Reported arrests in Minsk of two Belarusian publishing professionals send a chill through the world book business.

The flag of the Belarusian opposition, a photo from March 11. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Michele Ursi

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Einarsson: ‘Incidents Like This Lead to Self-Censorship’

The International Publishers Association (IPA) this morning (May 25 Abu Dhabi time) is flagging reporting from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Belarus saying that “police in Minsk have detained the director of a publishing house, Andrey Yanushkevich, and his associate, Nasta Karnatskaya, after they opened a general bookstore in the Belarusian capital.”

The detention is reported to have taken place on May 16 and Radio Free Europe’s report is dated May 17.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall, independent publishers of Belarus—a group of presses not named for security under the Lukashenko dictatorship—was one of five shortlisted candidates for the 2021 Prix Voltaire, the internationally followed honor for valor in the face of censorship, oppression, and violence against the freedom to publish. It is possible that the detainees who are the focus of these new reports were among publishing personnel whose work contributed to that shortlisting.

In the case of today’s expression of alarm, the International Publishers Association in Geneva is joined by the Federation of European Publishers and the European and International Booksellers Federation, both based in Brussels. 

At the time the unnamed Belarusian publishers were shortlisted, the association’s Kristenn Einarsson—chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee and chief of the upcoming WEXFO event in Lillehammer, May 30 and 31—said, that publishers trying to operate in Lukashenko’s Belarus faced “harassment in the form of police visits; seizures of computers and books; blocking of books from export; investigations by financial authorities; application of high fines for alleged financial irregularities; and the blocking of bank accounts.

“These tend to take place,” Einarsson noted, “particularly around the publication of books, critical of the government.”

‘We Stand Against Any Form of Censorship’

Kristenn Einarsson

At the time of the announcement of the shortlist, the European Writers’ Council, which has been especially vigilant under Nina George’s leadership during the Belarusian crisis, pointed to the “forcible dissolution” on October 1 of the Union of Belarusian Writers (Саюз беларускіх пісьменнікаў) as one of the direct actions taken by the Lukashenko regime against the country’s literary and publishing community.

Radio Free Europe writes that an inciting incident seems to have been a visit from two “pro-government propagandist journalists” who “started berating the bookstore staff for selling books in Belarusian that they said were inappropriate.” Police reportedly subsequently arrived, searched the bookstore, and arrested Andrey Yanushkevich and Nasta Karnatskaya.

Einarsson for today’s IPA messaging, looks back on last year’s recognition of the Belarusian publishers in danger, saying, “We recognized independent Belarusian publishers in the 2021 IPA Prix Voltaire shortlist.

Jean-Luc Treutenaere

“We know that publishing and bookselling is so difficult in Belarus now and incidents like this will undoubtedly lead to self-censorship on the part of authors, publishers and booksellers.

“We continue to offer our support to all those publishers in Belarus who want to publish freely.”

EIBF co-president Jean-Luc Treutenaere  adds: “We are concerned by the reports of book-banning, bookshop searches, and overall censorship coming from Belarus.

“We call [for] full respect for the freedom to publish and sell books, and we stand firmly with the Belarusian, European, and international publishing community against any form of censorship of the written word.”

Peter Kraus vom Cleff

And Peter Kraus vom Cleff, president of the Federation of European Publishers, says, “George Orwell’s book, 1984, denounces totalitarianism and mass surveillance.

“These are issues that, together with the role of truth and facts within politics and the ways in which they are manipulated, calls for increased consideration from politicians and society at large.

“No book, perhaps especially this one, should ever be banned. Freedom to publish and freedom to sell books are central to a democratic society.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, and on its Prix Voltaire is here. More from us on Belarus and its crisis is here, more on censorship is here, more on the Federation of European Publishers is here, more on the European and International Booksellers Federation is here, more on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression is here, more on the work of Kristenn Einarsson is here, and more on WEXFO is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s global media partner.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London’s The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.