Political minefield of literary prize nominations in Belarus

Two nominees from Belarus have been put forward for the Nobel Prize in Literature and the names reflect the split between the Lukashenko-friendly, officially sanctioned and its opposite in the country.

The official nominee of the Union of Writers of Belarus is Georgi Marchuk, his third time in the running. The head of the official Union described Marchuk as well-known at home and abroad but the main mention of his name in English I found was his role in announcing a 2009 committee pledged to “check all Russian films and books for immorality and dissolute content” (Naturally, this had nothing to do with Russian-Belarusian gas price disputes).

The other nominee, Uladzimir Niakliaeu, comes from PEN Belarus and is former chairman of the Union of Belarusian Writers (not to be confused with the Union of Writers of Belarus) as well as of the country’s PEN chapter, an editor, poet and presidential candidate. Following the 2010 election fraud and demonstrations Niakliaeu was beaten up and jailed. Later he was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term and probation for his riotous behavior that presumably led to his beating. He was nominated early in 2011 also in a gesture of solidarity as he was still in custody.

Niakliaeu is head of the “Tell the Truth” campaign, something which the official union feels has apparently affected his literary skills:

“They killed a good poet in him when [they] asked [him] to participate in the political fuss,” Union of Writers of Belarus head Nikolai Cherginets said on Euroradio Belarus.

Niakliaeu recently made news by opposing the lifting of sanctions in Belarus:

“In my opinion, it’s not the best time to lift sanctions. Sannikov is in prison, Statkevich is in prison, Bandarenka is in prison and it does not seem he will be pardoned. Amid tension around Sannikov and the election this statement causes irritation. The EU, and the whole West, should take the measures able to influence the situation in Belarus. Or they should give it up, but not pretend they want to influence the situation,” he said, as reported by Charter97 (my italics).

The Nobel longlist of around 15 – 20 names (out of around 350 nominations) will be announced in April 2012.

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Categories: Literary Controversy, News

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