Astraviec Power Plant, Liberalisation of Business - Belarus State TV Digest

Over the last week, Belarusian state television reported widely on a public discussion on a nuclear power plant in Astraviec. Nearly 200 journalists and activists came from Lithuania to take part in the event. Media covered also a draft bill that will free up business. Among international events, protests in Egypt were widely covered. 

Domestic Politics

Astraviec nuclear power plant: politics and economy behind Lithuanian protests, not environmental concerns. Belarusian TV commented on the public discussion in Astraviec with two hundred Lithuanian journalists and activists who came to the event. They emphasised that the Belarusian side has done a lot to satisfy Vilnius with regard to the planned construction. The media added that even the official documents regarding the nuclear power plant's ecological compatibility are freely available on the Internet and in the Lithuanian language “for the convenience of our neighbours”. A number of Lithuanian nationals were hoping to work on the Ignalina nuclear power plant, but since it will not be built, they sent their job applications to the Astraviec plant and are ready to work.

Television noted the absence of Lithuanian representatives and diplomats, who spoke about the alleged secrecy of the Belarusian project. The reality of the situation is rather different according to Belarusian television. It emphasised free visas for Lithuanians, and the translation of official documents into Lithuanian, demonstratinb the openness and transparency of the project.

The state media also drew attention to the well-represented segments of the Lithuanian press and activists attending the event. It asked them why Vilnius so vigorously opposed the construction of the first Belarusian power plant. Oleg Davidiuk, from the Lithuania-based centre Kron put it bluntly: “We are jealous of Astraviec.” A journalist from Lithuania, Alexander Ivanov from Litovski Kurier newspaper, argued that “Lithuania is losing the nuclear race”. The state media also focused on this as the real reason why Vilnius is still opposing the Belarusian project.

TV also featured Alexander Lukashenka, who in March lectured about the importance of the project: “our power plant together with the Russian one in Kaliningrad gives more to the EU and the Baltic States. They did not manage to construct their own power plants. (…) They will have to buy both our and Russian energy”. The report concluded that “Astraviec is not an island, but a significant archipelago in a sea of huge, ecologically-minded, safe and still-growing European power engineering”.

Advanced Armed Forces to protect independence of Belarus. Recently Lukashenka chaired a meeting on the development of the Belarusian armed forces. In his words, “In this new reality, our armed forces should be ready to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity”. He also argued that some countries, particularly the Western ones and the NATO bloc, including the US, continue to apply pressure to some “unwelcomed countries”, later explaining that Belarus remained such a state. Lukashenka ordered the Ministry of Defence to carry out and fully realize the agreement with Russia regarding its air force and anti-aircraft warfare.

Economy

Liberalisation of business. Lukashenka held a meeting on how a series of legal amendments stimulate business in Belarus. Belarusian state TV emphasised that the authors of a draft bill considered changes that would facilitate business and remove barriers to its further development. The journalists covered a number of tools which could liberalise the business environment; among them, the optimisation of the terms of punishment, to include fines and deposits instead of imprisonment. Lukashenka emphasized that the “interests of our citizens should be the basis of any reforms”. 

Uralkali guilty of Belaruskali troubles. TV drew attention to the difficult situation surrounding a Belarusian company producing potash. It commented that a “Russian company ceased to sell its products via the Belarusian company”, which had hindered its position.

Valery Kirpienko, the executive of Belaruskali, explained that “it will not only be we who will suffer from negative consequences, but Uralkali too, and most important of all – our customers”. State television reported that the Belarusian company would take a few steps to become more independent and would have its own port terminals. So far it holds a 30 percent shares in the Lithuanian port terminal in Klaipeda, and is now planning to have one in Brazil also. The company's management is also considering seeking a market in Africa.

International Affairs

Egypt submerged in bloody protests. Belarusian television reported on the recent bloodshed in Egypt. It showed scenes of violent struggle sweeping the country, and also reached popular resorts. The Belarusian media commented on this, citing “hundreds of victims. The number of deaths over these days is simply incomprehensible”. They also added that the international community had already criticised the events and called upon Egypt to start peace talks.

Belarus praised for its initiative in combating human trafficking. Minsk hosted a five-day seminar on combating human trafficking and slavery. State TV reported that the representative of the United Nations to Minsk praised Belarus and confirmed its further support for Minsk in its activity in the area.

The state channel highlighted that the Belarusian authorities initiated the establishment of a group of countries, now composed of 22 states, which will deal with the problems of human trafficking and other related issues. Minsk proposed combatting the issue on a global scale. The Belarusian media mentioned, however, that worker exploitation of Belarusian nationals in Russia remains a serious problem.

Further, they repeated the words of Lukashenka who in May said, “12-13 years ago we started to deal with the problem of human trafficking very actively in all its forms. We have experience in it. We are proud of this fact”.

Society

The youngest pensioners in the world. Television reported that Belarus, together with Russia and Ukraine, remains the country with the lowest age for retirement. Belarusian men can retire at the age of 60, and women at 55. “In our Western neighbouring countries people need to work for much longer," it said, and mentioned countries such as Poland, Latvia, but also Germany. The reports stressed that among the EU countries, only France still “maintains these social guarantees”.

No medals, no money. Lukashenka announced that only athletes with high achievements would receive significant funds from the state. State TV stated that, “the state loses a huge amount of money in this sphere and has a right to demand an appropriate output”. He referred to the unsuccessful performance of Belarusian athletes during the recent World Atheletics Championship in Moscow. In Lukashenka’s words, “an athlete will receive a basic salary for high achievements, not for getting 21st or 41st place”. He concluded that “sport, like entrepreneurship, should earn money”.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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