I have just remembered, that I had not posted here a grand interview that was taken with me by VVNews and was recorded at the end of last year - before there was a second police search at my residence. I like this interview, particularly because it is neither too well organized nor brought up to the literary standards - not even over edited, it is just a live conversation wherein only the obvious errors are corrected.
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The Ukrainian top blogger Olena Bilozerska is one of the most cited in the Cyrillic Internet, and her page at the LiveJournal may well be the most visited, among the similar ones. She considers herself as a public activist, rather than a reporter. What is the secret of her enormous success? What are the means to increase the ratings of a blog, wherein there is no rumor mongering nor pornography? Is it important for a blogger to express her own convictions and why some bloggers benefit from the level of confidence which exceeds that of the paid reporters - this is the subject of this conversation of the VVNews with a delicate angel of the Ukrainian blogosphere.
Tell us, please, about yourself.
I have a university level liberal education, but not in the journalism.
So then how you have entered the journalism?
In the beginning of 2004 we, a group of friends, visited The Dniester Region to find out about the life of local Ukrainians. One of us was a university student in journalism, and moonlighted in a small newspaper. He had promised to the editor to furnish an article about the subject. Well, being poorly organized or for other reasons common to some young people, he missed the deadline, and the article was not ready. Trying to help him, I wrote the article myself. I was ready to let him sing it - I had written it for him. Well, he preferred to present the situation honestly, and with the article in one hand and with my hand in his other hand, he addressed the editor with an admission: "Mr. Wasyly, this article was written by Olena". After having read the article, the Editor had offered me a job in the newspaper. That's how in the course of that one day I had changed my professional orientation. A totally unforeseen turn of events - I have never even dreamed of becoming a journalist. I had simply wrote an article to help a friend. That's how my life was changed.
Then there was a preparation to the upheaval of the Orange Revolution, and the Revolution itself. This first newspaper which employed me was a small party publication from the camp of Victor Yushchenko. It played its role gathering the support for Yushchenko, and I was directly involved. There followed the famous events on the Independence Square, and I remained as a journalist. It has been almost 7 years that I am in the field of journalism. At one time I published my own newspaper, "The Christian Ukraine", of which I was the founder and the editor, and I led it about a year and a half, until it was closed, because I wasn't able to find a sponsor. By this time it was the beginning of 2005.
And when did you start your own blog?
My blog was started from June 2007. Earlier it would not have possible due to the lack the software development, which would make it worthwhile to invest in this kind of effort, in particular in Ukraine. It is only later, when my blog became somewhat better known and acquired some reputation that I have dropped the majority of jobs and became busy with the blog only. At any time I was doing some parallel jobs for some newspapers, my major effort was devoted the the blog. And several months ago I and my colleague journalist have registered our own Information Agency, under the name "At Your Side". Beforehand I was with a number of newspapers and journals, constantly doing a variety of jobs, but starting from 2008, 2009 my major effort is devoted to the blog..
What was the deciding factor in favor of your choice of this kind of journalism?
I wanted to have my own independent media, where no editor would oversee my work. This is the basic reason. Essentially - the only reason - I was sick and tired of editors. The today's official attitude, of unknown to me origin, is that a journalist does not have a right to have his own opinion and that he must express the opinion of others, to carry to the readers the opinions of experts. As soon as you express your own opinion, the editor summons you telling that "the journalist's ethics does not allow this". But in my opinion, the rules of ethics dictate only not to lie, not to use any non parliamentary expressions to characterize the opponents and the like... I was so disgusted with editors, that I made a decision to establish my own mass medium, and the results are that I have a visitor's count of some two and half thousand per day. And counting the clicks, that is the number of the page openings, this number approaches the ten thousand. This obviously has happened gradually, and a secret is simple - it is the result of efforts, consistent efforts. As long as your blog covers a specific thematic, the public gets accustomed, while searching for some relevant latest information, to look up here, at my blog. Lately this kind of reporting takes up most of my time, and I publish almost no political analysis. Not enough, anyway - because of my lack of time. In spite of this, the indicators show increase, the blog constantly develops. Now it has two - two and a half thousand visitors daily. Half of visits are done through the Friends Page of the LiveJournal, and the other half consists of visitors from the outside, who read the blog as any other Internet news site.
Do you remember your first posting?
I think it was an ordinary one, like many: "Here I am, opening my own page at the LiveJournal, let's see what it will turn out to become. But the first significant posting was along my today's themes - it was a photo reportage from the celebration of the Feast of Saint-Mary The Protectress in 2007. This celebration is a tradition of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, who annually on October the 14rth organizes the marches in honor of its veterans. I was there with my photo camera, composed a photo reportage, described the event in all details and posted it in the LiveJournal. There was an immediate wave of visitors. From this point on my blog started its gradual rise.
Olena - with the rise of the number of visitors, it would seem that the blog transforms into something bigger than a mere source of information.
And what can be more significant than merely a source of information>
The Forum of supporters, for instance...
Well, they are attracted... But I can not pretend that only the supporters come. As for the supporters, it seems they are almost half of total visitors. Approximately half are the supporters, a quarter are indifferent and an other quarter - enemies and opponents. These come to unload their filth. I do not practice banning, and that is as a matter of principle - not one is banned. I simply erase the insults and the non parliamentary language posts. I practice no sanctions against commentators, again as a matter of principle. Earlier, I have not even practiced the erasures, but was forced with the increasing level of swearing and the advertisements.
And of course the public likes getting personal responses. I try, but of course I do not always succeed, far from it .But I keep trying to respond to everyone's comments - and that is what interests people. Usually the Internet media does not allow any comments. Here and there, the comments are allowed, but only to the registered users. And even there, wherein all comments are allowed, the journalist usually does not respond. He simply does not have enough time, he has no such possibility. Not so at my blog, where it happens that a common discussion develops, raising the common wisdom. And that is the force of such blogs - the development of the common wisdom. If you are mistaken or poorly informed - the public will immediately prompt you.
Do you have a professional creed? What is it?
My professional creed I have formulated a number of times, and expressing it provokes my reflexion every time.
Is it changeable?
No, not at all. First, and essential - always describe the truth/ However banal this may sound, but the essential is to always tell the truth.
Second - I do not have any pretensions to be objective. That is to say: I do not hide my opinion, and write down my thoughts.
Not to lie, to work hard, and never to hide my opinion, and do it without fear. This is the summary of my creed. In four points.
It seems you do not hide that you consider yourself a Ukrainian nationalist?
Absolutely. And I have never hidden this. From the first days on and up to the latest.
For instance, I dislike the communists very much. I find their idea and phenomenon disgusting. I consider their ideology as criminally misanthropic, and count the contemporary communists as a Kremlin's fifth column. But however I dislike them, I would never written that they have done something condemnable, if they have not actually done it. I would not swear at them, because it would go against my ethical principles. Well, once I have lost my patience, when their crowd had beaten up a couple of old people, punishing them for throwing paint at Lenin's monument. It was a crowd of young men, they were hitting with their feet, and the only reason I was not beaten up along was the fact of my gender. They recognized me personally: "Here she is, the Nazi! Throw her away!" And sometimes earlier they distributed my portraits, wherein I am shown in the company of President Yushchenko, and some others, wherein the written text was "this bandera stooge pretends to be a photojournalist! Catch her and beat her up!", plus some other remarks of the kind.
So, that's what happened. They had recognized my face, me personally. I was there carrying a journalist's badge, and my goal was to take photos of the event, but they had recognized me and ordered the guardians to throw me away. Another journalist who was there, not a nationalist at all, simply a newspaper reporter, a decent man, who tried to say: "Let her work, - what harm could she do?" So they had beaten him up, his face was all smashed.
To what degree the Ukrainian blogosphere is patriotic. and in particular, national-patriotic?
One should first define the Ukrainian blogosphere. On the site "The Observer" there is a rating scale of the Ukrainian blogs. And what is their criterion for counting blogs as Ukrainian? They count anybody in whose profile there is a mention of something Ukrainian, for instance that this individual is from Kyiv, or Zhytomyr, or some other city in Ukraine. In my opinion, only the Ukrainian language blogosphere counts, but it is much smaller. Many among the bloggers, to achieve popularity are tempted to publish in Russian, which offers a manifold increase of the audience. It goes to all countries of ex-USSR. A similar situation exists for writers, singers. They are tempted to create in Russian to increase the size of their audience. This is not patriotic, but to them, the creative types, the glory and publicity appear to be a life necessity, and it is difficult to fight this choice. Even though I do not know what is the exact percentage of the Russian language content of the Ukrainian blogospehere - but it is enormous. At a certain point any Ukrainian references become moot, especially if the writer covers not the Ukrainian subjects, but some personal matters, stories, jokes, pictures. He might as well reside in Moscow or Tashkent - there is no difference, the Internet is spread everywhere.
So then the Ukrainian language bloggers are not numerous. In fact, as long as an individual runs his blog in Ukrainian - he is a Ukrainian patriot. This linguistic definition of values is not accidental.
I also run a Russian language version of my blog - for the sake of those, who have no command of the Ukrainian language. This is my solution of their problem. My Russian language version has some four hundred visitors daily. It amazes me as well, trying to figure out their profile. Because I reason that for someone interested in the Ukrainian issues some knowledge of Ukrainian is imperative, at least at the level of a comprehension of the written texts.
So, who are the visitors?
I continue to study the statistics. They come from the places like Vladivostok, Moscow, from Siberia.
Your sympathies towards Yushchenko, and later towards Mr.Tiahnybok - are they on the personal level?
Even today, I deeply respect Yushchenko and have never forsaken my faith in him, never spoke negatively about him, except for one thing - he lacked the stamina to command the order. He ought to have been more forceful. Possibly, this is not his fault, but a result of his illness. He suffered through many chirurgical operations, and I feel sorry for him on the personal level. I am acquainted with him. I respect the ex-President.
My friendship with Mr.Tiahnybok and his party "The Liberty" has persisted many years. His party is the most powerful among the right wing parties, and for the moment the only truly nationalist force, that has an opportunity to enter the Parliament. And I dearly desire to see the rightists in the Parliament. In particular, I would like to see in the Parliament such decent persons as Mr. Andriy Mochnyk, a lieutenant of Mr.Tiahnybok - plus some others. A need for this can be illustrated with what has happened at the last year celebration of the Feast of Saint-Mary The Protectress.
The patriots in the city of Zaporizhe planned to undertake a march in honor ot the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. But in order to sabotage it, the communists also declared a public meeting. A judge issued an injunction against any actions likely to disturb peace, that was applicable to all. But the communists called their action "a meeting with the parliamentary deputies" - which is automatically allowed. In reality, it was no meeting with the deputies, but a political rally. They brought flags, banners with the anti Ukrainian slogans. Under a pretext of a meeting with the deputies, they blocked the path of the patriots. Who could not respond in kind, lacking their own Parliamentary deputies. They went anyway, and the police arrested many. There was even a gunfire - someone from the Party of the Regions, using pneumatic weapons, had opened fire - two persons were wounded. Can this go on? Not like this! Every time someone gets arrested by the police - only the Parliamentary deputies could make any effective inquiries at the preventive detention centers and check upon a possible abuse.
On top of it, and I have maintained this even at the time of Yushchenko's Presidency, - his political vector, his political orienntation, his ideas were and still are consistent with mine. He would have been an ideal President, if he had exercised more force and had stopped the internecine quarrels. In other words, he lacked the force to implement his policies. By his nature, Mr.Yushchenko is to the right of center, and it happened that among the actors of the power structure, including the Parliament and the Executive branch, he was at the point farthest to the right, which not normal, even unnatural.
The President ought not to be situated at the extreme right. His place is in the center, and he needs to act as a symbol of unity. Others ought to be in the Parliament on the positions to the right, such as "The Liberty" party - and those on the street ought to be even farther to the right. They need not to be numerous, but they should be there.
The leftists as well ought to be there. The Ukrainian leftists. Nowadays all leftists are really the fifth column of Kremlin in Ukraine. Which is not normal, either. A Ukrainian leftist party needs to exist. It should not be able to reach power - I consider their ideology extremely dangerous, but they ought to be present to check the Oligarchy and to limit the exploitation of the workers. That's their role, in the fabric of a healthy political life.
Has anybody from among the known politicians or other VIP's offer you to run their blog?
What has not happened - has not happened! And even if such propositions were offered, I would refuse! For the money's sake I would not put may name anyplace. I have almost never used pseudonyms. Maybe exceptionally a couple iof times, when in my newspaper I signed some insignificant messages with an assumed name.
Is there a censorship of blogs in Ukraine?
The blogosphere in general can not be subjected to a direct censorship. A blog can be closed, in case if it has an extremely unseemly behavior, with calls for violence and the like. But you might be subjected to such harassment for your content, as to frighten you up and produce a self-censorship. Last spring I have experienced this kind of situation.
Please tell us in more detail, please.
They were trying to start a criminal proceeding against me, tried to lock me up. In February 2010, somebody threw a smoke grenade and some paint in the direction a fashion fur store as a manifestation of a protest against the fur industry. I was there to take photos. One of the young men was caught, beaten up by the store guardians and was passed to the Police. A criminal proceeding against them was started. A month and a half has passed. In the meantime I had published the photo reportage, clearly stating that I do not share neither their convictions nor methods. Adding for a good measure, that it is a complete idiocy - because, as usual, I do not hide my opinions. When I see the young men doing some nonsensical things - I clearly state that these people are doing stupidities. All of a sudden, after a month and a half I was subjected to a police search at my residence. Well, there exists a Law "On the State Protection of the Mass Media and The Protection of The Journalists" with an article 17, which reads as follows: " The professional activity of a journalist can not be used as a basis of his arrest or detention, or for the confiscation of his work or the support material required for the accomplishment of his tasks". Well, they confiscated my CD's and DVD's, and by the way they confiscated the computers and photo cameras of my colleague, Alex Furman from the agency "PhotoRibbon" - although they returned them later in the day. They did not subject his equipment to a thorough search - but not so with me. They started to call me for questioning first as a witness, but then they organized an interrogation wherein the arrested young man testified, falsely, that I were not only a companion, but possibly an organizer of the bandits. To make the story short - they push for me towards a Criminal Code article about a group public disorderly conduct. The Police Detective went as far as to submit to the Prosecutor a demand to sanction my arrest, but the Public Prosecutor had not signed this mandate, because by this time the party of my defenders was able to create some noise. Among them were some Parliamentary Deputies, and some international observers, notably the "Reporters sans frontières". This organization made four presentations in my defense, among them an open letter to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Mr.Mogiliov. They even visited Kyiv, a bit later, - not only for my sake, but my name has been mentioned. Only after that I was left in peace.
Well, this is no longer a censorship, this is quite a lawless act...
Of course this is not a censorship - it is a banal pressure! And how can one pressure an innocent person? For instance, calling him endlessly as a witness in some criminal case, preventing him from being able to do do any work. It seems to be within the law! No police official violates any law - but on the other hand, the result is that the victim can not do any work anymore. This is exactly what the State Authorities are now doing to Julia Tymoshenko, calling her everyday for six-hour interrogation sessions. What is this? How can this pressure be justified?
How the situation with the blogs and the liberty of expression in Ukraine is likely to develop?
Would you try to make a forecast for the coming year?
The liberty of expression as well as the general situation in economics and politics will be very poor, I am sorry to say. In general I am not a pessimist by character, so I try to conclude my every posting, every article, on a positive note - but the coming year 2011 will be a difficult one. All because of the present governance. I never write about economics, this is not my field of expertise. But now I am tempted to offer an economic prognosis. There will be an awful economic decline, a very difficult winter. Why do I think so? Just a logical thinking. Not based on the knowledge of economics, which I lack, but on the observations as to how the Power destroys the forces of Independence, how they pressure the Opposition. Which seems totally pointless, because neither of those represent for them any threat. But they do it to prevent all future phenomena à la Independence Square movement. Our people's character is such that they would not get mobilized for some idealistic reasons like the defense of the language rights, for which one could count on a few hundred, maybe a thousand of protesters, - which is insignificant. Our people come out on the street demonstrations only if the Power gets too cynically and deeply in their pockets. Which in my opinion is a sign of an oncoming economic decline.
Those in power try everything possible to prevent the people from acting. They will intimidate, imprison, in order to deprive the public of their leaders - a sure sign of some preventive planning. Recently, one lady journalist from UNIAN was called for an interrogation to get her photos of the physical fight among the deputies of the Parliament. On the first glance, no law is broken by the Police. Still, somehow it is unseemly - because they try to use some journalists as the police informers. In our country, the Law is not based on precedent, but still, one is permitted to compare with the situation elsewhere in the world, where journalists are called as witnesses only in the exceptional situations of an extreme public danger. And even then only if the journalist refuses to cooperate and all means of persuasion are exhausted. As far as I know, there was somewhere only one such case, when a journalist refused to cooperate in the investigation of a terrorist attack, which made victims.
Well, let us also finish the conversation on a positive note. Would you share your secret of success?
I can only describe how I work. Regularity is the point number one!
The constancy of the covered thematic, which is addressed to a wide circle of readers - number two!
Punctuality - three!
Sometimes I succeed to operate faster than big media organizations, which employ a number of photo correspondents, journalists, who get paid for their work.
I report straight to the point - which does not mean writing something lawless or using a course language - that's four!
And yet another important principle - to communicate with the readers. They adore it!
But generally speaking - it's work! The only secret is - work. I have been working with my blog three and a half years, so I have accumulated this and that during this time. Someone who wishes to avoid work and get everything at once, may be able to buy or otherwise get some PR - but he would be forgotten just as fast, without the constant work input. In my situation, in some resonance cases I had received some 25 thousand visitors, - but only exceptionally. Then it declines, and in order to prevent a complete downfall - a regular work effort is absolutely necessary.
Alexandr Nazarov, VVNews.
Photo by Nathalie Dmytruk.