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.
Belarus’ Latest Propaganda Film
On 30 January – 2 February a mass protest was staged in the centre of Minsk as a a part of a state-sponsored film project entitled Abel.
The highest echelons of the Presidential Administration are supervising the production of the film. Some observers dubbed Abel a response to Viva Belarus, a film that was shot in Poland last year. But producers claim the film will be a fictional work with only a few historical parallels.
However, many things point to the fact that the film can indeed be used as a more ideological affair, made in preparations for the upcoming 2015 presidential elections. The first awkward shots, strange filmmaking team and a leaked scenario convinced many that the project might end in failure.
A State Film Project
Abel will appear in accordance with an order by the Ministry of Culture of Belarus, which has allocated $2.17m for it. The film holds the status of being a national project and Aliaksandr Radźkoŭ, the First Deputy Head of Presidential Administration, is said to be supervising it personally.
The film producer is Nonstop Media, a private company that is owned by Siarhej Ždanovič, who will work with American, German and Russian partners. The producer says that the cream of the crop of foreign stunt men will participate in the film, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise's respective stunt doubles.
At first glance, the fact that Nonstop Media, a private company, is producing a film supervised by the regime would appear unusual at first sight. But it turns out that Siarhej Ždanovič serves as a functionary of White Rus, an organisation that primarily brings together state officials to support the regime of Lukashenka. He has connections in at the very top of the Belarusian establishment and, allegedly,has already managed to win all the tenders for the UN-financed Above the Sky film.
Amateur Director and Regime-Affiliated Producer
Ždanovič chose William Devital as the film's director, who came all the way to Belarus from the US for the film's shooting. Strangely, Devital has never directed a film and worked only as a second unit director and stuntman. In his interview with the BELTA news agency he confessed that he has been working hard for such an opportunity all of his life and really feels that he deserves the chance to direct a film.
Andrei Kureičyk, a famous Belarusian dramatist and scriptwriter, has extensively commented on the film. According to him, the Presidential Administration designed Abel as a response to the anti-regime Viva Belarus movie directed by Krzysztof Lukaszewich and shot in Poland. Even independent experts said that Viva Belarus showed an exaggerated picture of the regime's cruelty. Needless to say, it had a highly negative impact on the regime's already poor reputation.
Kureičyk also claims that Siarhei Ždanovič created Abel to swindle some money out of the budget of the state. He promised to make an ideologically strong picture which will improve the image of the Belarusian regime internationally. It was also suggested that the film will make clear to its audience that leading up to the presidential elections of 2015 taking in protests is a bad idea.
The Leaked Script
Meanwhile, on 2 February someone leaked a scripts from Abel to the Charter97 website. According to the story, missionaries form a powerful secret organisation called Cain Seal, who is trying to save the world. They know beforehand when a major assassination or murder will take place and try to prevent them from happening.
One of their operations takes place in Belarus right the mass protests, where Presidential Security Service assists them in preventing some people from being killed, including saving many from a metro terrorist attack. The final scene of the film apparently even involves the Anders Breivik massacre.
The producers told the media that this was one of early possible treatments of the film and the final one differs considerably from the script that was leaked. However, they do not hide their annoyance with the fact that it was indeed leaked and will even sue the person suspected to be responsible.
Abel's Ideological Mission
The information which filmmakers have been publicly sharing about the project make it the film sound like it will be rather controversial. Producer Siarhei Ždanovič has constantly emphasised that the film will be fiction, not a reconstruction of the December 2010 events.
In other interviews, however, he accepts that the film will cover the 2010 events, but unlike the anti-regime account shown in Viva Belarus, which was a one sided interpretation of the events. Instead Abel will show the “true” picture of the events it describes. The ideological background behind the film is evident from several other facts that have been revealed. For example, one of the scenes will cover the 11 April 2011 terrorist attack in the Minsk metro.
Film director William Devital, for his part, spoke about the film's main idea in a rather open manner, clearly unaware of the film's local context. In his interview to the BELTA news agency he explained that the film revolve around dramatic events that could happen in any country: a group of hooligans and ringleaders provoke others to violence during peaceful protests.
According to a majority of public opinion, it was the Belarusian security services who provoked the 19 December 2010 assault on the House of Government. By doing so the authorities tried to justify a brutal attack on peaceful protesters and their subsequent detentions and prison sentences.
These events still remain a painful memory in the minds of many Belarusians today. This to say nothing of Mikalaj Statkievič, one of the presidential candidates in 2010 elections, still remains in prison.
The First Filming Session – Not Entirely Succesful
The first public filming session took place between 28 January – 2 February. It immediately raised a number of controversies and has become fodder for several anecdotes. Police in civilian clothes guarded the area where it was being to avoid journalists being able to enter and cover the filming session.
Students reported that their university administrations forced them to participate in the mob scenes near the House of Government during the demonstration's filming. The mob scenes involved around 4,000 people in total according to the film's production team. Students reported that they received $4 an hour for their participation.
While shooting the scenes, the film crew repeated once more again that they were not going to reconstruct the events that took place in 2010. The film apparently shows the casting of Molotov cocktail at police, something that did not in reality happen during the 2010 protests. However, like in 2010, the film included the destruction of doors of the House of Government.
The slogans “Viva Belarus” and white-red-white flag did not appear at the filming. Instead, the filmmakers ordered the mob to shout “We are against [the government – ed. BD]” and “Something is not right!” These phrases led to a wave of photoshopped memes on the Belarusian Internet, where the users made fun of such awkward protests.
If one is to judge by the first scenes that have been shot as well as the information known about the filmmaking team, it might be fair to surmise that Abel is likely to become another failed image project of the Belarusian authorities. Foreign viewers will hardly pay for a cheap motion picture made by a group of virtually unknown amateurs. One hopes that Belarusians themselves will have enough independent thinking skills to understand where the truth really lies.