Argemino Barro: the readers deserve better than ‘clickbaits’ about the KGB and Lukashenka’s son

Argemino Barro: the readers deserve better than ‘clickbaits’ about the KGB and Lukashenka’s son

Argemino Barro is a correspondent of Capital Radio (Spain) based in New York City. He won Belarus in Focus 2013 competition and this year he is on the judging panel. Read more about his experience, thoughts on Belarus and on the qualities of winning article.

By Alena Talalayeva

“This competition changed my career”

Remember when you were a contestant. Did you think you could win?

I didn’t expect to win, but the award felt incredible. It allowed me to meet amazing people in Warsaw. I have to thank again the 2013 judges for their insights, help, and advice. Especially the late Pavel Sheremet, one of the best and bravest reporters I have ever met.

How have you spent your prize?

I spent it in Donetsk. Right after the ceremony in Warsaw, I went to Ukraine. Crimea had just been occupied and there were some reports of unrest in the east. When I was there, the Russian-backed war in Donbass started, so I stayed to cover it. My initial 4 day trip to Europe (I was already based in New York) ended up lasting for months. In a way, that prize changed my career.

Could you tell more about it?

By the time I won the award I had been investing time in learning Russian, traveling back and forth and reading about the region for a number of years. I knew it would be very tough to pitch an article about Belarus to the mainstream media, so I worked all the time, let’s say, in the shadow. I took up different jobs to pay for this passion and I focused on learning rather than on making money or even being published. So the award felt like a recognition; it raised my spirits. Also, the free ticket New York-Warsaw and the money of the prize allowed me to visit Ukraine at a very sensitive time. When the war in Donbass began, I was there to cover it and I was finally able to start publishing. It’s also very sad that such a tragic event as a war can be good for your career. But that’s one of the many disturbing paradoxes of journalism.

Argemino Barro (right) together with David Marples, member of Belarus in Focus 2013 jury, at the award-giving ceremony in Warsaw, Poland

You can still see those scars”

How did you start writing about Belarus? What did surprise you about this country?

I remember the exact moment. I was browsing the immense George Pompidou library, in Paris, looking for books about Belarus, when I realized that there weren’t that many! So I decided to get my hands on it, read whatever was available and start planning a trip to the country. When I landed in Minsk, I conducted myself with extreme cautiousness, hostage to the darkest of perceptions. But soon I was engulfed by the support and willingness to help of the Belarusians I met. They hosted me, they drove me around, they shared their stories. I will never be thankful enough.

What is the most interesting about working on Belarus?

I’m really into history. Although World War II obviously left a trace of death and destruction all throughout Europe, it’s safe to say that Belarus suffered the most. It lost half of its population in four years. Almost eight decades later you can still see those scars in the streets and narratives and symbols, and in the way, people perceive the present. This is very complex; obviously, not everyone shares the same views, but history is there with all its power.

Sum Belarus up in three words or a sentence.

“Belarus is Peace”. Let me explain it. Belarus is a peaceful country, with warm and hospitable people, but also the concept of “peace” is used by the regime to justify its iron fist. As if only a dictatorship would prevent Belarus from falling back into chaos and war. And those three words have an Orwellian ring.

Argemino Barro (right) in Minsk, Belarus. Victory Day, May 9, 2012

A lot of basic facts have to be explained”

Which topics about Belarus are the most interesting for an international audience?

We tend to use ‘clickbaits’ like the fact that the KGB is still called KGB or that Lukashenka travels everywhere with his youngest son. The readers deserve better than that, but it’s a tough balance. If you write about Russia or the United States, you don’t have to explain what is Washington DC or who is Vladimir Putin. Readers know that. But when it comes to Belarus, there are a lot of basic facts that have to be explained and that’s taxing on the reporter.

Which aspects deserve more attention?

Probably the social issues, gender, sexuality, the changes in the family model. When I was in Minsk I interviewed the people of “Gay Belarus”, whose leader, by the way, was forced into exile. I was appalled to hear about the difficulties they had to face in their daily lives. I wonder if that changed, and how.

How is Belarus portrayed in the international media? How had that portrait changed over the years since you won Belarus in Focus 2013?

I would say that Belarus has been covered more profusely in relation to Russia. Since 2014 the Kremlin has adopted a much bolder and aggressive foreign policy and the international media (at least the Western media) have been focused on that: Ukraine, Syria, the 2016 U.S. election. In this context, Belarus is regarded as a key ally of Russia in case of conflict. That’s why their joint military drills of last year, for instance, were of so much interest.

“It’s not necessary to wear a wig and a gown”

You are the judge of Belarus in Focus 2017 competition. What will you be looking for in articles?

This is a great honor, by the way, thank you. I’m open to ideas. I like it when the reporter takes some creative risks and walks off the beaten path. In my opinion, a winning article should be down to earth, descriptive and non-judgmentaI. By this, I don’t mean that the reporter should be indifferent to the human rights violations that happen in Belarus. But it’s not necessary to wear a wig and a gown, like a judge, to write. Facts speak for themselves. I’m happy to say that I like so far many of the articles submitted.

Now you work on a new project. What it’s about?

I’m writing a new book. I guess it´s sort of a secret, but I can tell you this: it’s about a beautiful country in eastern Europe.


Argemino Barro is a Spanish journalist based in New York City, where he covers American affairs for Capital Radio and El Confidencial. In 2017, he published the book 'El candidato y la furia', a first-hand account of the rise of Donald Trump. Before moving to the United States, he spent years focused on Eastern Europe: he reported in Belarus and in other countries for several media outlets.