Podcast Then & Now #19 – Teresa Cherfas in conversation with Iryna Khalip

4 June 2024

by Teresa Cherfas

Welcome to the nineteenth edition of our Russian-language podcast Then & Now with me, Teresa Cherfas. 

My guest today is Iryna Khalip, a Belarusian journalist and participant in the 2010 protests against election fraud in the presidential elections in Belarus. Her husband is the politician Andrei Sannikov who ran as an opposition presidential candidate in those very elections. Since 2006, Iryna has been working as Belarus correspondent for Novaya gazeta, now Novaya gazeta – Evropа. Before that, Iryna worked in local opposition media, was an activist, was sent to prison, subjected to threats from the Belarusian special services and was a victim of psychological threats from the authorities. Today we will talk to Iryna about herself, the war in Ukraine, and the relationship between Lukashenka and Putin, between Russia and Belarus.

This podcast was recorded on 30 May 2024.

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My questions include:

  • Iryna, I was honestly amazed when I read about you in Wikipedia. Tell us about your activism against President Lukashenka of Belarus and his unlimited power in the country?  When did you start your activism and what have been the consequences for you personally?
  • You took part in the protests against election fraud in 2010. How did the 2020 protests differ from the 2010 protests?
  • What are the reasons for the failure of the latest protests, perhaps the most massive protests in the history of Belarus? 
  • It is said that the prison system and the situation of political prisoners in Belarus is much worse than in Russia.  Can you comment on this?  Have they tightened the screws in prisons since you were there?
  • What made you decide to leave Belarus?
  • Today there is a lot of talk that Russia is following the path that Belarus has already travelled. Is this true?
  • What has changed in Belarus since Russia announced the Special Military Operation on February 24, 2022?  How has Russia’s war against Ukraine affected the relationship between Belarus and Russia?
  • What does Lukashenka see as Belarus’ role in this war?   
  • How can one explain the location of the Wagner base, and previously Prigozhin himself, on the territory of Belarus?  
  • How would you describe the state of democratic forces in Belarus today?  Do they have a chance to influence the situation in the country? 
  • How would you characterize relations between those who left the country and those who stayed? In Russia, the gap between the two seems to be getting wider and deeper.
  • We know about the changes in school textbooks in Russia, especially in Russian history, about the militarization of education even in elementary schools.  What is the situation in Belarus?  Is it true that many children study abroad?
  • What can be said about the shortage of labour in Belarus? 
  • Can we assume that Belarus has its own path for the future? What will it look like? 
  • Can the West somehow influence the political future of Belarus, or is it doomed to remain a satellite of Russia?
  • Do you think you will ever return home? And what needs to take place in the country for that to happen?

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