Belarus Struggles with the West on the Ideological Front

Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus

The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently presented a report named "Human Rights Violations in Certain Countries in 2012". The report blames 25 Western states of serous human rights violations. Belarus is trying to attack the West in the field where the Belarusian regime is aware of its own weaknesses.

The frequent accusations of Alexander Lukashenka, multiple TV programmes and now the report are the main tools which the Belarusian government uses against the West to win an ideological war. As with many other parts of state propaganda, the accusations have little factual support or are deliberately misleading. But on the domestic level, they seem to serve their purpose well. 

The Best Defence is a Good Offense

The practice of blaming western democracies for human rights violations is rather wide-spread among authoritarian regimes. It helps to divert attention from domestic problems to foreign problems and at the same time to respond in kind to those governments that dared to criticise them.

For instance, take the case of Iran. In October 2011 one of the Iranian leading Ayatollahs responsible for judicial system of the country held a long TV-speech explaining why it was time to bring an action before the international courts against the USA for multiple human rights violations.

In May 2012, North Korea took the initiative and officially blamed the West for abusing human rights all over the world by organising revolutions and suppressing the protests.

In December 2012 Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement criticising European governments and the United States for mistreatment of ethnic minorities and brutally dispersing mass demonstrations.

Now Belarus has officially joined the club. It is true that even the best functioning democracies deserve criticism. But when the criticism is made by the country with the worst human rights record in Europe, it is nothing but pure politics.

Belarusian Report With Numerous Mistakes and Distortions

The report seems to be prepared in haste. Some data is simply inaccurate, sometimes the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs deliberately misrepresents what "human rights" are. 

Some "accusations" from the Belarusian report seem comic rather than serious. Belgium, for example, is said to discriminate those over 45 years old 8% more often than the other groups while applying for a job. In several countries high unemployment among youth and migrants, poverty, low salaries are also considered human rights violations by Belarusian governmental specialists.

Sometimes western governments are accused of human rights violations when they were actually protecting them. The Danish government is guilty for not censoring the cartoons about Prophet Mohammed.

The US government, in order to respect the rights of Muslims, should have banned "the Innocence of Muslims" movie and prosecute its director. The Norwegian courts were too soft on Anders Breivik.

Perhaps these numerous mistakes attracted more international attention than the report itself. "Foreign Policy" magazine has showed several mismatches in it. For example according the the Belarusian report, Jill Stein, candidate for presidency from the Green Party, was a man but in fact she is a woman.

The authors of the report think that the USA should have also allowed Texas to become independent. As "Foreign Policy" magazine’s columnist Joshua Keating sharply put it: "It appears that if Texas ever did secede, Belarus might be the first to recognise it". 

Opportunities to Protect Abused Rights

One must be honest and admit that some of the human rights violations, described in the report indeed took place. This concerns mistreatment of migrants, brutal crackdown on the "Occupy" movement demonstrations, torture in American and European prisons etc.

But what Belarusian officials tend to omit is the possibility of western victims of human rights abuses to defend themselves in courts effectively. What seems exotic in Belarus often happens in democratic states: incorrect governmental or judicial decisions are later overruled.

This concerns, for instance, the case of the Lithuanian journalist Dainius Radzevicius, who was unlawfully accused of libel by the city district court. But the Belarusian report does not mention that this decision was overruled by the appeal court afterwards.

Citing the decisions of the European Court for Human Rights is a moment of a pure hypocrisy in the Belarusian report. The authors make use of one of the greatest European institution’s decisions, although Belarusians are not allowed to use it themselves in reality. Belarusians are the only European nation for whom the doors of this Court are closed.

Describing the cases of torture in American prisons, the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs forgets to mention that most were subsequently punished for it.  In Belarus such justice seldom prevails. For example, ex-candidate for the presidential elections, Ales Mihalevich, reported about torture in Belarusian prisons (as did many other political prisoners) and had to leave the country fearing for his life. Naturally, "the independent" investigation did not confirm any of these allegations.

Tool in an Ideological War

Belarusian political analyst and journalist Aleksander Klaskovski in his comment to Belarus Digest said: "This document was made by the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] officials without any enthusiasm. That is why there are so many silly mistakes in it. The purpose was to show Lukashenka, that the MFA will fight back against its ideological foes".

Referring to human rights is a tool of the government's propaganda within the country and towards it's foreign opponents. It became one of the legitimate battlefields for the regime. The Belarusian ruler himself several times mentioned western human rights abuses during his last press-conference.

Belarusian state media keeps pace with its master. For example, Belarusian state television features a weekly programme called "Human Rights: World Outlook". Week after week Soviet-style state propaganda "breaks the myths" about western democracies.

Some of the programme's revelations are that the USA control the world media, the West is obsessed with plans to occupy all oil-producing countries and to overthrow governments who do not want to follow their orders. The West according to the Belarusian television is also waging an information war waged against Belarus and its allies - Iran, Venezuella and Cuba and finances global terrorism. 

Belarusian authorities deliberately seem to have put human rights on the chessboard of this ideological struggle. They aim not so much to show how bad the West is, but rather to ridicule and undermine the whole idea of human rights violations. 

Artyom Shraibman

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