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Arche: Authorities Against Belarusian Intellectuals

On 26 October, Belarus state television showed another criminal movie about independent Belarusian community. This time to prevent crimes Department of Financial Investigation staff members confiscated scholarly books written in Belarusian.

The authorities confiscated over 5,000 books from a former...


On 26 October, Belarus state television showed another criminal movie about independent Belarusian community. This time to prevent crimes Department of Financial Investigation staff members confiscated scholarly books written in Belarusian.

The authorities confiscated over 5,000 books from a former chief editor of Arche Valery Bulhakau. According to state TV-channel, these books are “stinky literature" and "works, leaning towards extremism."

Seizure of Valery Bulhakau’s books is the next stage in the fight of authorities against Belarusian intellectual community. This September the authorities already sacked academics for writing books and fairy tales. 

In Belarus state-owned houses publish almost exclusively pro-governmental authors. People do not buy their books and consequently authorities just send them to the libraries. In these circumstances, independent publishing houses carry out the function of studying Belarusian history, normally performed by the state. 

The story of Arche magazine serves as a good illustration of it. Arche is a humanitarian monthly journal about Belarusian history, politics, art and literature. Since 1998 not only Belarusians publish there, but also foreign intellectuals. In addition, Arche translates works of global researchers like Andrew Wilson or Zbigniew Brzezinski into Belarusian language. Now it seems that the authorities decided to close down the journal. 

How It All Began

On 14 September, chief editor Valery Bulhakau presented in Hrodna a new book from Arche magazine series on "The Sovietization of Western Belarus." During the presentation, tax inspectorate staff did "test purchases" of several books. Mr Bulhakau was seeling the books without any receipts, and therefore was accused of illegal business activities.

Belarusian authorities decided that Dr Valery Bulhakau broke the law, although the sale of books without receipts at book fairs is a common practice around the world.

Clearly,  the offence is only an excuse to launch a wave of repression against Arche. In addition to targeting Bulhakau, he authorities also plan to deprive the magazine’s incense. With no bank account, it will not be possible to publish a new edition of Arche.

Today, Valery Bulhakau does not rule out a criminal case against himself. By the way, to take re-direct the impact away from the journal, Mr. Bulhakau resigned as its editor-in-chief. Today, another well-known Belarusian intellectual Ales Pashkevich performs the duties of editor-in-chief.

Obviously the society with free mind stands in the authorities’ way. By closing Arche they want to scare all Belarusian intelligentsia. The aim of authorities is to marginalise Belarusian independent research and publication. It is very important for the state ideologists that humanitarian researches should not go outside the frames set by the authorities or shatter the ground of the official pro-soviet history.

When Scholars Became Extremists

Today, authorities are trying to accuse Arche of extremism.State propaganda claimed that seized books "give dubious interpretation of Belarusian history during the Nazi occupation."

Among 20 different titles which were seized, only two related to the Second World War. Belarus state journalists were impressed by a fairly common thesis among historians that the Soviet Union was itself planning an attack against Hitler's Germany. According to the state television, through such statements Arche publishers are “promoting Nazis’ speeches at Nuremberg trial".

Belarusian historian Uladzimir Lyakhouski demanded an apology from Belarusian Television to Arche. In his view, "comments and the visual sequence accompanying the report can be interpreted as Goebbels’ technique, through which the truth is replaced by lies and falsification."

It is not the first time they call Arche an extremist publication.  In 2008, customs officials confiscated from Ales Pashkevich several copies of the magazine. That edition was about the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also had several articles about Belarusian politicians. Exactly these articles a court found extremist at that time. However, when Arche magazine filed an appeal, the KGB decided to withdraw its claim.

What Arche Means for Belarusians

Harassment of the magazine became a cause for reflection what Arche represents for Belarus. The titles seized from Bulhakau included books about the first Belarusian city of Polatsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, famous Battle of Grunwald, Belarusian People's Republic. Generally, Arche editions cover the whole Belarusian history – from ancient times to its contemporary problems.

Arche magazine is a Belarusian intellectual centre, which collects research about Belarusian history at the time when the government censors such history. In fact, Arche perform tasks that  the Ministry of Culture and Education should perform. Also, authorities still do not like the journal's international recognition. Incidentally, Arche is a member of Eurozine network, which combines cultural magazines across Europe.

Will the Magazine Continue to Exist?

Valery Bulhakau says to preserve Arche in current format is almost impossible. It seems that the magazine will have to completely migrate to Internet. At the same time, it is clear that the Internet is not really suitable for long scientific research articles.

To rescue the journal, many in Belarus call for demonstration of solidarity – both in Belarus and abroad. Belarus Digest  discussed the journal's future with acting editor in chief Ales Pashkevich.  Pashkievich said that  it "was difficult to predict what the case tends to. The result may be cancellation of the magazine’s registration, or imposing huge fines on so that it stops existing by itself."

Pashkievich assured that Arche stuff will do their best to continue their work and asked people to show solidarity and send  written requests to the Ministry of Information.

Staff members of the Department of Financial Investigations of the Committee of State Control do not give any comments on Arche’s case. It could be that the authorities have not yet made ​​a final decision to close down the magazine. The final decision may  depend on how broad the solidarity with Belarusian intellectuals will be. 

Ryhor Astapenia

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