Olga Karatch was born in 1979 in the Belarusian city of Vitebsk and graduated in 2012 from the Belarusian university in exile, the European Humanitarian University in Vilnius, Lithuania, with a master's degree in political science. She is one of the most active Belarusian dissidents and is the founder and director of the civil rights movement “Nash Dom”, or “Our House”.
Nash Dom is a social campaign organised in network structures, whose activities include the publication of a newspaper which that instructs citizens in their rights and offers information on everyday problems, ranging from excessive rents to the questionable quality of drinking water. The organisation now coordinates more than 23 groups of volunteers in some 18 Belarusian cities. The aim is to transform Belarusian society with nonviolent action and to increase the influence of citizens on the decision-making processes of the government and institutions.
The organisation supports citizens in court hearings and cases of oppression, and offers them assistance in writing appeal letters or organising petitions. Violations of rights are publicly denounced and court judgments published. Media pressure is one of the powerful tools at the disposal of Nash Dom. As is the fighting using legal means: In court appearances, they have won more than 40 percent of the cases. Before the elections they produced and distributed their own newspaper throughout the country with a circulation of 150,000 copies throughout the country; 300 volunteers participated in this campaign. This is a level of circulation only otherwise achieved by state media. Hope of change remains, even after more than 17 years of fraudulent elections, constitutional amendments and political persecution.
Since her youth the 37-year-old has been committed herself to fighting the Belarusian despot. By the time when she got married, the activist was already so well known that the party was shadowed by KGB staff. Her office in Minsk has long been a popular target for raids by the secret services. Last year, 18 senior staff members of the organisation were held for several days during a workshop. Olga Karatch herself was physically attacked. She can’t remember how many times she has been arrested. And she has been on the receiving end of threats of rape or to kill her dog. This the young woman relates this as matter-of-factly as if she were talking about a heating bill: “This is a burden on our organisation –; we can't afford all the solidarity campaigns and lawyers in the long term.” But she isn’t afraid; what matters most to her is to preserve her humanity. This is exemplified by the lively young woman with little gestures, like bringing the secret service officers people coffee as they watch her from their cars.
Olga Karatch is sponsored by zivik and was awarded the Radebeuler Courage Prize in 2010.