Ice Hockey Championship, Joining Forces Against Western Sanctions? - Belarus State TV Digest

The Ice Hockey World Championship have dominated the news coverage on Belarus' Channel 1. Journalists regularly report on the games, but also praise the event's organisation.

The official celebrations carried out on Victory Day, held annually on 9 May, were another popular topic. The Belarusian head of state answered questions from journalists during the commerative event, including questions about the Eurasian Union and combating corruption.

Journalists also regularly covered the current developments in Ukraine. While commenting on the referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk, one journalist remarked that Western and Russian observers have ignored it.

Foreign Affairs

Western Military Forces to Stay in Estonia?  ‘Spring storm’ with its 6,000 officers, NATO military drills, was recently launched in Estonia. The military exercises take place in areas close to the border with Russia, notes the report. Poland and Denmark have sent their own fighter jets over Estonian airspace to protect it. After the drills, an American command will remain in Estonia until the end of the year, he concluded.

‘A Symbolic Meeting in Moscow’… a day before Victory Day. The coverage noted that Victory Day remains a sacred anniversary for every former soviet republic. "60 years ago [we stood] together against fascism, today again together we deal with [new] challenges and threats", the reporter states, commenting on the meeting of five leaders of the CIS countries in Moscow.

The heads of states of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia gathered in Moscow to discuss security issues, but also in preparation for the Eurasian Economic Union Agreement that is soon expected to be signed. 

Belarusian state TV showed President Vladimir Putin stating that "from time to time nationalism rises here and there" and commented that the case of Ukraine showed the consequences of irresponsibly conducted politics.

Alexander Lukashenka criticised those who diminish the importance of the Soviet nation. Lukashenka and Putin discussed also the developments taking place in Ukraine, but also how to challenge sanctions together.

Commemoration of Victory Day in Ukraine. Reporting on Kyiv, state TV noted that this year there was no traditional Victory Day parade in the country. The report continues on to state that tension can be felt in the air. The state authorities placed flowers on the main Tomb of the Unknown Soldier momenment and a special service took place throughout the nation's churches. Only Donetsk held a parade with war veterans that proceeded through the city.

Referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk. State TV reports that the Ukrainian authorities did not recognise the results of the referendum. The authorities also argued that fewer people took part in the elections in reality as the supporters of federalisation claim. In the opinion of journalist covering the story, it is impossible to confirm its results as "both foreign and Russian observers have ignored the referendum".

The coverage also points out that according to the Ukrainian Constitution the status of particular regions cannot be decided by a local referendum alone. "Nevertheless, the Ukrainian authorities once again have announced their readiness to conduct a dialogue with the east", the report continues. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, argues that Kiev should start talks with the Donbas.

Is Ukraine on the Brink of the Civil War? Journalists cited the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius. In his opinion to solve the conflict in Ukraine, it is necessary for Russia, European Union, US and Kyiv to all be involved in the negotiation process.

At the same time, the International Monetary Fund stated that the Ukrainian economy had the worst economic indicators when compared to its neighbouring Eastern European countries. Over the last 20 years the GDP of Ukraine has not seen noticeable growth. The IMF expects that Kyiv will immediately change its economic policies and increase its prices for electricity and utilities.

Domestic Affairs

Victory Day: Lukashenka Speaks to Reporters. After the official part of the celebrations had concluded, the head of the Belarusian state answered questions from Russian and Belarusian journalists.

Were all the controversial issues regarding the Eurasian Union resolved? Lukashenka emphasised that all sides had reached agreement on all the outstanding issues. Where there were still controversial issues where disagreements existed, bilateral agreements were reached.

Will the sanctions on Russia have implications on Belarus' economy? Lukashenka pointed out that the countries should be mobilised and react to the sanctions by increased production on their internal markets. "First of all, we should move production to our own companies, pay them well for their work and live as well as Germany", he stated enthusiastically. "Then nobody will talk about economic sanctions. We will be self-sufficient", he continued.

Has the head of state already started a political campaign or is his combat on corruption an honest act?  Lukashenka replied that he started his electoral campaign already back in December 2010 after he won presidential elections. The problem of corruption remains valid today and requires attention from the state. He continued by explaining the governments recent struggles with increased levels of bribery.

"If you will not vote for me…" "I will not be offended", he stated. The person who would replace him, should not, however, go about destroying what has already been established.

The Belarusian Parliament. Several laws were recently passed in the Parliament. One of them is an amnesty law that was announced in connection with the 70th anniversary of Belarus' liberation from the German-fascist occupiers. The amnesty law is proof the humanitarian nature of the Belarusian state according to the reporter providing the coverage.

Further, they mentioned that around 2,700 prisoners who have proven they are rehabilitated will be released on this occasion. Amnesty will include the under-aged, pregnant women, pensioners and the disabled, provided that they did not commit any serious crimes.

Belarusian MPs have also passed a law on ‘Belarusians Living Abroad’, which seeks to embrace 3.5m members of the Belarusian diaspora. The law envisages means of getting support for various activities in the spheres of culture, education, and tourism. 

Talk Show on ONT ‘Pozicija’ The central issue discussed in the course of the programme was Belarusian hospitality and the attractiveness of Minsk to foreigners arriving to watch the World Ice Hockey Championships. Among the programme's guests were the representatives of the police, a Belarusian movie director, Russian hockey fan clubs but also foreign hockey fans.

All agreed that there was a high level of organisation surrounding the championships. One guest noted that the ‘honesty of Belarusians’ distinguished the event from when it was held in Helsinki.

62% of viewers of the talk show voted via text message that they are sure that foreigners will again come to Belarus after the hockey championships are over.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1) and ONT. 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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