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Independent Belarusian newspaper "Nasha Niva" to close

Just before its 100th anniversary, independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva is being threatened with closure, say its editors. The Executive Committee of the City of Minsk has ruled that the arrest of editor-in-chief Andrej Dynko on 22 March disqualifies Nasha Niva from operating as a company in Minsk.

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Since 1 January, the paper has run up against a series of bureaucratic brick walls intended to force it out of circulation. State-run distributor Bielsajuzdruk has found various pretexts for refusing to deliver Nasha Niva; the official subscription service also refuses to handle the paper. Then, on 10 April, the Belarusian ministry of information notified the editors of Nasha Niva that application for a licence to distribute via independent subscription had been refused.

The letter from the Executive Committee was also dated 10 April. Up to this point, the Belarusian press has been regulated by the Ministry of Information with some semblance of legality. Both the intervention into press matters by the Executive Committee, overseen by the department of ideology, and the disqualification of a business on the grounds of criminal charges against its director, are legally unfounded.

Now the editors are appealing to the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture to apply for UNESCO protection for the paper. Lithuania is entitled to do so since Nasha Niva was founded and published in Vilnius between 1906 and 1915, and again between 1991 and 1996. The editors appeal to governmental and non-governmental bodies in other countries, as well as international bodies, to support this application. They also make a wider appeal to the international community to intensify their support for the independent media in Belarus.

Banned from distribution, Nasha Niva is currently being kept afloat by private donations. If the print version is forced to close, the online version will continue to be published, say the editors. There is also the option of moving abroad, though this would create subscription complications. Meanwhile, the editors appeal for donations to continue.

This attempt to close Nasha Niva is among the many assaults launched since the start of Alyaksandr Lukashenko's third term as president on alternatives to Soviet cultural identity. Along with the dozens of other publications threatened with closure, the Union of Writers is being disbanded; a ban has been placed on starting up Belarusian-language television and radio stations; and Belarusian rock music has been taken off the radio and television.


Published 2006-04-19

Original in English
© Eurozine

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