The office of Charter’97 has opened in Warsaw.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by deputy minister of foreign affairs of Poland Jerzy Pomianowski; former minister of foreign affairs of Slovakia Pavol Demes; OSCE ODIHR Director Ambassador Janez Lenarčič; director of the Eastern Department the Polish Foreign Ministry Artur Michalski; Poland’s ambassador to Belarus Leszek Szerepka; former heads of the Polish Embassy in Minsk Mariusz Maszkiewicz and Witold Jurasz; European Parliament deputy Marek Migalski; vice-president of the International Solidarity Foundation Martin Wojciehowski; director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund Andrew Michta; Director of the Centre for East European Democracy Paweł Kazaniecki; heads of the foundation Freedom and Democracy Tomasz Pisula and Marek Bucko; representatives from the embassies of the USA, Slovakia, Belgium, Hungary, Norway, Canada, Japan, Austria, Irland, Czech, Finland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Estonia, Egypt.
Even well-known Belarusian politicians and public figures took part in the ceremony: former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich; coordinator of the civil campaign European Belarus Dzmitry Bandarenka; head of the head-quarters of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov Uladzimir Kobiets; leader of the Belarusian Movement Viktar Ivashkievich; widow of the missing Belarusian businessman and public figure Anatol Krasouski, leader of the foundation We Remember Iryna Krasouskaia; former political prisoner Dzmitry Drozd; director of the radio Ratsyia Yaugen Vapa; one of the leaders of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Dzianis Sadouski; directors of the Belarusian House in Warsaw Dzmitry Barodka and Ales Zarembiuk; directors of the Belarusian Free Theater Mikalai Khalezin and Natallia Kaliada; head of the Information bureau of solidarity with Belarus Yulia Slutskaia; director of the Euroradio Dzmitry Novikau.
The ceremony began with the demonstration of a documentary about Charter’97.org.
Host and actress of the Polish Theater Lidka Sadowa said when she was opening the event: “I am a Polisj actress Lida Sadowa. Today we welcome the team of the independent website Charter’97 in Warsaw. We in Poland think that we know Belarus well. This is our neighbor. We all know that the people there have a bad and hard life. But still, all of that remains a mere abstraction for us. Yes, we do know the facts, but sometimes we cannot realize how the Belarusians suffer. I could feel it, because in the play “Time of Women” staged in the Theater Polski I played the role of Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter’97. By the way, when she and her fellows were in jail, Jude Law and Kevin Spacey went out to the streets with their portraits, and earlier, well-known playwright Tom Stoppard provided computers for Charter’97. As for me, when I was studying the role of Natallia Radzina who has been to prison and had to go through hard times in her life, who had to leave the country, I could feel her pain, her sufferings, her tortures - and her courage. At the same time I felt the pain, sufferings, tortures and courage of the people of Belarus who are fighting for their country’s freedom. I admire the strength of these people.
And today, when Poland became a refuge for the Belarusians who are chased in their homeland, I want to ask every Pole to imagine how our neighbors live, to try to feel it. If we do it, changes will come to this country very soon. Belarus’ fate depends on each of us. It is our common thing.”
Natallia Radzina, editor-in-chief of Charter’97, said:
- The last two years have been the hardest years in our lives. We have lost our colleague, founder of the website Aleg Biabienin. We have gone through searches and arrests; our office has been devastated. But we preserved hope and faith even in the hardest time.
I was in complete isolation in the KGB jail. I was allowed neither letters nor newspapers. There was no connection to the outer world. There was nobody to talk to in the cell, nobody who could support me. But all that time I kept a mental conversation with myself. I told myself: “Don’t give up! We are remembered, the entire world is fighting for our freedom, they won’t forget us, they won’t let us die here.” I survived the jail only because of this faith, faith in you. By the way, today in the audience there are people who were in the cells close to mine: former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich, heads of Andrei Sannikov’s head quarters Uladzimir Kobiets and Dzmitry Bandarenka, and many other Belarusians who have gone through prison.
Today the faith in your solidarity gives us the strength to continue our work. Free and democratic Belarus is our life’s mission. And we won’t give up, no matter how hard it might get.
I believe that the time will come when the Charter’97-team will be able to receive all of you in free Belarus. It can happen any moment because the Belarusians crave changes, and the Polish Solidarity is with us. Long live Belarus! Zyje Polska!
Deputy Minister for foreign affairs of Poland Jerzy Pomianowski also took part in the opening ceremony. He said:
- I’d like to personally welcome Charter’97 on the Polish ground.
The opening of another Belarusian non-governmental organization in Poland is a very important sign for us. We want to help, and we see that our help is expected, and that it’s needed. This is also a sign for the Belarusian powers that these organizations are unbendable and that they continue their work.
Charter’97 is an unusual project that implements modern methods to establish contact with those who want to know the truth. The movie that we have seen before the event shows the whole arsenal of repressions, from arrests and assaults of journalists to searches of the portal’s editorial office.
Iryna Khalip, who has been convicted, and Andrzej Poczobut, a suspect in a criminal case against insult of the president, are two examples of how freedom of speech is treated in Belarus. The degree of freedom of NGOs’ work in a country is an evaluation of the state’s functioning. The repressions that take place in Belarus are unacceptable. According to the definition of democracy, every democracy should be a society where NGO can open and operate freely, where the powers listen to the people, and the people, in their turn, not only control the government, but can change it if their advice, their will, thei choice are ignored.
Until actual democratic changes occur in Belarus, the NGOs have to survive and act in a complicated environment, even abroad, for example in Poland. We know from our history that sometimes the Polish people had to act in difficult situations.
We are ready to demonstrate the solidarity, and we will continue that.
Another crucial task of the Belarusian organizations is to look for potential international partners. We should go on in this direction.
Former minister of foreign affairs of Slovakia Pavol Demes said in his speech that he is convinced that no dictator has the power to destroy Charter’97:
- For me, it is a great honor and joy to be present at this event. This is a unique event for all of us. Charter’77 means a lot to me, a Slovak born in Czechoslovakia. I associate Charter’77 with brave men and women, such as Vaclav Havel and many other fighters for freedom. Charter’77 gave inspiration to many people, including you, Belarusians. Charter’97 is also associated with brave men and women who have showed the entire world what it means, to fight for freedom. I learnt about Charter’97 in 2000, when Andrei Sannikov and Dzmitry Bandarenka came to Bratislava and told about the organization. Together with many other people from Charter’97, they have changed my life.
I believe that Charter’97 is not only a powerful mass medium, but also a modern electronic information tool that binds people from Belarus with the rest of the world. Many of us switch on our computers every day to see what’s happening in the world. And I mean not only people in Belarus, but also people all over the planet, everyone who is concerned with what’s going on in your country. Charter’97 is the network that binds people; it’s a way of life and a symbol.
I am convinced that this is the reason why no dictator has the power to destroy Charter’97.
I congratulate Natasha Radzina, who, as a good mother, has found a new home for Charter’97 in Warsaw. I also congratulate the Poles and people of the EU, especially you, Mister Pomianowski, and your colleagues who have showed that they are brave and generous enough to give shelter to these unusual people.
I am convinced that the darkness over Belarus will disperse, and that some time you, Natasha, will invite us not only to Warsaw, but even to the inauguration of the new Belarusian president who will award you, all Charter’97-team, and Aleg Biabienin – posthumously. At that ceremony we will again speak about Vaclav Havel, Lech Wałęsa and other people who have influenced Charter’97.
Allow me congratulate you, and quote Minister Pomianowski: don’t stay here too long.
Vice-president of the Foundation of international solidarity Martin Wojciehowski remarked in his speech that a lot of people had contributed to the opening of the Charter’97 office:
- We were delighted to help open Charter’97 editorial office in Warsaw. It was our task, our mission; it is not our achievement. I want to thank the people and organizations, and the city’s administration for helping us find the premises; Mister Deputy Andrzej Chalicki for his good will and assistance in overcoming bureaucratic obstacles. It is marvelous that everything was ready so quickly. I am sure that it would be impossible unless so many people had wanted that. We are very happy that you can work.
Several days ago I asked Natallia Radzina what she would do when she can get back to Minsk. She replied that it would be a feast. We all wait for this moment.
Iryna Krasouskaia, the widow of Anatol Krasouki, the businessman and public figure kidnapped in Belarus, and the president of the foundation We Remember spoke during the opening ceremony:
- I am a bit nervous because it is much more pleasant to meet my friends from Charter’97 here, in Warsaw, than to send postcards to the jail in Minsk. I am very happy that the website could completely resume its work and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world can learn the truth about what’s going on in Belarus.
It seems to me that I’ve known Charter’97 all my life – all my second life that began in 1999, when my husband was kidnapped and murdered by the Belarusian regime. The first people who talked to me and offered their help were journalists. The journalists from Charter’97, journalists from Belarus and Poland, from all over the world. I am very grateful to them.
I’ve known Natallia Radzina since she was a young but very stubborn journalist of 17. Today she is even more obstinate which is very good for us.
It feels as if since 1999 every day has begun with reading the news on Charter’97. This website means a lot for the people who are interested in Belarus.
You all know the price that those who tell the truth about the situation in Belarus have to pay.
We will always remember Aleg Biabienin.
I don’t want to remind about my friends – Natallia Radzina, Andrei Sannikov, Dzmitry Bandarenka, Iryna Khalip, Ulad Kobiets. But I want to remind about Dzmitry Dashkievich, Mikalai Statkievich and other political prisoners. Today they are in a great danger. We also should remember the people who died for Belarus, for a better life for the Belarusians: Gianadz Karpienka, Viktar Ganchar, Yury Zakharanka, Dzmitry Zavadski, Anatol Krasouski. This price for freedom is too high.
It is wonderful that today we have gathered in Poland, a friendly country that knows what the struggle for freedom and democracy means. I am convinced that being here, all the Belarusians, including the team of Charter’97, will become more united in their fight for free European Belarus.
The team of Charter’97 want to thank all the people who have helped to open the office in Warsaw: Poland’s foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski; minister Katarzyna Pelczynska; head of Middle East and Caucasus office of the Eastern Department of the Polish Foreign Ministry Piotr Ivaszkiewicz; president of the Foundation of international solidarity Krzysztof Stanowski; vice-president of the Foundation of international solidarity Martin Wojciehowski; Warsaw’s president Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz; burmistr of Warsaw’s Śródmieście Wojcech Bartelski; holding Agora; editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza Adam Michnik; president of the foundation Freedom and Democracy Tomasz Pisula and Marek Bucko and many other responsive people.
The presentation of Charter’97.org office in Warsaw became possible with the support of the Belarusian Diaspora in Poland.