Critisism of Russia, Alexievich, Belarusians in Antarctica – State Press Digest
Belarus Digest launches a regular series of publications reviewing Belarusian state newspapers.
In the first publication of the series, Belarus has taken further steps to confirm its independence vis-a-vis Russia. Pro-government experts in Minsk have criticised the Russian elite for increased nationalism.
This rhetoric sees Belarus as an integral part of the Russian space. At the same time, a pro-Russian journalist stated that Svetlana Alexievich got her Nobel prize due to the support of the West for her anti-Putin rhetoric.
Belarus has expanded its presence globally. Minsk hosts a high level meeting of the International Electrotechnical Commission. his organisation gathers leading businesses and experts in this sphere. The first Belarusian station in Antarctica will be constructed by 2016 and provided Belarus with access to this Continent. It will allow Belarus to engage in scientific research.
At Lake Baikal there remains a Belarusian village, which while thousands of kilometres from Belarus still retains Belarus's unique culture. All of this and more in this edition of State Press Digest.
Pro-government experts criticise Russia. Belarus Segodnya, the largest national newspaper, analyses pro-government experts’ comments on the development of Belarus after the 2015 presidential elections and how the international political and economic situation impacts Belarus.
Director of the Centre for European Integration Jury Šaŭcoŭ argues that because of the new geopolitical situation the West stopped supporting 'radical nationalists' in Belarus. The EU realised that a strong authoritative regime in Belarus curbs radical and destructive forces. He thinks that the Ukrainian scenario is impossible under these circumstances, and moreover, Belarus is a bridge between the two poles of Europe and Russia.
The West rejected colour revolutions as a means of regime change, but still wants Belarus to establish western standards of political and social order Read more
The analyst at the pro-government Cytadel think-tank Aliaksandr Špakoŭski also says that the West has changed its strategy in Belarus. The West rejected colour revolutions as a means of regime change, but still wants Belarus to establish western standards of political and social order. The West will seek to achieve this through engagement with Belarusian society and the political leadership. it will try to integrate Belarus into its sphere of influence. However, Špakoŭski also accuses Russia of a growing nationalist hostility towards Belarus and its position on Ukraine. He argues that Belarus should preserve armed neutrality towards both conflicting neighbours.
Acording to Ihar Marzaliuk, MP and a famous historian, Belarus will never be a satellite of Russia, although Russia was and currently remains a strategic partner of Belarus. “We are interested in integration with Russia economically, socially and militarily, but this should be a union of equal sovereign states,” the expert says.
Authorities organise youth debates. The newspaper Žyccio Prydźvinnia reports on the youth project Open Debates. This was organised by the Ideology Department of Viciebsk district executive, the Belaja Ruś and BRSM GoNGOs and government-controlled trade unions before the elections. Schoolchildren, students and soldiers were divided into teams to debate political issues.
The organisers say they want to develop political and civil culture among Belarusian youth. They want to teach them to promote their views and see elections as a mechanism of influencing the government. The main reason behind it was perhaps to secure a high turnout among the young, but the authorities apparently started to understand the importance of civil discussion.
Nobel prize for Russophobia? In the article “Was the Nobel prize awarded to the right person?” Soyuznoe Veche, the newspaper of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union, takes a critical stance towards Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel prize. According to the article's author, the West wants to hurt Russia.
By awarding the prize before the presidential elections it aimed to help the Belarusian opposition. These are the opponents of Belarus-Russia Union State and so it was an attack on Russia too. The author concludes that the politicisation of the award will hang over the writer for the rest of her life despite the fine quality of her work. Meanwhile, Vecherniy Brest (Evening Brest) reports that Alexievich's books are practically absent in Brest's bookstores. However, after the news on the award people immediately rushed to buy her books.
Belarusians in Antarctica. Soyuznoe Veche continues with a piece about the construction of the first Belarusian station in the Antarctic. The station is due to be constructed at the start of 2016. It will be transported to the South Pole on a Russian ship and will be placed on the spot called Hara Viačerniaja (Evening Mountain). The Head of the National Centre for Polar Studies, Alieh Snycin, says that building Belarus's own station is a matter of national prestige.
Importantly, to receive the status of a participant of the international agreement on the Antarctic, Belarus has to fulfil a number of conditions. One of them is the building of a station. Antarctica contains huge reserves of hydrocarbons and other treasures, which Belarus hopes to get a piece of.
High Level Meeting of Electronic Experts in Minsk. On 5-16 October Minsk hosted the 79th General Meeting of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Minsk with 1,500 delegates. This was reported by Zviazda daily. The IEC is a worldwide noncommercial organisation which produces international standards for the free movement of electronic goods.
The meeting also serves as a major business forum in the field, which gathers representatives of leading companies in electronics, IT, and energy. For Belarus it became a rare opportunity to demonstrate its potential for investments, improve its image abroad and promote Belarusian production.
Belarusian traditions in Eastern Siberia. Holas Radzimy newspaper writes about the Dažynki harvest festival in the village Turheneŭka located in the Irkutsk region of Russian Siberia, near Lake Baikal. Although the region is largely inhabitated by ethnic Buryats, this Belarusian vilage, which was founded in 1909, is similar to other settlements near Lake Baikal, which exist even today.
Local Belarusians preserve their traditions and rites. The villagers perform traditional folk songs and dances. A group of producers for the Belarusian ONT TV channel visited the festival to as a part of a series filming people who retain their identity far away from Bealrus. According to the 2010 Russian census, currently about 8,000 Belarusians live in the Irkutsk region.
Alternative cinema comes to Minsk. Zviazda newspaper is advertising the film festival Bulbamovie ('Potato-movie'), which will be held in Warsaw, Cracow and for the first time in Minsk. The fact that the festival is advertised in the state press and will be held in Minsk looks at the vert least unusual.
The festival has long been working as a free site for alternative Belarusian cinema with movies often critical to Belarus's political reality. The state has a monopoly on film production and during Lukashenka's rule the state cinema has largely made films based on Soviet patriotism and World War II episodes.
The State Digest Digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. 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.
Can Belarus Stick to Neutrality Despite Russian Pressure?
Last week, pro-government Russian experts and media launched a new series of attacks on the Belarusian government. Minsk, they insisted, is going the way of Yanukovych's Ukraine.
Russian commentators agree on that regardless of their ideological colours. Be it the liberal Kommersant daily, government-affiliated think tanks or the radical right-wing Zavtra daily. They warn Lukashenka of Yanukovych's fate.
The attacks have been triggered by Lukashenka's statement that the issue of the Russian airbase is far from settled. Minsk already irritated Moscow by its cautious building up neutrality since the late 2000s.
Moreover, while earlier Minsk could collude in Russia's politics with influential right- and left-wing elements who dreamt of restoring a multinational empire, it now has to deal with new powerful forces which hate compromise with allies like Lukashenka. Exclusive Russian nationalism is ever more influencing Moscow's policy.
Rampant Russian Nationalism
At the beginning of October the Belarusian Embassy in Moscow held an expert video conference between Moscow and Minsk on the “Prospects of Belarus-Russian Relations in the Context of Presidential Election in Belarus.” From both the Belarusian and the Russian sides, only well-known experts close to the respective governments participated. For Belarus, there were Vadzim Hihin, Yury Shautsou, Siarhei Kizima and Alyaksandr Shpakouski.
Commenting on the video conference, the Leading Research Fellow of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) Oleg Nemenskii lashed out at the Belarusian participants. According to him, “the main thing which united the Belarusian experts was their hate towards the Russian World.” Moreover, “Minsk has been so frightened by the changes that occurred in Russia in spring 2014 that it does not even try to find a modus vivendi with Russia.”
Bolsheviks split Western regions from Great Russia in order to implement “the un-Russian national projects of Ukraine and Belarus” Read more
This prominent expert of a think-tank affiliated with the Russian government openly expresses radical Russian nationalist views. Earlier, he accused, in an article, the Bolsheviks of splitting Western regions from Great Russia in order to implement “the un-Russian national projects of Ukraine and Belarus.” He urged that the Soviet heritage be overcome and that a “Russian national state” be formed from a “large part of the Russian Federation, Belarus, most a bigger part of Ukraine, Transnistria and a large part of Kazakhstan.”
Russian nationalist experts seemingly believe this rhetoric. They argue that Lukashenka with his doubtful loyalty to Putin's policies does not represent the Belarusian people. They refer to presumably neutral surveys of public opinion in Belarus which show high support for Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Just a decade ago, Russian nationalists (to be differentiated from imperialist groups which reject its more ethnically-based ideas) existed as a marginal group without serious political clout. Now, they grow ever stronger in Putin's state as another recent political show has demonstrated, too.
On 25-26 September, the conference “Russophobia and Information War Against Russia” in Moscow for the first time featured a series of presentations on problem of Russophobia in Belarus. It also alleged that Russophobia was committed by the Belarusian state. The presenters included prominent Russian nationalists from Belarus who had challenged the Belarusian government, like Andrei Herashchanka sacked from Belarusian public service for Russian chauvinism.
The event served as a stern warning to Lukashenka because the conference was not a shabby meeting of right-wing radicals. Two organisations close to the Kremlin and a group of deputies of the Russian Duma had organised the event and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin spoke at it.
No Friends in Moscow?
The lack of acceptance for more neutral Belarusian positions seems to be universal in Moscow. Last Thursday, Maxim Yusin wrote in the liberal Kommersant daily that Lukashenka in his negotiations with Moscow was feeling surer than never before. Minsk pursues a multidirectional foreign policy, and foreign powers strive for influence over Belarus. According to Yusin, this policy of balancing between Russia and the West is similar to that of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych before his toppling in 2014. The same fate can befall the Belarusian leader, he implies.
In the Zavtra daily on 12 October, an influential Russian nationalist politician Konstantin Zatulin commented in the same vein,
Lukashenka and the West are coming closer to one another. He, in fact, has occupied the niche which earlier was occupied by Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. That is the niche of a mediator between the East and West. Russia does not need such a mediator. But it is ideal to which at this stage aspires the Belarusian leader.
Remarkably, it was the newspaper which for many years fiercely supported Lukashenka that has printed Zatulin's words. Minsk used to be able to reach parts of Russian establishment through Zavtra and its authors.
Minsk Heading for Neutrality?
The Belarusian authorities felt the Russian establishment's tilt towards a more aggressive nationalistic policy and have responded accordingly. Although the Belarusian Constitution declares the neutrality of Belarus, for many years it has remained a dead letter. That changed in 2006 as divergences with Russian foreign policy emerged.
Minsk continued to go out of its way to preserve friendly relations with Moscow, yet established good relations with Ukrainian president Yushchenko and Georgian president Saakashvili, and refused to recognise Russian-supported independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Minsk also refused to extradite Bakiev to the new pro-Russian government of Kyrgystan. Belarus's refusal to accept Russia's annexation of Crimea and ambivalent stance on the conflict in Eastern Ukraine are just some of the latest illustrations.
In the eyes of pro-Putin Russian politicians Belarus can either be with Moscow on all and every issue or against it Read more
Belarus effectively started to implement the neutrality clause of the Constitution. That does not mean automatic acceptance of this neutrality by others. In the eyes of pro-Putin Russian politicians Belarus can either be with Moscow on all and every issue or against it. It cannot simply be an ally with its own position on some issues, even if this is a neutral position which does not oppose Russia.
Unfortunately, Minsk finds it difficult to persuade Western countries about its possibilities to act independently of Moscow, too. After his recent visit to Berlin, the chief of the Belarusian Nasha Niva daily Andrei Dynko wrote that German politicians do not trust Lukashenka and believe that the Kremlin can enforce any of its decisions on Belarus, including the plans for an airbase.
Indeed, Belarusian neutrality is very limited and the Kremlin maintains significant influence in the country. Yet Finland after WWII succeeded in building neutrality in not identical yet comparable conditions of tight Soviet control. Helsinki merely avoided confrontation with Moscow, accepted legitimate Soviet interests while building its own country and gradually developing more independent and neutral policy. Belarus could do the same. Maybe, its the only way to survive as an independent nation.