Founder and Editor in chief of 34 Multimedia Magazine*, one of the main independent media in Belarus, Iryna Vidanava teaches at the* European Humanities University in Vilnius, which “hosts” many Belarussian students. A graduate of the Insitute of Policies Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the USA, she has served as international coordinator for the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs, Belarus’ largest third sector umbrella organization.

Presseurop met her in Linz, Austria, at the 23rd European Meeting of Cultural Journals, organized by Eurozine.

What is the situation for the media in Belarus?

Unfortunately, since the December 2010 election, the situation got even worse than it has been for years and years. And we feel that the regime is trying to restrict us even more and probably trying to destroy the independent media alltogether.

How does the independent media work?

During the last couple of years, the new media developed very fast and the independent media took advantage of the situation because it is the only way to continue. So when the government was still considering how to use internet, we were already there, which gave us time to build audiences and popularity. That is why independent media are very active online. They are much more popular than any state media online. We are actually reaching the point where we can compete with state TV, numberwise.

Secondly, as we are still samizdat, it takes different forms. In our case it is a multimedia magazine on CD. But there are also samizdat publications, traditional or not traditional. And thirdly, there is crossborder broadcasting on TV and radio from Poland and Lithuania. And more and more people are buying satellite dishes just to be able to get independent information.

What kind of news do you try to convey to your readers?

It depends on what kind of independent media we are talking about. 34 Magazine is a youth magazine focusing on alternative cultural, social and civic activism. We are less looking for the news than for the trends. We are encouraging our young readers to be critical in anything, to be thoughtful and to be active. For this, we can pick up any topic, a new album or a social protest.

In the case of other media, for daily and weekly newspapers, their websites are of course focusing on political news. Some of them have quite extensive international coverage, which is also very important for countries like Belarus which are quite isolated from the rest of the world. It allows us to get an understanding of where the world is moving to and where we would fit in or not. For all of us, the main purpose is to actually be there, so that the population has access to some kind of objective information, away from state propaganda.

Are Belarussian youth looking at Europe? Do they expect something from it?

If we talk about the democratic movement, of course we are looking at Europe, and of course we appreciate every efforts done to support us, condemnation of the repression and the pressure that has been put on the government to release political prisoners and stop repression. But we need consistency in EU policy towards Belarus. I do not think that anybody would accept if the EU suddenly started talking to this regime before the minimum requirements are fulfilled.

I think that more and more people in Belarus today see the necessity of economic sanctions. Given the economic situation today, the regime is cornered and there are only 2 ways out. One is to do what Russia says, and recently we have been talking about the threat of a dependence if not formally then economically. Russia would dictate what would be happening in the country and it would be up to them to replace or maintain Lukashenko in power. The second is to open up to Europe and start talking again and implement reforms. It is a very tough choice for our government, but I think that in the country, people understand more and more that of course the change will be pushed from inside but also that there is no other way but opening up and talking to all the neighbours.

**Interview by Eric Maurice****.

On 1 June the Belarusian government formally requested assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to restart a loan programme which could give the former Soviet republic between 2.4 and 5.5 billions of euros in low-interest credits.