Vilnius Summit, Demonstrations in Kiev, Rental Housing - Belarus State TV Digest

Belarusian state TV widely covered various topics related to the recent Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. Journalists commented upon the final reaction of Victor Yanukovych to an offer from Brussels, mass demonstrations in Ukraine and also the interests of Minsk in its relations with the EU.

State media also showed how the state-level body controls the local authorities and remains concerned about the needs of local residents from one Belarusian town. They also covered new changes in the Belarusian Catholic Church - Pope Francis named three new bishops in the country. 

Foreign Affairs

Kiev makes a pause in its relations with the West.  Belarusian state TV reported on the recent Vilnius summit. Its coverage noted that Brussels remained against the dual integration of Ukraine with both  the EU and the Customs Union.

Due to its rapprochement with the Customs Union, Kiev would rather hold out on signing the Association Agreement with Brussels. As the Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov stated, the Customs Union made simply a better offer to Ukraine than the EU. Thus Kiev is now rather open to develop its relations with Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Journalists noted that manifestations of supporters and opponents of the EU integration coming out onto the streets took place throughout Ukraine. 

Russia’s entry into WTO did not have any unfavourable implications on Belarus but... A special commission analysed the 12 months since the country became a member of the WTOIt concluded that for a more tangible impact to be measured more time is needed. The media noted that actually the WTO within 5-10 years could lose its position as the leading trade resolution organisation.

What could, however, have a real lasting impact on the economies of the Customs Union members is  the potential Association Agreement between Kiev and Brussels. The Agreement would bind Kiev to comply with the European standards, journalist explained.

This could rupture the links between Ukrainian business and the Customs Union, but also influences mutual trade turnover between the parties. It would lead to the number of labour migrants from Ukraine to Russia increasing. The Agreement also carries with it certain risks, state TV goes on to say, though which particular risks were not mentioned. 

Yanukovych resisted pressure from Brussels. One report covered the reaction of Kiev to the Association Agreement. According to a number of experts found by Belarusian television, the European Union is not the best choice for Ukraine at the moment. Benefits from potential integration with the West seem rather blurred when compared with the costs of making the Ukrainian economy to be in compliance with European norms.

That process would cost the country up to 180bn EUR. In any event, the very signing of the Agreement does not guarantee anything, the journalist emphasised. The case of Croatia and Turkey prove that. Zagreb waited to join the EU for 12 years, whereas Ankara signed its Association Agreement with Brussels already in the 1950s and has not yet joined the European Union. The Ukrainian leadership managed to resist pressure from Brussels, the journalist concluded.

Society

Drive intoxicated - you may lose your carState TV reported on the first case of the confiscation of a car from a drunk driver to take place in Belarus. The court made its verdict based on a new law that came into force in October. According to the new law, if a driver commits the offence of driving while under influence for a second time, the state has a right to confiscate his vehicle. A special commission then determines its value and sells it. A former owner does, however, have the right to repossess it provided he pays a certain price.

The state closely observes the work of local authoritiesBelarusian TV reported on inspections of local governing bodies as ordered by Lukashenka, this time in the Viciebsk region.

State TV showed how promptly and efficiently the commission reacted to complains of local residents. One of the calls was from a woman unhappy that only one type of bread was available in a local store. The head of the commission, Aliaksandr Yakobson, checked out the situation and explained to the store’s management that competition was necessary, and thus more types of bread should available to their clients. The commission left survey forms in a hospital and shops to see how satisfied the residents were with the service provided by the local authorities.

Housing policy should address the needs of Belarusians.  Lukashenka chaired a meeting on the nation's housing policy. He made it clear that the priority for all officials remained the peoples’ interests regarding housing. The state created a special scheme of “rental housing” where all non-privatised housing will be included. Now officials are discussing how much the state should charge people for them. Lukashenka emphasised that Belarus remains one of a few countries, if not the only one, that these kinds of housing privileges for its citizens.

Changes in the Catholic Church in Belarus. Reporters took note of an important event for the Belarusian Catholic Church. Pope Francis named three new bishops in Belarus. Among them are Aleh Butkevich for Viciebsk Eparchy (also known as a Diocese), Yury Kosubitski for Minsk and Mahiliou Eparchy and Iosif Stanieuski for Hrodna Eparchy. Journalists commented that the Belarusian Catholic Church has been waiting for decades for these changes, though they did not explaining this point of view in any further detail.

Domestic Affairs

Economic development of Belarus at the Vilnius summit. For Minsk, liberalisation of the visa regime remains among the key issues. But the top priority is economic co-operation with the EU. A policy of sanctions certainly impedes the mutual relations between Minsk and Brussels.

Minsk remains loyal to integration with the Customs Union first and foremost, state TV reported. What the Belarusian authorities remain in favour of is rapprochement with both the Customs Union and the EU, or the so-called "integration of integration".

Fake bankruptcy in Belarusian companies. A company producing glass bottles in the town of Lida announced its bankruptcy. Journalists, however, did not believe in the pure intentions of the company's management and suspected them of deliberately causing the company to go bankrupt. The company worked successfully for over 15 years and employed over 100 people. Today only 29 Belarusians work  there. What concerned the journalist most was that the company has its various branches working without any arrears in payments in the city of Homiel.

State TV reiterated that Lukashenka had already talked about how poor management and a company's business plan, as well as also how falsification of documents, can lead to bankruptcy and influence the Belarusian economy. Another case of fake bankruptcy occurred in Navahrudak – currently its management are already facing criminal charges.

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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