Combating Corruption, Harvest and Snowden - Belarus State TV Digest

Belarus Digest starts a new series of articles summarising what common Belarusians see on state television.

The aim of the series is to help our readers understand how the Belarusian state media form public opinion in the country, which topics they consider the most important and which myths they try to perpetuate. Reviews will go beyond mere "propaganda watch" to cover domestic politics, the economy, society and international affairs. We will avoid making comments and leave readers to make their own judgements. 

During the first week of August the news on Belarusian state television was dominated by the anti-corruption campaign. It carried regular reports on the meetings, which Alexander Lukashenka had with top officials where he lambasted them for corruption. The successes scored by Belarusian farmers in bringing in the harvest were probably number two in the media coverage. The biggest religious festivity, the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus drew the attention of the Belarusian media, but television did not focus on Lukashenka’s absence in Ukraine. 

Domestic Politics

War on corruption. Last week Lukashenka met with top officials to discuss the problem of corruption and economic crimes, or “the main threats to the state”, as he termed it. The media stressed that, although the number of reported incidents of corruption have declined over the past three years and the international image of Belarus has improved, the state still needs to find better solutions to a problem that still exists/refuses to go away.

Lukashenka pointed out that Belarus does not need to revise the law, because the existing regulations meet international standards. He strongly criticised officials and demanded more active involvement in the war on corruption. The media described the construction industry as suffering seriously from corruption. Lukashenka ordered the officials to solve the issue immediately.

The TV report also noted that other countries also had to deal with corruption. For example, Lithuania seems to be the worst level of corruption of all the EU member states. Transparency International recently estimated that 26 per cent of Lithuanians have given bribes at least once. 

Preparing Belarus for the Ice Hockey Championship. Belarusian authorities started preparations for next year's Ice Hockey World Cup. Recently the Belarusian border service cooperated with officers from Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia on the programme “West 13” (“Захад 13” in Belarusian). For the last month they registered over a thousand cases of breaking border regulations, as the television reports. The joint programme is not only a training for the Belarusian border service before the hockey event that is scheduled to take place next year, but also for “honest cooperation between security services”.

Modernisation of agriculture. Lukashenka visited with farmers in the Minsk region. The farmers presented him modern technologies in milking, production of rapeseed oil, linen and flowers. The television highlighted that “today all of the agricultural sector is undergoing through modernisation: from tractors to modern milk processing plants”.

The role of the Orthodox Church in Belarus. In the words of Lukashenka “after the demise of the Soviet Union, which was the foundation of Slavic identity, the church played a huge role for us in preventing us fighting with each other”. He also stated that the Orthodox Church, but like other churches, should change and undergo some “evolutionist, progressive reform” in order to be more in line with with contemporary society.

Economy

Belarusian ruble is trendy (again). The official media reported that more Belarusians have decided to deposit the Belarusian national currency in banks. In June, due to increasing devaluation of the Belarusian ruble, Belarusians started buying foreign currency and transfer deposits in Belarusian roubles into currency deposits. Now the situation has completely changed, according to television reports. The banks are offering a very good rate for deposits in BYR, which has attracted many people. A financial analyst to the news confirmed also that higher deposits in the national currency meant more provisions.

Harvesting in Belarus. Belarusian television enthusiastically and in great detail reported on the ongoing harvesting campaign. The television also presented a ranking of the leading regions and farmers with the best results. Lukashenka personally visited several farms to hear about the harvesting campaign from the farmers. He brought up the importance of agriculture and harvesting saying that, "This is our image. This is the level of our agriculture”.

Society

A huge pilgrimage to Minsk. Over 300 thousand Belarusians from the whole country participated in the adorations of the Saint Andrew’s Cross. It arrived to Minsk due to the 1025th anniversary of the baptism of Kievan Rus. People from all over Belarus came to Minsk to celebrate one of the biggest religious events in recent Belarusian, according to media reports.

Assistance  for families with children. The state plans to increase support of Belarusian families. Families with children younger than 3-year old will receive a higher allowance of around US$140 a month. Families with more children will benefit more in accordance with the changes. The parents will receive also more financial aid with their first and the next child birth. Under the new policy, families will receive US$1,160 for their first child.

A minimum budget increase. Since the beginning of August the minimum budget has increased by 5.5% and reached a level of about US$141.69 per person and will be in effect until 31 October. The news reports that as a result, minimum wages, social pensions, and benefits will increase accordingly.

More expensive electricity and heating. However, together with the increase in social benefits and minimum wages, the cost of living in Belarus will be even higher. The television reported that from the beginning of August prices for electricity and heating would increase by 14% and 9% respectively.

International Affairs

Snowden granted asylum in Russia. The news of Russia’s support for Edward Snowden came as a disappointment to the American authorities.  Belarusian television cited Senator John McCain's call for the US to revise their relations with Moscow. The Kremlin, on the other hand, asserts that the whole situation should not influence relations between the two countries. 

Belarus and Russia together for the world community. Both countries want carry out a programme of cooperation in Antarctica. Belarus has had a presence in the Antarctic region since 2006, though it had already started its own research there a year before. The partnership with Russia presumes carrying out joint research and work on specialised technologies. Belarus has its own state programme for Antarctica which runs until 2018 and plans to establish its own “town” with a proper infrastructure. Thanks to these developments, Belarusian researchers will have an opportunity to examine the region throughout the year. This, as the television put it, “will bring benefits not only to one country, but the whole world community”.

Belarus will support the Ukraine modernisation. Ukrainian farmers are using old tractors. Belarusian television proudly reported that 80% of the machines used by Ukrainian farmers actually make their work less efficient. Lukashenko's June visit to Kiev, amongst other things, focused on the fact that Belarus can offer them more modern and efficient tractors, talks which resulted in agreements on cooperation in these spheres. Today Belarusian technology reaches 30% of the Ukrainian market. In 2013 a Belarusian company MAZ sent to Ukraine a thousand tractors, and in 2014 that number will be doubled, as state television reports.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1. 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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