Why did Belarusian regime recognize sports website Tribuna.com as extremist

Why did Belarusian regime recognize sports website Tribuna.com as extremist

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Tribuna.com is a Belarusian sports edition covering not only sports. So in August 2020 it was among the first to be blocked by the authorities. And a year later, in August 2021, the Ministry of Internal Affairs recognized the edition as extremist.

Meanwhile, Tribuna’s employees were detained multiple times, searches were conducted at the number of them. In June 2021, ‘unknown in civilian clothes’ came to Aliaksandr Ivulin, the edition’s journalist, Krumkachy football player and a well-known YouTube sports blogger. [In January 2022, Aliaksandr was sentenced to two years in prison, and was recognized as a political prisoner].

Managers of the project Maksim Berezinsky and Aleh Harunovich speak about how Tribuna.com is working now and about their plans for the future.

«We have always connected sports with social and political events»

Maxim Berezinsky
Maxim Berezinskyрead of Tribuna.com

Initially, a resource Goals.by was registered in 2010. In 2014, we joined Sports.ru and the Tribuna.com brand appeared. Its editorial office was the same and the platform was Sports.ru. We kept this structure until today.

We have always seen sports as one aspect of life and connected it with social and political events. And we value athletes’ opinions.

Clearly, we have always been critised by the authorities, the Ministry of Sports, Football Federation… We were a pain in the neck for the officials. We could often hear, ‘You don’t really write about sports much, people, rather about politics. Make it more about sports’, from Maksim Ryzhenkov who is the head of the Basketball Federation and one of the managers of the National Olympic Committee.

Yet those were just words without any consequences. We kept doing what we did. Besides, things went quite well with advertising: we had a purely advertising model of financing which produced constant profit. We depended on no one and felt fine.

Maxim Berezinsky. Photo from a personal archive

«We weren’t going to support beatings»

Sports.ru got sold in the early 2020 and only the Ukrainian and Belarusian Tribuna.com remained in our group of companies. There is also the international one, in English, German and several other languages.

Even though we all shared one platform, each editorial office was independent enough and could choose their own tools of operation in their respective countries. It is hard to influence the editorial processes from Moscow or any other city.

So there was no question for us how to continue working in Belarus and what to write about. We saw what was black and what was white and we weren’t going to support beatings. We didn’t change our editorial policy; everything was logical and clear in our opinion. Yet ‘the opposite side’ started to see our work as extremist one and us as the enemy of the people.

We were among the first mass media to be blocked after the election in August 2020. It was unexpected, since there were bigger media with more influence. Still we understood our project had some personal enemies. As soon as they had a good opportunity to close us, they did.

The history of these blocks is strange though: we were unblocked on 12 August and then information appeared after the 20th that 70 websites were blocked with no reason explained. We tried to obtain an explanation at the Ministry of Information, submitted several requests. But at the Ministry of Information, they sent us to the OAC [Operation Analytical Centre] and in the OAC to the Ministry of Information. The circle never broke.

Only a year later, the Ministry of Information responded: in August 2021 we were recognized as an extremist resource. So they said, ‘You were blocked because you are extremists.’

This recognition as extremist was a turning point. Even though the website was blocked, it didn’t interfere with advertising: there were partners who kept supporting us. But once your resource is recognized as extremist, it poses risks for the counterparts. We are now revising our website development strategy and trying to figure out how to survive these new circumstances.

«Scorched earth tactics is a dead end»

Repressions affected everyone who expressed their opinion, whose organisation or company didn’t yield. People running the country now are ready to exterminate everything within their reach. All NGOs, mass media have been destroyed and those who managed to escape the wipeout changed their editorial policies significantly.

Mass media were hit among the first because they brought information to the people. The state hoped to narrow the range of those informed and influence the rest via propaganda.

But these actions are merely a tactical victory in the left flank. I think the authorities are underestimating the scale of the processes running in the society, the scale of discontent.

All these mass searches and detainments only set people against. There has been absolutely no shift which could make people accept the situation and make peace with it. So the scorched earth tactics is a dead end.

«The more blocked websites, the more VPNs»

People will be interested in sports anyway. But no one would seek sports news at BelTA or Soviet Belorussia websites: they are not interesting and information is presented like in the Pravda newspaper from the last century.

Tribuna.com is the most-functional sports website in Belarus. It’s projects and services include online game broadcasting and statistics of more than 150 tournaments, Video and Live sections, gaming projects (forecast competitions and various fantasy tournaments), blogs, forums, micro blogs.

We have been blocked for eighteen months now and have found our life hacks. We promote the statement, ‘The more blocked websites, the more VPNs.’ We have mirror websites which are also blocked periodically. We have applications which the authorities are trying to block but they have been quite stable lately. They have a large sports audience used to receiving information timely.

Our social media is another important tool. We have a dedicated editorial office for social media. After all the events, our Instagram account has grown three times reaching 60 thousand followers. We adhere to direct information delivery to our readers.

We have several YouTube projects, ChestnOK among them. Aleksandr Ivulin is imprisoned, but his friend carries on the work.

I think it is important for the niche and regional media to continue their work in their respective audiences. It can help in bringing information about the current events to the people. It is indeed difficult for the regional media to work from abroad: access to information on site is much limited. But they should look for some solutions the Internet provides. We must not give up.

The more sources of honest information people in Belarus have, the better they will understand what’s actually happening. It will help not turning the page over, it’s too much disgrace. Too many people have suffered already and keep suffering.

This is Tribuna.com’s mission now how I see it and we are trying to adhere to it.

«Why are they so angry with us? We gave floor to the athletes»

Aleh Harunovich
Aleh Harunovicheditor-in-chief of Tribuna Digita

It all started before the Tribuna.com website appeared. Goals.by project was launched in 2010. The country lacked sports websites at the time. There are not many of them now, as well. Goals.by was founded by the BSU Faculty of Journalism alumni who were interested in sports media and noticed that some things can be improved.

Goals.by existed for several years until it attracted attention of the Russian website Sports.ru which founders were exploring the neighboring markets. Tribuna.com had already appeared in Ukraine and for Belarus, there were a couple of scenarios: either create a separate website from scratch or find a team which could join the existing project. Eventually, owners of Goals.by and Sports.ru agreed to work together. That’s how Belarusian Tribuna appeared.

Aleh Harunovich. Screenshot from a video by Press Club Belarus

«Sport showed an example to the others: the situation in the country can be and should be discussed»

We didn’t have any pronounced problems with the authorities until 2020. True, they summoned us to the Ministry of Information to get acquainted. They summoned us to the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption to warn us about extremism. Yet we felt no threat in those. Security officers were not as free in their actions, there were certain lines they didn’t cross.

And then, after the election, all the fun started. Tribuna.com was blocked, then unblocked, then blocked again. And it is still blocked, we have lived like that for more than a year. We don’t know the true reasons for that decision. The so-called Ministry of Information sent us to the OAC and the so-called OAC to the Ministry of Information. But the situation is quite clear in general. We suddenly appeared among the first under these repressions.

Why are they so angry with us? We gave floor to the athletes and they spoke harsh truths. We recorded the lies of the official propaganda, followed closely who said what prior to the election. Social media audiences usually reacted very harshly to those who spoke in favour of Lukashenka which reflected his rating. His servants certainly didn’t like it.

Besides, sport showed an example to the others: the situation in the country can be and should be discussed. Tribuna.com helped the athletes in this regard.

We had certain issues with accreditation to football games already before the election. But it’s insignificant and didn’t affect our work while the website block is much less pleasant. But we managed to launch a mirror website. So the content at Tribuna.com is still available for the Belarusians.

Some of our employees were detained and arrested. The majority of cases was not related to the website repressions, those resulted from our employees’ civic position. The second arrest and criminal case against Aleksandr Ivulin, however, are merely political. He was obviously hunted as the most popular sports blogger in the country. Aleksandr has been in prison for over six months.

Aleksandr Ivulin. Photo: Facebook Tribuna.com

«Our main plan is to work. That’s the plan for today and for the future»

We are working based on our possibilities, with consideration of the risks. Our main achievement is, I think, that Tribuna.com still exists and tells sports fans not only about sports, but also about the events in Belarus.

There is only one way we can reach our readers–offer them resonating content. Thus we can keep them and attract new ones. And we try to stay sharp.

Our main plan is to work. That is the plan for today and for the future. There’s no making any other plans in the current circumstances. We are not ready to speak only about scores–goals–seconds. As long as innocent people fill the prisons, we cannot pretend it’s not there and has nothing to do with us.


17 снежня 2021 года

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Press Club BelarusPress under pressureWhy did Belarusian regime recognize sports website Tribuna.com as extremist

Repressions against journalists in Belarus 2020–2022

Beatings, injuries, detentions. Searches, arrests, court hearings, prisons. Website blocks, refusal to print and distribute, revocation of credentials…

Repressions against journalists in Belarus 2020–2022 Read more
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