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Wilson Center/Ratiu Family Foundation Awards Fellowship to Roman Protasevich


Contact: Ryan McKenna
Phone: (202) 691-4217


WASHINGTON – The Wilson Center, in cooperation with the Ratiu Family Foundation, is pleased to announce that Roman Protasevich was awarded the 2021 Ion Ratiu Democracy Prize and Fellowship.

Since 2006 the Wilson Center has partnered with the Ratiu Family Foundation (London) to award the Ratiu Democracy Prize and Fellowship. The Ion Ratiu Democracy Award and Fellowship (IRDF) supports individuals around the world who are working on behalf of democracy as activists or intellectuals, whether they are in exile from repressive regimes or operating within emerging democracies. Recipients of the Ion Ratiu Democracy Fellowship will have an opportunity to engage with the Washington policy, media and scholarly communities, but also to find time for reflection and writing on democratic activism often not possible in the day-to-day struggle in their home/exile country.

In this sense the IRDF will seek to replicate the type of life-changing experience that the late Ion Ratiu encountered as a young Romanian democracy activist in Washington in the 1970s and 1980s.

Roman Protasevich is a prominent blogger and journalist in Belarus who played an active role in the protests following President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s brazen attempt to steal the election in August 2020.  Through his alternative messaging app NEXTA, Protasevich shared information among the political opposition and helped organize demonstrations against Lukashenko.  He fled Belarus and has been living in exile in Lithuania. During a flight from Athens to Vilnius a Ryanair commercial plane, with Protasevich on board, was diverted near Vilnius to Minsk because of an alleged bomb threat.  No bomb was found, but Protasevich was escorted off the plane and now faces a possible 12-year prison sentence for inciting public disorder and social hatred.  An opposition activist since age 16, Protasevich had previously been detained, expelled from his high school, his family harassed. While studying journalism he worked as a freelance reporter for a number of publications critical of the Lukashenko regime, eventually fleeing to Poland.  In September 2020 Protasevich left Poland for Lithuania to join Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the principal opposition candidate in the rigged 2020 elections in Belarus.

“The recent arrest and detention of Roman Protasevich by authorities in Belarus have brought into clear focus the kind of oppression which he has been fighting since he was 16 years old,: said Ambassador Mark Green, Wilson Center President, Director and CEO. “Through NEXTA, Protasevich has inspired the people of Belarus to think freely and express themselves freely – something that frightens an increasingly dictatorial government and its leader. The Wilson Center supports independent research and open dialogue. Roman’s work exemplifies this and inspires thousands in Belarus and millions around the world.”

Protasevich joins past awardees which include Adam Michnik (Poland),  Oleg Kozlovsky (Russia), Mustafa Nayyem (Ukraine), Jamil Hasanli (Azerbaijan), Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain), Camelia Bogdan (Romania) and Anatoli Mikhailov (Belarus).