Staunton, September 7 – The protests in Belarus have already been christened the first Telegram Revolution, and NEXTA – which should be read as “nekhta” and which means “someone” in Belarusian – has emerged out of the mass of these channels as “the face of that rising, according to Darya Yuryeva, a journalist for Polish Radio.
The founder and moving spirit of the channel is Stepan Putilo, a 22-year-old Belarusian who was forced to flee to Poland – his family has since followed – when the Lukashenka regime wanted to bring charges against him for a YouTube post “insulting” the Belarusian leader (svoboda.org/a/30822836.html).
NEXYA was initially a YouTube channel, but after Minsk tried to block it, Putilo shifted its operation to the telegram network which he says he first viewed simply as an insurance policy against regime efforts to close his news and information service. Moscow then tried to block that too but failed.
There have been threats and even attacks against the channel in Poland, but Polish police have protected the station and Putilo and his family.
As a result, the telegram channel has grown exponentially. Initially, it had only 30,000 to 40,000 subscribers but now has “more than two million” an enormous number given that there are only 9.4 million people in Belarus, although he concedes 30 percent of the subscribers live outside that country.
One of the reasons for its growth is NEXTA’s willingness to publish secret information; another is the regime’s closure of other channels like Tut.by, Onliner.by and so on. “We have remained accessible,” and our audience continues to expand from its youth base to the population as a whole, Putilo says.
Now, given that the protests against Lukashenka have no leaders who are both free and in Belarus, people have begun to ask NEXTA to provide direction. But that is not its task. It is a media project and is interested in spreading information. If they use it as a coordination resource, that is their choice, not NEXTA’s.
“We do say to people that they can go out and defend their rights,” Putilo continues, but we don’t force them to. The regime is pushing them into the streets. It is recognized as illegitimate by the entire world, and “the main enemy of the Belarusian people must sit on the bench of the accused in the Hague.”
Window on Eurasia — New Series