WARSAW (Reuters) – It started five years ago with a music video uploaded by a teenage blogger on YouTube.
Now, the Nexta Live channel, with more than 2 million subscribers on the messaging app Telegram, has become one of the main sources of news in Belarus, where a popular uprising aims to unseat President Alexander Lukashenko.
Founder Stsiapan Putsila, now 22, wasn’t even born when Lukashenko took power in 1994. Now, he works from exile out of an office in neighbouring Poland, guarded by uniformed police.
“We are going to continue doing this, we are going to develop… and we are going to win,” Putsila told Reuters.
The channel’s videos of demonstrations have been shared widely within Belarus and broadcast by international news agencies. It is openly hostile to Lukashenko and helps to coordinate protests.
It and other upstart channels are thriving by using social media platforms in a country where traditional broadcast media are tightly controlled by the authorities.
Lukashenko has brought in Russian journalists to replace staff at state TV who quit in protest against what they described as orders to broadcast propaganda. The Belarus authorities have sought Putsila’s arrest.
Putsila said he is expanding: “At the moment there are five people and there will be at least 10 and that is only in the Telegram team.”
It may take a long time to unseat Lukashenko, but his downfall is inevitable, says Putsila, comparing him to the Communist leaders toppled by Poland’s Solidarity movement in the 1980s.
“We remember for instance Poland’s Solidarity, that also was not very quick. But it is now certain that Lukashenko will not last longer than the next five years.”
(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Peter Graff)