Biographies Interviews Judges


Maria Przełomiec Journalist

'I would like to read something new'

Maria, you have covered events in post-Soviet countries for around twenty years - firstly, from 1990-2006 as a correspondent for the BBC in Poland, and today as the author and presenter of Studio Wschód’- a TVP series that analyses socio-political situations in post-Soviet countries.  What do you think are the most important issues for coverage? What events have caught your attention?                                  

Unfortunately, they are mostly related to politics. I’m a journalist and I should report on what concerns people. And the reasons that I have come across in Belarus are purely political – elections, the referendum of 1996. I first visited Belarus in March 1991 when there were the first strikes, and since then, I’ve regularly visited Belarus but always in connection with the presidential or parliamentary elections, or events connected with elections, as well as anti-Lukashenko demonstrations. Unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to go to Belarus to simply admire nature or its history.

The last topic that I covered in my programme was the ‘West 2013’ military exercises. TVP was the only western TV station which attended this manoeuvre. We approached the Belarusian embassy for an invitation, we really didn’t think that they would issue us one.

Why do you think that Polish media write more about Belarus than media in other countries? If we acknowledge the obvious fact that Poland and Belarus are neighbours, why else do you think that Poland is particularly sensitive to Belarusian issues?

Yes, it’s true that Belarus’ neighbours – for example, Lithuania and Poland – seem to be the most interested in Belarusian issues of all EU countries. Beyond being neighbours, I think that shared history plays an important role – there are strong family ties because many Poles are of Belarusian origin. For example, my family was a noble family that lived in Belarus for 600 years and had an estate not far from Slonim. But I think that Belarus is also of interest to Polish media because Belarus is the last dictatorship of Europe. This also has its place.

What topics are most popular in Polish media regarding Belarus? Are there any dominant stereotypes?

Obviously politics, human rights, and the Belarusian opposition, but also the Independent Union of Poles in Belarus, and Polish journalists who work in Belarus, such as Andrzej Poczobut [SBIO: A Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent who has been arrested in Belarus more than a dozen times, and received libel charges]. Unfortunately there are not so many articles about tourism, about nature in Belarus, or even about its very interesting history. The topic which interests the Polish media the most is politics.

Regarding stereotypes, I don’t know if this is a stereotype or not, but you can often read that the majority of Belarusians are not interested in history. That history started from the second world war. That for the average Belarusian, the most important thing is that ‘at least there is no war’, and that it is irrelevant to many whether Lukashenko is in power or not. I certainly hope that these are stereotypes.

You are on the judging panel of the international journalism competition ‘Belarus in Focus 2013’. Articles will be about various topics and present different points of view. What qualities will you be looking for in articles?

You know, the most difficult part of a journalist’s work is maintaining an objective point of view in order to write the truth. It’s hard, I know from experience. Perhaps not so much even objectivity as the truth. I think that truth is what matters most for articles not to be full of stereotypes, and to show something new. I know that it is very difficult to write something new about Belarus because it appears that the situation is not changing at all, and if it does change, then it is only by a little bit, even imperceptibly. I would like to see something that I don’t already know in the articles. Not necessarily politics, perhaps nature, perhaps history, perhaps a human story.

And finally, how would you describe Belarus in three words?

If I can, I’d like to describe it in four words:  Good people, pitiful country. ‘Pitiful’ in the sense that I feel sorry to look at it today.