Subbotnik With Top Officials, Opposition And The Presidential Elections - Belarus State TV Digest

"Dzielo Pryncypa" talk show

Did the Americans dismantle the Soviet Union? Did Belarusians benefit from the fall of the Soviet Union at all? These are some of the topics discussed by guests on the “Delo Principa” talk show on state-run ONT TV.

A recent subbotnik, a traditional voluntary (at least officially) clean-up day on Saturday, was a resounding success. State-owned TV focused its coverage voluntary work of officials in Hugo Chavez park. Around 3 million Belarusians participated in it and as a result over $4 million will find its way into the state budget. The head of state along with other officials, like millions of ordinary Belarusians, picked up and laboured away.

All of this and more in this edition of State TV digest.

Economy

Will the decree against “social parasites” stimulate people to work? According to “Panorama" on Channel 1, the new bill requiring people without official jobs to pay a levy, actually aims to protect of the rights of those Belarusians who actually pay their taxes.

Journalists portray those who avoid paying taxes as being typically well educated, with their own housing and a job, but who nonetheless receive their salaries in an “envelope”. The new law will help the state fight this long-standing practise.

According to Belarusian TV, other countries employ similar practises against tax evaders. For example, in the US such people can be fined or even end up in prison. Belarus, it was argued, appears "more democratic" on this front and will require tax evaders to pay lower fines. The decree has already started bringing in results as more Belarusians have expressed their interest in looking for a job.

Is the Belarusian economy open and attractive? Standard & Poor’s has confirmed a long-term credit rating of B- for Belarus, according to “Panorama”. According to the coverage, much of this has to do with the "rational economic policies of the Belarusian authorities". In addition, they have managed to "adapt the economy to complicated external circumstances". The programme went so far as to say that the positive rating proves the "transparency and openness" of the Belarusian economy.

Politics

Does the Belarusian opposition support Lukashenka? Journalists from “Glavnyj Efir” on Channel 1 covered the upcoming presidential elections, reporting that a number of the opposition-minded organisations in Belarus have already declared that would not participate in the elections. For example, the “For Freedom” movement of Aliaksandr Milinkievich will not nominate a candidate from among its ranks. Another organisation “Nash Dom” led by Volha Karach will also not be participating. “Today’s alternative to Lukashenka is war, unemployment and collapse”, journalists cited a letter published by the “Nash Dom” leadership.

Belarusian president can take up a shovel ... in addition to the fact that he can play hockey, drive a car, or a motorcycle

Lukashenka: No Room for Populism. “Glavny Efir” on Channel 1 covered the subbotnik, a traditional voluntary community work and clean up day that falls on Saturdays. This year it attracted rather diverse crowd, according to the coverage, ranging from a “school child to the president”. Alexander Lukashenka was working on the construction of a new children hospital in Minsk. But he also found time for a press conference.

“Everyone knows that the Belarusian president can take up a shovel, or any other instrument for construction in his hands, in addition to the fact that he can play hockey, drive a car, or a motorcycle”, stated one journalist, flattering the head of state. Lukashenka explained he "does nothing just for show, but rather tends to do things which he does in real life".

Subbotnik: All (officials) hands on board! Other senior officials also took part in some volunteering. Andrej Kabiakau, Prime Minister, planted pine trees. Aliaksandr Kosiniec, the head of the Presidential Administration, helped out with building a new school in Minsk. Mikhail Miasnikovych, chairman of the Council of Republic, also helped out with a construction project. Uladzimir Andrejchanka with other MPs tended Hugo Chavez Park in Minsk. As a result of the subbotnik nearly 61 bln BYR (over $4m) will be saved. The authorities will spend the money on equipment for Belarusian hospitals, festivities for the the Great Patriotic War celebration and modernising sanatoriums in Belarus.

Perestroika and Belarus

On his talk show “Delo Pryncypa” on ONT TV, Vadzim Hihin discussed the results of perestroika in the Soviet Union for Belarusians. Among the guest speakers were Valentin Holubieu (former opposition MP from 1990-1995), Valentina Leonienka (Secretary of the Communist Party and MP), Aliaksandr Shpakouski (the head of the information centre "Aktualnaja Kancepcyja"). Participants discussed the reasons behind the fall of the Soviet Union, but also its consequences for Belarusians.

Charhyniec forcefully argued that the Americans stood behind the collapse of the Soviet Union

Did the Soviet Union have to be reformed? “The Soviet system was rotten” according to Valery Karbalevych, a political scientist. Mikalaj Charhyniec, the head of the Association of Writers of Belarus, strongly disagreed with Karbalevych and pointed out that the Soviet Union was a worldwide leader in education, but also its citizens were highly motivated to work. Juriy Zisser, the founder of the popular Belarus news portal tut.by, noted that the Union bankrupted itself politically and economically.

Did the Americans dismantle the Soviet Union? Mikalaj Charhyniec forcefully argued that the Americans stood behind the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the talk show it turned out that 65% of people gathered in a studio supported Aliaksandr Shpakouski who stated that there was an operation by American special service aimed at the destruction of the Soviet Union.

Any benefits from the fall of the Soviet Union for Belarusians? Valery Karbalevych, Aliaksandr Shpakouski, Valentin Holubieu agreed that the demise of the Soviet Union had fortunately led to the creation of a sovereign Belarus. Some of the guest speakers pointed out that with respect to culture and education Belarus had actually suffered as a result of the fall of the Soviet system.

At the end of the talk show Vadzim Hihin presented the results of a telephone vote: only 15% of people assessed perestroika positively, whereas 85% of voters negatively.

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