State Analysts Discuss Crimea, Corruption, Freedom Day Coverage - Belarus State TV Digest

Recently state TV widely covered Alexander Lukashenka’s official statements regarding events in Ukraine.

Journalists also reminded the harm to the state and society which corruption could pose. However, in their opinion Belarus, unlike Ukraine, is successfully combating the problem.

The Belarusian opposition commemorated Freedom Day, organising a rally through Minsk. On this occasion, it expressed its support for Ukrainians. State TV journalists depreciated the rally and compared with nationalistic movement.

Internal Affairs

The Belarusian opposition praises the Ukrainian nationalistsOn 25 March, the Belarusian opposition commemorated Freedom Day, unrecognised by the state authorities. Journalist reported that it organised a rally through the centre of Minsk with slogans praising the Ukrainian nationalists.

‘Usually they celebrate the so called ‘Freedom Day with symbols that remain distant to the Belarusian history’, journalist critically noted. In his opinion, the annual rally also this time gather just a few people, and it did not present neither ideas nor historical facts.

In his coverage, reporter was persistently comparing the Belarusian opposition and the participants of the rally with nationalists. reminding the viewers that nationalists helped Hitler in Nazi operations in Belarus and Ukraine.  

How to make small business driving the Belarus economy? The authorities want to increase the role of small companies in energising the state economy. In the opinion of (unnamed) experts small business’ contribution in GDP will increase twice, even up to 50%, until 2020. To achieve that, the authorities want to significantly reduce the cost of loans, and offer loans in the Belarusian rubbles, not only in the foreign currencies.

Corruption remains a serious threat to the state and society. However, the state successfully deals with it, unlike in the neighbouring Ukraine where it led to overthrow of the authorities. According to journalist, Belarus has a good legislation that prevents the corruption. ‘Other countries use our experience’, he proudly emphasised. Journalist presented the most critical statements of the Belarusian leader addressing the problem of corruption.

Lukashenka met with representatives of media. He widely discussed Ukraine and Crimea. The head of state sadly commented the developments in the neighbouring country, a ‘third part of our Slavic world’.

‘That was not a legal a constitutional process (…) This is not a normal thing when the legal authorities are overthrown and they establish the new authorities’, Lukashenka stated.

Although he took a note that the new Ukrainian government consisted of both professionals and shouters, he is ready to work with any authorities.

Commenting on Crimea, he noted that it has already become a part of Russia. ‘You can recognise it or not, but nothing will change because of that’, he strongly argued. The head of state laughed at the imposition of sanctions on Russia’s officials, who anyway did not travel that often to Europe.

Ukraine

Lukashenka’s interview to the Ukrainian talk show ‘Shuster’ is widely commented. The head of state gave the interview to the ‘most popular, democratic and liberal’ talk show on Ukrainian TV.

Political scientists and economists commenting upon Lukashenka’s interview, praised him for his adequate reaction to the development in Ukraine. Referring to Crimea, reporter pointed out that it has de facto become a part of Russia, and thus any negations of that appeared senseless.

Belarusian journalist reported that the audience gathered in the studio applauded and wholeheartedly supported Lukashenka. But also the Internet users in Russia and Ukraine also praised the Belarusian leader for his position in regard to the conflict between Kiev-Moscow. This unanimity brings hope that a dialogue between the neighbours will once again be constructive, journalist concluded. 

The Ukrainian Maidan was scrupulously prepared. Journalist informs that the ‘main driving force of Euromaidan, the Ukrainian radical organisation "the Right Sector" has become a political party'. It embraces now a number of nationalistic organisations. Reporter also pointed out that the events on Maidan were not such spontaneous, as presented, but scrupulously prepared in advance. TV showed videos, found on the Internet, presenting people complaining that were not paid for their participation in Maidan.

ONT talk show Pazicija (Position) covered the recent developments in Ukraine. The first show called ‘The choice of Crimea’ focused on referendum.

How legitimate is referendum. The host of the talk show, Vadzim Hihin, invited the regime-friendly politicians, but also the opposition-minded analysts, including Aliaksandr Klauskouski, Andrej Jelisejeu, and journalist, Viktar Marcinovich, to comment on the Crimean referendum. The pro-regime guests did not express any concerns regarding its fairness and legitimacy.

Some argued that Crimea, as a part of Russia, would be able to improve the economy. Klaskouski noted that the official statistics on the referendum looked suspicious. In his opinion, it was impossible to organise a real political agitation within such a very short period of time, and clearly the violations took place.

The new Ukrainian authorities. Participants of the talk show argued also that the new Ukrainian authorities hold neo-Nazis views. Vadzim Hihin and the vast majority of his guests shared this opinion. He did not comment the opposing views.

Sanctions on Russia. ‘Some countries which criticised Russia that had acted in a similar way before’, one of the discussants argued. All economic sanctions will be harmful for Europe, Russia, but not for the US. Thus, Europe is not interested in imposing sanctions and nothing like that would happen – as one of the guest speakers emphasised.

On the other occasion, in ‘Lessons from the Ukrainian conflict’, participants of Pazicija talk show discussed how Belarus should get involve and help Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church and events in Ukraine. Participants commented upon the recent statement of Lukashenka on the situation in Ukraine. There was unanimity among participants and hosting the programme, Vadzim Hihin - all praised the Belarusian leader for his position on the conflict. An Orthodox priest, father Fiodar Pouny, also noted that Lukashenka felt the situation in Ukraine deeply. He presented the Orthodox Church’s statement, prepared by Synod in Istanbule, calling all who care about Ukraine to cease violence and further disorder.

Is Maidan likely to take place in Belarus? In the opinion of all discussants the Maidan scenario is hardly possible to happen in the country. Primarily it is because countries chose different paths in the early 1990s. According to one overwhelming opinion of the participants, the parliaments in both countries work differently, and in Belarus it works more efficiently than in Ukraine.

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