Мінск, вул. Кісялёва, 12-2н, пам. 29
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Horia-Victor Lefter, L'Regard Sur Est

Horia-Victor Lefter (Францыя, Румынія). Са-рэдактар спецыяльнага выпуску па Беларусі часопіса Regard Sur L'Est - аб сваёй працы ў Францыі. Horia-Victor Lefter з'яўляецца палітолагам, які спецыялізуецца ў Цэнтральнай і Усходняй Еўропе, з акцэнтам на Беларусі, Румыніі і Малдовы. Ён таксама праводзіць гістарычныя даследаванні па Рэчы Паспалітай. Са-рэдактар спецыяльнага выпуску па Беларусі для Французскага часопісу L'Regard Sur Est.

What gave you the idea of doing a special issue on Belarus?

In Regard Sur L’Est we plan our schedule more than a year in advance with these special issues — an issue can be on a general topic, or focused on a country. We thought of Belarus as this year we‘celebrate’, if I may say so, 20 years of Lukashenka’s presidency in Belarus. We felt that it was also time to bring once more the topic of Belarus to people’s attention, as in the French media one rarely reads about Belarus. We thought it would be interesting for this anniversary to bring together specialists on different topics, and to create a general frame of how Belarus has evolved in the last 24-25 years of independence. We wanted to show that beyond the apparent Soviet image people still have of Belarus, things, even when it comes to national policy, may have somehow, even slightly, evolved differently than supposed.


As Belarus isn’t often in France’s media spotlight, what kind of feedback did you receive?

Many people, either French or Belarusian as well as from other countries were very interested. They were keen on reading this special issue to see especially the French people’s perception of Belarus nowadays. I, as well as other writers in this special issue, am not French, but still, most of us have been educated for quite some time in the French system, at university. Moreover, the people at the magazine, most of whom are French, tried to create a frame that also takes into account the French perspective on Eastern Europe and questions it.


And what is the French concept of Eastern Europe, and Belarus in particular?

(Laughs) Usually people think, though I don’t believe this is characteristic only to French, but many people think that it’s part of Russia. Not many people know about it. So we’re trying to look at ways of naming the country that are taken from the Soviet way of naming it, such as ‘la Biélorussie’, and we’re trying to deal with it. The main idea was to explain that this name doesn’t reflect current reality. This is like the first step to helping people to better understand the country. Not only do the French institutions stick to this name for linguistic reasons, but some specialists also believe it better reflects Lukashenka’s Soviet nostalgic policy. That being said, what we, at the magazine, still call ‘la Biélorussie’is the former USSR Republic.


Often in articles about Belarus, there is a lack of variety of sources, which often also translates into a lack of human stories as well as black-and-white images. How did you address this challenge?


There are several stories, especially on theatre and sculpture, or art in general, that were born from stories that authors gathered in Minsk, talking with artists, writers or painters. These articles are based on what you might call ‘street stories’. We had some other articles proposed that were based on discussions between journalists and Belarusians, but finally we decided to refuse these proposals, because they weren’t put in a perspective, they were just relating to what a journalist gathered from those people without any further analysis. And that’s very complicated for people in France who don’t know much about it. Even if people deal with Central and Eastern Europe, they know very little about Belarus. So we thought it was kind of ‘dangerous’ to add these without any context.

And talking about sources, in France there are few books about Belarus or Central and Eastern Europe in general — there have only been about 10 books or so about Belarus in the last 20 years, which is a great problem because we use them and reuse these all the time and we don’t have any other sources unless we go to English-language books, or English or Russian-speaking media, but not the French because you rarely have any pertinent articles written.


What are your plans for the future regarding Belarus?

At Regard Sur L’Est, we’re thinking of having a small conference on Belarus, thanks to the special issue. I hope to develop this idea as there are few events in Paris on Belarus. I’ve also started to do some research on gay people in Belarus, as there will be a special issue in Regarde Sur L’Est on sex. And I’m planning to go back to Belarus to do further interviews.


Read Regard Sur L’Est’s special issue on Belarus: “Portrait du Bélarus”. Articles in French, English, and Russian. Edited by Anaïs Marin and Horia-Victor Lefter.

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