Last month BELTA news agency announced that a 21-old Belarusian in the east of the country published eight pornographic videos on his social network page. The authorities started a criminal case and the accused faces up to four years in jail.
Belarus has become a noticeable actor in the porn industry in recent years. Belarusian pornographers work not only inside the country but abroad as well. One of the porn-oriented websites claims that “Porn makers from Belarus manage to produce high-quality porn products despite the stagnation in the country”.
This year the Belarusian authorities showed that they want to crack down on porn producers and distributors. Between 6-12 August, police, education, health care and culture employees held a week of intensive fighting against the distribution of pornography amongst the youth. The police look for pornography even on school kids’ mobiles in order to trace porn producers and distributors. Today, authorities have almost fully cleared out the Belarusian-based Internet from pornography.
Porn Industry in Belarus
Pornography was a very profitable business in Belarus until recently. Porn film makers got their money easily. In 2009, the Belarusian authorities started approximately as many criminal cases against producers and distributors of pornography as in the first half of 2012 (157 and 136 respectively).
Although pornography has always remained prohibited, Belarusian legislation provides for rather mild punishment for porn producers (by the standards of an authoritarian state). The hardest punishment for production and distribution of pornography by a group of persons is imprisonment for up to four years.
Moreover, Belarusian law considered production and distribution of pornography as an administrative offence only until 2005. The punishment for child pornography committed by a group is more serious but still relatively mild – up to eight years of imprisonment.
On the other hand, Belarus offers beneficial conditions for the development of the industry. First, one can rent cheap accommodation facilities for shooting in Minsk and other Belarusian cities. Secondly, porn actors and operators get very low wages in comparison with the average wages on the world porn market. According to Rosbalt Information Agency, the total cost of a 15-minutes movie in Belarus reaches about $900-$1,000. Porn dealers sell these movie to the West or Japan for $2,500.
According to Telegraf Information Agency, porn producers even involve 10-year-old kids in their movies. They find them mostly in low-income families, in orphanages and boarding schools. According to the Interior Ministry there are a number of kids with well-situated parents among the porn actors as well.
Belarusian “cheesecake” has gained great popularity in the West. In 2008, Belarusian law-enforcement agencies detained an organised group of Belarusians and Russians who had filmed gay and child pornography and sold it through websites to Western Europe and the USA. About 50 actors were involved in the activity of this porn studio network over two years.
Belarusian pornographers work not only within the borders of their own country. In 2011, security services of Belarus, Spain and the United States organised a joint operation to lay open a porn network which covered several European countries and the United States. Forty-nine members of the group produced child pornography and sold it through more than 200 websites. The network earned about $2,000,000 per month.
Many Belarusian porn videos are filmed in Russia. Russia remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world and Belarusians can go there visa-free. The criminals can always bribe law-enforcement officials and continue making pornography. Secondly, Russia allows it to remain confidential. According to Rosbalt Information Agency some women leave for Moscow and tell their families that they will work as baby-sitters or accountants. Meanwhile, they go into prostitution and pornographic movies.
Fight against Pornography
The top Belarusian police officer in charge of sex crimes Alyaksandr Haurylau says that the pornography problem has become pressing in the last several years.
The Belarusian authorities monitor webpages and have almost completely cleaned the by.net (Belarusian internet) from pornography. However, the majority of porn production is kept on the vkontakte.ru social network – the most popular one in Belarus.
On vkontakte.ru, anyone can download any video. It can be not just porn, but rape or other "exotic" stuff. The social network administrators promise to delete porn content fully but they cannot do so entirely, as pornography keeps appearing.
Most pornographers in Belarus get caught through this very social network, although these are usually not producers, but those who upload porn videos to their private pages.
Pornography in Belarus is often closely connected with prostitution or pedophilia. In Zhlobin, a local court sentenced five pedophiles who raped 13-16-year-old boys and filmed it to 8-13 years of imprisonment. Pedophiles distributed this video on the Internet afterwards. The pedophiles then used these photos and videos to blackmail the children so that they would not report the rapes to their parents or to the police.
Will the BelarusianRegime Fix the Problem?
Belarusian law enforcement agencies report that they solved 136 crimes connected with production or distribution of pornography in the first six months of 2012. Thirty of them concerned child pornography.
For a long time authorities paid no attention to the widespread distribution of pornography. However, the upheaval of child pornography and the growing image of Belarus as an important porn industry actor forced the authorities to react.
The Belarusian authorities appear to have taken the fight with pornography seriously and are likely to complete their goal. Time will show whether they can effectively mobilise Belarus' numerous security services to fix the problem. It is likely that the quantity of pornography produced and distributed in Belarus will decrease by several times in the next few years.
Ryhor Astapenia is a Development Director at the Ostrogorski Centre, and editor-in-chief of Belarusian internet magazine Idea.