarus, that the charges against Iryna Khalip be dropped, and those responsible for threatening Khalip and her child be brought to justice.

 Yours sincerely,

Nå kan du se opptak fra Hviterusslandkonferansen på nett

Aksjon Hviterussland

Litteraturhuset, Oslo
Torsdag 22 mars 2012, 08.30 – 16.00

Del 1
William Nygaards åpningstale
Generalsekretær i Europarådet,Thorbjørn Jagland – keynote speech
Fire stemmer fra Hviterussland:
Adam Globus

Tatsiana Reviaka
Natallia Radzina
Yuri Zisser
Andres Herkel
, Europarådet – internasjonale utfordringer

Del 2
Per Dalgård – ordstyrer
Statssekretær Torgeir Larsen – regjeringens perspektiv
Andrej Kim – blogger og aktivist
Peter S. Gitmark (H) – stortinget og opposisjonen
Spørsmål fra salen
Anna Gerasimova, direktør for MR-huset i eksil i Vilnius – MR-perspektivet
Stortingsrepresentant Morten Høglund (Frp), nestleder for den norske OSSE-delegasjonen – fra et OSSE-perspektiv

Del 3
Ales Mihalevich, uavhengig presidentkadidat i 2010 – introduksjon til penaeldebatten
Veien videre – en paneldebatt
Generalsekretær Bjørn Engesland, Helsingforskomiteen – oppsummering og takk

Watch video-clips from the conference «Action on Belarus» on this website

Part 1
William Nygaard, welcome speech

Keynote speech: Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General, Council of Europe

Facts on the ground – four voices from Belarus
Adam Globus, writer
Tatiana Reviaka, Human Rights Centre Viasna
Natalie Radzina, journalist, Charter 97
Yury Zisser, owner of the Belarusian online resource www.tut.by

International challenges – Europe:
Andres Herkel, special rapporteur on Belarus, Council of Europe

Part 2

«The solutions and the way ahead»
Moderator: Per Dalgård
International challenges:
From the Norwegian government: Torgeir Larsen, deputy minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
From the young politicians of Belarus: Andrej Kim, blogger and youth activist
From the Norwegian Parliament and political opposition:
Peter S. Gitmark, MP the Conservative Party, member of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee
Q&A
From the Human Rights perspective: Anna Gerasimova, director, the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile, Vilnius
From the OSSE-perspective:  MP Morten Høglund, vice-chair of the Norwegian OSCE-delegation

Part 3
An introduction to the panel discussion
Ales Mihalevich, independent presidential candidate from 2010
The way ahead – a panel discussion
Summing up the way ahead & closing remarks by the organizers
Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee

22. March: Belarus Action – a one day conference

«Belarus Action»

A one day conference at the House of Literature, Oslo
Thursday 22. March 2012, 08.30 – 16.00

Our main goals:
– To create more attention about Belarus in the Norwegian public
– To challence Norwegian politicians to work out a new Belarus-policy
– To contribute to the work for a democratic Belarus

Agenda

08.30-09.00 Coffee, registration

09.00-09.05 Welcome from the organizers
Speaker: William Nygaard, Norwegian PEN boardmember

Part 1: «The current situation»
Moderator: Per Anders Todal, writer

09.05-09.25 Keynote speech:
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General, Council of Europe

09.25-10.05 Facts on the ground – three voices from Belarus
Adam Globus, writer
Yury Zisser, owner of the Belarusian online resource www.tut.by
Tatiana Reviaka, Human Rights Centre Viasna
Natalie Radzina, journalist, Charter 97

10.05-10.15 International challenges – Europe
Andres Herkel, special rapporteur on Belarus, Council of Europe

10.15-10.25 International challenges – the Nordic countries
Dagfinn Høybråthen, MP – Christian Democratic Party,

10.25-10.45 Questions from the floor

11.00-11.40 Lunch
A «standup-lunch» with sandwiches, coffee/tea and soft drinks will be served at the venue.

Part 2: «The solutions and the way ahead»
Moderator: TBA

11.45-12.00 From the Norwegian government
Torgeir Larsen, deputy minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

12.00-12.10 From the Norwegian Parliament and political opposition
Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, MP the Conservative Party, chair of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee

12.10-12.20 From Belarusian authorities – how we will solve our human rights challenges
Andrei M. Grinkevich, Ambassador to Sweden, Denmark and Norway**

12.20- 12.30 From the young politicians of Belarus
Andrej Kim, blogger and youth activist

12.30-12.45 Q&A

12.45-12.55 From the Human Rights perspective
Anna Gerasimova, director, the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile, Vilnius

12.55-13.05 From the OSSE-perspective, Representative from Ireland
Speaker: TBA

13.05-13.15 From the EU-perspective
Speaker: TBA

13.15-13-30 From the Russian perspective
Pavel Sheremet, journalist

13.30-14.00 Break. Fresh fruit and drinks will be served.

14.00-14.15 The financial perspective – an introduction to the panel discussion
Ales Mihalevich, independent presidential candidate from 2010**

14.15-15.00 The way ahead – a panel discussion
A. Herkel, Natalie Radzina or Tatiana Reviaka, OSSE or the EU, others

15.00-15.45 Questions from the floor

15.45-15.55 Summing up the way ahead – practical and political challenges
Speaker: TBA

15.55-16.00 Closing remarks by the organizers
Speaker: Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General, Norwegian Helsinki Committee

The conference is organized, funded and hosted by the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Union of Journalists, the Norwegian Publishers Association and the Norwegian Non-fiction Writers And Translators Association (NFF) in cooperation with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Freedom of Expression Foundation (Fritt Ord). Organizing committee: HRHF, NHC and Norwegian PEN. Translators: Maria Fremming and Maria Kim Espeland. etc.

**) To be confirmed

For foreign participants and participants not living in Oslo – practical information:

There is no conference fee, but all participants need to register at pen@norskpen.no no later than 20th March.

Hotels in Oslo

The organizers do not have the capacity to book hotel rooms for participants, but Norwegian PEN can book you into a B&B across the street from the House of Literature. “Cochs” has a rate of around NOK 700 per night, breakfast not included, and is clean and safe. We cannot guarantee vacancy.

We can also recommend the Rica Holberg Hotel (Holbergs plass 1, 0166 Oslo, phone + 47 2315 7200), which is situated a 5 – 10 minute walk from the venue. They normally charge NOK 1.150 or less, depending on the weekday, breaksfast included. https://www.rica-hotels.com/hotels/norway/eastern-norway/oslo/rica-holberg-hotel/

Some other hotels close to the venue:
Clarion Collection Hotel Savoy
http://www.hotell.no/hotell/norge/oslo/clarion-collection-hotel-savoy
Visiting speakers and panelists will stay at this hotel.

Thon Hotel Europa
http://www.hotell.no/hotell/norge/oslo/thon-hotel-europa

Thon Hotel Slottsparken
http://www.hotell.no/hotell/norge/oslo/thon-hotel-slottsparken

Thon Hotel Gyldenløve
http://www.thonhotels.no/hoteller/land/norge/oslo/thon-hotel-gyldenlove/

When arriving at the Oslo airport do NOT take a taxi downtown as it is extremely expensive. The airport express train takes you downtown in around 20 minutes for NOK 170. The airport bus normally cost less, NOK 150 one way and NOK 250 for a round trip. It takes you to the Radisson SAS Hotel across the street from the Rica Holberg. A taxi from the train station to the hotel would normally be around NOK 150.

Hviterussisk PEN beklager bortvisning av dansk-norsk PEN-delegasjon

Til

Generalsekretær i Norsk PEN Carl Morten Iversen
Styremedlem i Norsk PEN William Nygaard
Forlegger Trygve Åslund
Styremedlem i Dansk PEN

Ærede venner

Motta mine unnskyldninger for den svinaktige oppførselen som det sittende hviterussiske regimet har tillatt seg å utvise overfor dere.  Ved å ha tatt imot penger for visum for så straks etterpå å nekte dere innreise i landet, deretter holdt dere igjen på flyplassen uten mat og vann og så sparket dere ut av landet som om dere var forbrytere, har regimet nok en gang og for en hel verden,  vist sin brutalitet og mangel på respekt både for egne borgere og deres gjester.  Ja – i det hele tatt en mangel på respekt for menneskerettigheter.  Dette er samtidig en demonstrasjon av regimets innstilling til kultur i ordets bredeste betydning.

Sammen med mine unnskyldninger vil jeg gjerne rette en takk for alt det dere gjør for å hjelpe den hviterussiske kultur og litteratur til å stå imot og overleve i denne for oss meget vanskelige tid.  Vi merker deres solidaritet og deres støtte, og dette gir oss styrke og gjør det mulig for oss å se med større håp på fremtiden.  Selv i denne stund, når det kan virke som om framtiden ikke har noen lyspunkter.  Historisk sett er Hviterussland et europeisk land og vil fortsatt være det, uansett hvilke anstrengelser regimet gjør seg for å forandre landet etter sitt eget forgodtbefinnende.  Jeg tror at med deres hjelp og med støtte fra alle européere, vil  Hviterussland komme tilbake til Europa.  La meg, nok en gang, unskylde og takke dere.

Minsk, 6. desember 2011


Æresmedlem i Hviterussisk PEN og tidligere presidentkandidat

PEN Belarus appologize for the regime’s treatment of PEN-delegation

Secretary General in Norwegian PEN Carl Morten Iversen
Norwegian PEN board member William Nygaard
Publisher Trygve Åslund
Danish PEN board member Niels-Ivar Larsen

Respected  friends

Please accept my appologies for the awful behaviour of the Belarusian regime.  By accepting money for your visas and then denying you entry to the country, hold you at the airport without food or water and then kick you out of the country as if you were criminals, the regime has again, for the whole world, demonstrated its brutality and lack of respect for its own citizens and their guests.  And, basically, a lack of respect for human rights.  At the same time this is a demonstration of the regime´s attitude to culture in the broadest possible sense.

Also, with my appologies, I would like to thank you for all you do in order to help the Belarusian culture and literature to resist and survive during these very difficult times for the Belarusian people.  Vi  sense your solidarity and your support, and that gives us the strength to look at the future with more hope.  Even today, when it may seem like the future holds very little hope.  Historically, Belarus is a European country and will remain so, regardless of the efforts the regime is making in order to change the country at its discretion.  I think that, with your help and with support from all Europeans, Belarus will return to Europe.

Again, let me appologize and thank you.

Vladimir Nekljajev
Honorable member of Belarusian PEN, former presidential candidate

PEN-delegasjon nektet innreise i Hviterussland

PEN-delegation denied entry to Belarus

A delegation with members from Norwegian and Danish PEN was denied visa at the Minsk airport and had to return home.

At the Minsk airport in Belarus last Monday morning (December 5th around 2 am local time), a delegation with members from Norwegian PEN (boardmember William Nygaard, publisher Trygve Åslund and secretary general Carl Morten Iversen) and Danish PEN (board member and journalistNiels-Ivar Larsen) was denied visa and, consequently, entry to Belarus. Over the next two days, they were supposed to meet with representatives from PEN Belarus, the Belarusian Writers Union, BAJ – the Belarusian Association of Journalists and local writers and publishers. The trip had been planned for months.

Upon arrival at the Minsk airport early Monday morning (01.00 a.m.) they wanted to obtain visitors visa for a two days stay in Minsk. The group travelled as tourists as this is the only way to get into the country. Invited by a local travel agency, the visa applications, as well as air transport and hotel booking, was handled by a local Norwegian travel agent specializing in Eastern-Europe. All the paperwork was correctly presented to the visa-officer at the airport visa office at the Minsk 2 International Airport.

«The officers initial reaction upon presentation of my application and passport, was that he wanted to talk to the person who was going to pick us up and drive us to Minsk», says Iversen who had organized the trip. «I called him and they talked. Obviously, this was not enough and the officer then wanted to talk to representatives from the travel agency that invited us. I called an emergency number without results. I also called the Norwegian travel agent who tried to help, but with no result. I told the officer that no body picked up as it was the middle of the night – 3 am local time. His response was that we should have arrived with an earlier flight».

The atmosphere at the visa-office counter was building as two ladies arriving from Macedonia got into a heathed argument with the officer. After they left, the officer seemingly started processing our visa applications. At one point he asked for the visa fee and received a total of 360 Euros for four visas. After about 20 minutes, a lady in uniform arrived, got our passports from the officer, told us to stay and wait and then disappeared. After a little while we were escorted down to luggage reception to get our luggage as the airport was closing. We were then escorted back to the visa office. An airport or boarder police official then escorted us to a transit area were we were told to wait, guarded by a female officer. Very little information was given, but we understood that we had to wait until the morning flights departed. We would then be sent back to Norway and Denmark. We would get our passports upon boarding of the return flights.

No further explanation was given. At one point, a female customs officers who spoke decent English arrived and explained that this was the decision of the Consul and the decision could not be tried. She also said that it was the rights of the Belarusian authorities to deny entry, while still claiming the visa fee.

We were kept in a place with no access to food or water. At one point, one of the members of the delegation who had a heart condition, said he needed water to take his medicine. The female guard did not understand and thought he wanted a doctor. After a while, a female doctor arrived and wanted to examine him, something he denied – he only wanted water. The incident lead to a heathed discussion between the doctor and our guard. Around 6 in the morning local time, two seats were available on the morning flight to Frankfurt, and two of the delegation members left. They received their passports back at the gate. The two remaining delegation members left on a return flight our of Minsk at 3.30 in the afternoon.

Said delegation member Nygaard to the Norwegian daily Aftenposten´s web-edition: «It is important for us to show the world what kind of regime that rules in Belarus – this is among the issues PEN is focusing on. Belarus is a UN-member and it is important that we react when they behave like this.»

Oslo, December 5th 2011