Aliaksei Karol, Belarus

Aliaksei Karol, editor-in-chief of the weekly Novy Chas, is one of the last remaining independent voices in Belarus. For 16 years he has endured physical attacks and intense government suppression because he believes in providing fellow citizens with independent news.

The 63-year-old author, historian and political scientist was among the first to call for democratic transformation in what was then a Soviet republic. During his years of journalistic service to the people of a country widely known as “Europe’s last dictatorship,” he has fostered knowledge and faith in democratic values and helped restore awareness and pride in the country’s long-trampled national identity. In 1992, he founded his first newspaper, Zgoda, to promote democratic values and national culture.

“Zgoda…was one of the first non-state newspapers in the country and became a tribune of free speech that greatly helped promotion of democratic values in society,” said Alies Pashkevich, chair of the Union of Belarusian Writers.

In 2002, Karol suffered a concussion after a late-night attack near his home as he was returning from a forum of democratic activists in Lithuania. “He was hit from behind with some heavy object, fainted and came to his senses in a puddle of blood,” said Zhanna Litvina, chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. “Even though the police began a criminal investigation, the offenders were never found.”

For their dogged opposition to Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian president since 1994, Karol and the Zgoda staff drew the wrath of authorities who finally managed to quash the paper in 2006. Amid the ashes of Zgoda, the dauntless Karol launched the weekly Novy Chas in March 2007. The authorities fought back. Last December, a parliament member and Lukashenko ally, Mikalay Charhinets, claimed the paper had defamed him. He won damages equivalent to $23,500–a ruinous sum for any Belarusian newspaper. With support and donations from international admirers, Karol settled the claim and continues to publish every week.

While wielding his pen to help Belarus forge a path toward a democratic future, Karol educates Belarusians about their country’s often tragic past.

“His publications helped to fill in many ‘white spots’ in the history of Belarus, and helped bring back from oblivion the names and works of many outstanding Belarusian writers and cultural figures that were repressed by Stalin’s regime in the 1930s,” Pashkevich said.

“Newspapers published by Mr. Karol have a distinct creative profile, concern and content,” Zhdanko said. “They are noted for their consistently democratic position, objectivity and diversity of the subjects and styles of coverage. Mr. Karol’s own writing, mostly this is political analysis, is distinguished by depth and precision, combined with sharp journalistic style and ease of delivery.”