SoA Chief Executive, Nicola Solomon, who visited the country as part of a European Writers’ Council (EWC) delegation to Minsk in 2018, last week wrote to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab MP raising awareness of the Union of Belarusian Writer’s (UBW) Voices of Belarus report documenting the ongoing violence at the hands of the Belarusian regime.
EWC President, Nina George, welcomed the letter as a ‘strong’ and ‘clear’ intervention in the public debate alongside support for the UBW issued by the Writers’ Union of Iceland, the Czech Writers’ Union, the Danish Writers’ Union and the Hellenic Authors’ Society of Greece in recent days.
The UBW, which was created in 1934 and counts some 470 members, has been prevented from publishing periodicals by the Belarusian regime since 2002, with all Belarusian authors subject to state censorship.
In Belarus, if an author’s name appears on a state-sanctioned black- or greylist, it is virtually impossible for the author to reach an audience. Although it remains possible to pay privately to have a work printed, it will not be sold in the country’s bookshops, all of which are state-run.
UBW members include Nobel Prize winner, Svetlana Alexievich, whose works have not been published by state-owned publishing houses since 1993. The SoA was fortunate to be able to celebrate a translation by Bela Shayevich of Svetlana’s book Second-Hand-Time, which was awarded our inaugural TA First Translation Prize.
Inevitably under such a regime, several UBW members are in prison for their writing and, recently, Svetlana was called in for questioning by Police before being released following concerted international pressure.
Commenting on the situation in Belarus, SoA Chief Executive Nicola Solomon said:
The UBW continues its work courageously and peacefully, despite the ongoing violence and repression.
When we were treated to a poetry reading by UBW members during our 2018 EWC visit, most of them – movingly – were based on love or personal themes. Looking across to Belarus and seeing how the liberties we take for granted here are so often denied, it is hard not to feel humbled.
On behalf of the SoA, I have written to the Foreign Secretary asking him to publicly condemn the violence and repression in Belarus and ensure that the UK plays its part in raising awareness of the plight of Belarusian citizens in his discussions with Foreign Ministers and as part of the ongoing UK’s diplomatic missions to the Council of Europe, the OSCE, UNESCO, the UN and elsewhere.
It is also vital that the UK applies diplomatic pressure on the Belarusian regime for the release of citizens unlawfully arrested during its 2020 presidential election campaign and that the country holds free and fair elections as soon as possible under international observation.