‘Independent media is like oxygen for democracy’

April 22, 2016 18:58

Last Friday, Belarusian and Ukrainian journalists met with Denmark’s Foreign Minister, Martin Lidegaard, in Copenhagen. The minister wanted to hear first-hand about the situation in Belarus and Ukraine and the role that media is playing.

Speaking on behalf of the group were Yuliya Slutskaya, director of Warsaw-based Solidarity with Belarus Information Office, Natalia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter 97, also in Warsaw, and Oleksiy Matsuka, editor-in-chief of the regional news website Novosti Donbassa and editor of Hromadske TV’s Donbass section.

Introducing the general political situation in Belarus, Natalia Radzina commented “Today, due to the Russo-Ukrainian war, Belarus has become a ‘negotiations platform’ for the conflicting sides, Lukashenko the dictator has suddenly become a ‘peacemaker’, and European goods are coming through our country into Russia”.

“The Russian-Ukrainian crisis has demonstrated the role and meaning of Belarusian independent media”, continued Yuliya Slutskaya. “Recent sociological research shows that 30% of Belarusians do not consider Ukrainians to be fascists and understand that military action in Donbass is being supported by Russia. This is thanks to the independent media."

Regarding Ukraine, Matsuka said: “Today we can no longer work in Donetsk. None of the fifteen Donetsk newspapers are working any more. All the TV towers have been occupied by separatists. They have created their own ‘Russian world’ which is even worse than the Belarusian one – it is Soviet…We ask for you not to soften your position, but to continue sanctions against Russia.”

In his response, Lidegaard said that his government would continue their strategy to support democratic initiatives in Belarus and Ukraine, and commented that “independent media is like oxygen for democracy”.

The journalists were fascinated to discover that Minister Lidegaard knew Belarus not only from policy discussions, but had also explored the country on a bicycle.

This group visit to Copenhagen was part of a two-week programme funded by NIRAS and Solidarity Fund PL. In the previous week, the journalists had been on individual placements at local media around Poland.