Belarus Authorities Combat Economic Crises on the Ideological Front

The Belarus authorities seem to be combating the economic crises on two fronts. On the economic policy front, they promise modernization and reforms. On the ideological front, they initiated closing down two leading independent newspapers and instructed state media not to focus too much on the economic problems. The authorities can easily succeed in liquidating independent newspapers, however hiding the most serious economic crises in Belarus since 1990-s will be much more difficult.

The state daily Zviazda reported on a seminar organized by authorities for editors of state-controlled media on 29 April 2011. State officials were instructing editors how they should do their work. Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik spoke about the need to modernize Belarus economy and encourage more independent decision-making of directors of state enterprises. He also promised that despite economic problems there will be no cuts in spending on social projects.

Aleh Praliaskouski, the main state ideologist, referred to media which in his opinion incorrectly covered the 11 April terrorist attack. According to him, fear and panic in Belarus is exactly what the terrorists want. In connection with it he also quoted Lukashenka, who said that Belarus was under external pressure because of its independent internal and external policies.

The opposition weekly Nasha Niva picked up Mr Tozik’s admiration of reforms which need to be led by the “strong” government. The newspaper, which may be closed down soon, noted that the strength of authorities should not be measured by how the authorities oppress the opposition. Instead, it should be measured by how successful it is in fighting corruption, collecting taxes and promoting economic development. Nasha Niva also discussed the effect of the authorities’ request to the state media not to focus on rising prices and other economic problems because this could even further deteriorate the situation.

Indeed, it will be difficult to hide economic problems and this is exactly what people in Belarus want to know more about. Most opposition web sites such as Belaruspartizan.org describe how people are struggling with the inadequate supply of imported goods and rising prices. The lack of foreign currency hinders the retailers’ ability to import goods. Goods produced in Belarus are often of inadequate quality and cannot replace all imports. According to sellers, even with increased prices the stocks of imported goods are depleting and there is nothing to replace them.

The state-run media is generally silent about the ongoing trials of former presidential candidates and other opposition activists. Independent media, however, cover those trials in great detail. Belarus’ internet users actively discuss recently released photos which suggest that after the violent crackdown against the opposition meeting on 19 December 2010, Belarus security services planted shovels, ice-axes and other items at the demonstration site to show that the protests were not peaceful. However, the courts do not seem to be interested in considering evidence exonerating the opposition. That makes many bloggers skeptical about the Belarusian authorities’ investigation of the 11 April bombing in Minsk. Their concern is that if authorities so easily and willingly manipulate evidence to punish their political opponents, why one should expect from them a fair and transparent investigation of the 11 April blast.

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