A Parrot Candidate, U.S. Website Hacked, Eurovision Petition - Western Press Digest

The U.S. presidential administration is looking into a possible security breach to its recently launched healthcare website, with the issue being linked back to Belarus. New allegations have surfaced that European donor aid is financing Belarus’ border police, again raising eyebrows in the United Kingdom.

Journalists from Finland may not attend the World Ice Hockey Tournament if not allowed to cover topics other than the games. Uralkali and the Belarusian Potash Company are in talks to rebuild their relationship, though both sides are very cautious.

Two contestants for the 2014 Eurovision contest are petitioning to have the jury’s choice overturned as they feel it did not represent Belarus’ actual choice. A pet parrot is registered as a candidate for a local council with a doctored passport as a sign of protest against the political landscape in Belarus.

All this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.

New U.S. Healthcare Website Compromised by Belarus – The new website for the U.S. Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, may have a loophole in its programming that could make it vulnerable to cyber attacks from Belarus. U.S. intelligence recently found out about the potential risk and promptly reported it to the American authorities. Intelligence officials are worried that the websites’ user information could be re-routed to Belarus for other purposes.

What is perhaps more worrisome, the media says, is that the software is used by nearly every hospital and health insurance company in the U.S. Intelligence officials first learned of the potential issue after the director of the High-Technology Park in Minsk, Valery Tsepkalo, revealed that the U.S. was a client of theirs.

Heads of Uralkali and Belarusian Potash Co. Seek Reconciliation – Bloomberg news reported that at the end of January the CEOs of Uralkali and Belarusian Potash Company (BPC) met in Moscow to find a way to renew ties. The well-publicised potash scandal, which lead to the arrest and several months of detention of the former head of Uralkali last year, had a significant impact on the global potash market and one of the main sources of revenue for the frail Belarusian economy.

According to an anonymous source within Uralkali, Bloomberg revealed that the Russian potash producer is looking to increase their shares in the financially frail BPC Russian-Belarusian joint stock company. Additionally, they will also demand that the partnership be registered outside of Belarus, likely to ensure that profits and the company itself are not subject to the control of Belarusian authorities.

New Investigation over EU Aid to Belarus’ “Dictatorial Regime” – The Telegraph is reporting that the United Kingdom’s Development Secretary Justine Greening has refused to state that British taxpayer money, in the form of aid, was not being used by the Belarusian government to keep dissidents and political opponents from leaving the country. The controversy has once again arisen after reports in 2013 by a U.K. MP said that British aid, through the EU’s foreign aid programme, had donated millions of dollars worth of equipment to Belarus’ border control police force.

Andrej Sannikaŭ, leader of the civic campaign European Belarus, stated that he had been detained and harassed by border officials who had used equipment with EU logos on them. The European Commission had not received a formal statement or complaint from Sannikaŭ, a well-regarded former foreign minister, and had decided not to investigate his claims based on his statement to The Telegraph. However, a European Commission spokesperson stated that it had spoken to Belarusian officials and, “found no evidence of current misuse.”

Government-Sponsored Film About 2010 Presidential Elections Starts Production – A film about the controversial events surrounding the 2010 presidential elections, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus, has begun to be produced Belarus. The film, entitled “Abel”, is reportedly about the story of two brothers caught on different sides of the conflict. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty noted that several presidential candidates running against Aleksandr Lukashenko, alongside hundreds of activists, were imprisoned in the aftermath of the contested election results.

Musicians Protest Belarus’ Eurovision Representative – Teo and his song “Cheesecake” were recently selected by a jury panel as Belarus’ official entry into the 2014 Eurovision contest. Second place contestants Max Lorens and DiDyuLya, Policy Mic reports, are contesting Teo’s selection.

The musicians believe that Teo was unfairly selected by the jury, a jury who, in their view, did not listen to the thousands of Belarusians who voted for them. It is also noted that this would not be the first time that an official selection had been overturned by the nation’s ruler himself. In 2011, after accusations of a rigged vote and fraud, Lukashenka invalidated the first vote and a new entry was made.

Local Parrot to Registered to Run as Candidate in Local Elections – A Belarusian man has decided to have his pet parrot run in a local council elections, the BBC reports. Kanstantsin Zhukouski decided to run his pet parrot as a sign of protest against the “futility of Belarusian politics”, though shortly thereafter withdrew the bid for candidacy of his beloved pet bird, fearing potential repercussions. In an interview he gave after withdrawing his pet’s candidacy, his tongue-in-cheek rationale for his withdrawing his parrot was because the position of a regional councillor, “isn’t very prestigious.”

Reporters from Helsinki May Not Attend Ice Hockey World Championship – Two Finnish publications are considering not sending their own journalists to cover the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship due to a requirement that all journalists coming to Belarus will have to apply for a special visa from the Belarusian foreign ministry if they plan on reporting on anything besides the games. The publications stated that if permission to cover other topics than the games are granted, they would still go. 

Devin Ackles

Devin Ackes is a project coordinator of the Ostrogorski Centre. He is an alumnus of Michigan State University and Columbia University.

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