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RFE/RL's Belarus Service Fills the Minsk Philharmonic

Minsk - Aliaksandar Lukashuk emcees the presentation of "Jak?"
Minsk - Aliaksandar Lukashuk emcees the presentation of "Jak?"
Booking a public space for an event in Minsk is difficult. Booking a public space for the release of a book on how to act morally in an authoritarian society in Minsk can be a bit more difficult. But, the latter is just what RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, known locally as Radio Svaboda, did last month.

The service celebrated the release of "Jak? (How?)", the 17th book in its "Library of Liberty" series, by packing the Minsk Philharmonic's chorus room - capacity 180 - with 300 people. The radio was able to procure the space at the Philharmonic by "acquiring" (the methods will remain a mystery) the entry
I thought we are doomed to meet in shabby cellar rooms, but Radio Liberty took the Philharmonic. What next?!
tickets in the days leading up to the event. Service Director Aliaksandar Lukashuk was impressed with the turnout, and that they were able to hold the event in such a unique setting. "We had a back-up plan, of course, in case the authorities stopped us at the door," he said. "But we were very careful with advertising the event - we actually didn't announce the location until that morning. The fact that hundreds came on a such short notice, on a working day, was a surprise." And, as one of the speakers, philosopher Valantsin Akudovich, said, "I thought that till the end of my days we are doomed to meet and talk in shabby NGO offices or small cellar rooms, but Radio Liberty took the Philharmonic! What's next?!."

NOTE: click here to view a photo gallery of the event & here for video (in Belarusian)

The "Library of Liberty" book series is made up of compilations of actual Radio Svaboda broadcasts, so it is like getting a series of radio shows in print form. With no FM affiliate stations in Belarus, Radio Svaboda is forced to broadcast in short and medium wave frequencies, which are significantly weaker than FM and reach less people. As Lukashuk puts it, "The 'Library' series is really another way for us to get our product and message out to the audience. In our broadcasting, and on the internet, we tell people to send us their address if they want a book." He continued, "We also provide the books in PDF format on our website, and thousands of people download, print, and even bind the books for their personal libraries -- a post-Internet samizdat."

"Jak?" features original calligraphy of the Belarusian alphabet and a collection of stories on the experience living in Belarus, a country ruled with a heavy hand by president AlexanderLukashenko. The country is, however, a bit of an anomaly, as its citizens can travel, have internet access, and the ability to at least nominally have contact with the outside world. The book tackles these and many other issues facing people living in authoritarian states in the modern era and is now on tour in other Belarusian cities. The author, Sergei Dubavet, has been invited to presentations in Poland and Ukraine.

--Zach Peterson