From left to right: Victor Malishevsky, Viktar Marchuk, Zmicier Pankaviec, Svetlana Kalinkina, and Anatoly Bukas.

Belarusian Journalists Tell Students about the Likelihood of Change in Their Country

The five Belarusian journalists visiting the University of Georgia did not agree about how or when change would come to their country. That they longed for change was clear.

"Ours is a tightly controlled, closed society," said Svetlana Kalinkina, editor-in-chief of Narodnaya Volya newspaper. "And the government still controls its agenda through the media. There are very few open, oppositional mouthpieces."

The government "tolerates" some independent newspapers, including her own, she said, but it allows no independent radio or television in the country.

"I'm not optimistic at all about the prospects of (President Alyaksandr) Lukashenka leaving office anytime soon," says Zmicier Pankaviec. "He continues to be a very strong leader and he is in control of everything in the country."

Pankaviec said that the government had recently seized all of the equipment in his newspaper, Nasha Niva. which publishes in the Belarusian language, but the newspaper has "managed to publish all the same."

"I think Lukashenka will be gone in about 18 months to two years," Anatoly Bukas, editor in chief of Borisov News, said.

"The authorities themselves do not know how many people support them," said Victor Malishevsky, an independent journalist who publishes a blog. "Opinion polling does not exist, so the authorities do not know how many people vote for them. And it is a danger to the authorities."

The Belarusians made their comments on Feb. 21 in a session with about 20 journalism students in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Viktar Marchuk, editor in chief of Brestskaya Gazeta, was the fifth member of the group.

The five journalists, all representing independent media, spent an hour with the students, asking questions of them and answering their questions.

The Belarusians spoke in Russian, and their questions and answers were translated by interpreters traveling with them.

The visit by the Belarusian journalists was a component of the International Visitor Leadership Program, a professional exchange initiative of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The program in Georgia was organized by the Georgia Center for International Visitors.

The visit to the University of Georgia was coordinated by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The journalists also visited the Peabody Suite, where Dr. Horace Newcomb, director and professor of telecommunications, discussed the Peabody Awards program and the opportunities that it brings to foreign journalists.

Dr. Barry Hollander in session with Belarusian journalists.

Dr. Barry Hollander, professor of journalism, held a session with the Belarusian visitors to explain how he teaches investigative journalism classes.

Dr. Hollander said he stresses with students that there are four ways journalists get information: observation, interviews, documents and raw data.

"Our students sometimes struggle with getting and interpreting data," he said. "We spend time with them teaching how to do that, because it is an important way to get story ideas."

The Belarusians also met with Prof. David Hazinski of the Telecommunications Department, who said that "the journalists' most important value--anywhere in the world--is credibility."

In their last meeting in the Grady College, the Belarusian journalists talked with Drs. Lee Becker and Tudor Vlad, director and associate director of the Cox Center, about collaboration in the future.

Prior to their meeting with the Grady students, the visitors had been welcomed by Dr. Vlad.

"It is a pleasure to have you here, at the University of Georgia as guests," Dr. Vlad said. "I participated in a training program for media managers organized in Minsk in 1998, and I was impressed by the Belarusian journalists' devotion to their profession, under very challenging conditions."

Before returning to Atlanta, the Belarusian journalists visited the student radio station WUOG, located in the Tate Student Center.

Before visiting Athens and Atlanta, the delegation spent time in Washington, D.C. After their program in Georgia, the group traveled to Oklahoma and the state of Washington.