The topic of ban of literature is often encountered in the pages of the world’s dystopias. It was also practiced in the USSR and the Third Reich. Now Lukashenko is doing the same thing. In May, enforcement officers smashed up a shop with Belarusian literature, and on June 15, school libraries were prohibited to lend books of 33 authors.
The regime’s list of extremist materials now includes more than 60 books. Among them are translations of Muslim books, Hitler’s Mein Kampf (declared extremist four times) and many books by Belarusian authors who opposed the regime. For example, in 2011, Alena Gnauk’s publication, “Particular Opinion, or the Appeal of a Christian Woman”, was banned. Alena Gnauk is now a political prisoner; she is charged under Articles 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them) and Article 367 of the Criminal Code (slander against Lukashenka). Alena has already been sentenced to three years of restriction of liberty, but now she is back in pre-trial detention. In 2021, the book “Belarusian Donbas” by journalists Igor Ilyash and Katerina Andreeva was added to the list. In spring 2022, the regime announced a new hunt for unwanted books.
On April 15, 2022, the license of the publishing house “Medisont” was suspended. The publishing house produced not only books but also catalogues, corporate calendars and other printed products. Among the books there were works by opposition authors Andrus Ghorvat, Stas Karpau, Alesia Basharymava and Mikhail Baranouski. The book “Belarusian National Idea” by Dzmitry Lukashuk and Maksim Harunau, recognized as extremist, was issued by “Medisont”. The announced reason for the suspension was a violation of the terms of notifying about modifications in the information to be included in the State register of publishers, producers and distributors of printed editions.
On April 18, 2022, the Ministry of Information suspended the license of the publishing house “Haliyafy” for three months. That decision was explained by the fact that “Haliyafy” violated the terms of notifying about modifications in the information to be included in the State Register of Publishers, Manufacturers and Distributors of Printed Publications. The publishing house publishes modern fiction and children’s books in Belarusian.
On April 21, 2022, the book by heraldist Viktar Liakhor, “Military History of Belarus. Heroes. Symbols. Colours”, appeared on the list of extremist materials. They allegedly found signs of “extremism in the form of rehabilitation of Nazism” and a threat to “information security of the country by distortion of the historical memory of the people”. The author said that the book had been officially published and had been checked by the KGB before that.
On May 13, 2022, the Ministry of Information suspended the activity of the publishing houses “Limaryus” and “Knihazbor” for three months. According to the officials, the publishing houses didn’t apply to the Ministry of Information with the notification about the changes of the information for the State Register of Publishers, Manufacturers and Distributors of Printed Publications. Both of the publishing houses publish literature in the Belarusian language
On May 16, 2022, the bookshop “Knihauka” by “Januszkiewicz” publishing house opened. Among the first visitors were propagandists Liudmila Hladkaia and Grigory Azarenok, who criticized the books in the Belarusian language sold there. They started asking the publisher Andrei Yanushkevich provocative questions like who won the elections and what he thought about the sanctions; then they asked where the books of propagandists were, why no literature in Russian and no books by Belarusian writers – laureates of Soviet prizes were sold there. Shortly after the journalists left, the enforcers came to search the shop. Andrei Yanushkevich and the employee Anastasia Karnatskaya were detained. The shop was forced to close down only three days after its opening.
On May 18, 2022, Alherd Baharevich’s novel, “Dogs of Europe”, was declared extremist, as it was reported in the pro-governmental edition “SB. Belarus Today”. The novel was written back in 2017, it won multiple awards, and its translation into Russian was shortlisted for the Big Book Award 2019. The synopsis of the book states that “Dogs of Europe” is “a novel about human and national loneliness, about illusions – about a state that does not need the past and is confident that it has the power to undo the future, about the dictatorship of speech, the edge of the empire and its European longing”.
On June 15, 2022, the illegitimate regime began banning books by Belarusian opposition authors. Among them are works by Nobel laureates Sviatlana Aleksievich, Alherd Baharevich and Uladzimir Niakliaeu. In total, the order was issued to withdraw the works of 33 authors, including children’s writers, from school libraries. All the authors had in common was that they were members of the non-governmental Union of Belarusian Writers or were critical of Lukashenka.
The illegitimate regime is fighting with books to make Belarusians read things that do not undermine Lukashenka’s power and that praise the dictator. Nevertheless, such a fight is hopeless, as life moves on, and people’s needs, desires and demands have by far overgrown everything the aged dictator has to offer. In addition, the opportunity to read what one likes in the modern world goes far beyond hard copies of books. Besides that, there’s no better advertisement for a book in Belarus than a ban from the regime: everyone just gets curious what scares Lukashenka so much in that book and wants to read it. That is why the destruction of books will only bring closer the end of the regime.