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Constitutional referendum, organised crime, internet control – Belarus state press digest

The Central Election Commission head says the government can prepare a referendum in Belarus in 70 days with extra-budgetary funds. Alexander Lukashenka reveals he has “a large number of issues to discuss with the European Union.” The government amends...

Emergency checks in Minsk after Kemerovo fire. Photo: sb.by

The Central Election Commission head says the government can prepare a referendum in Belarus in 70 days with extra-budgetary funds. Alexander Lukashenka reveals he has “a large number of issues to discuss with the European Union.” The government amends legislation to increase control of internet media.

The police fight organised crime and war mercenaries. Belarus carries out an emergency check after the Kemerovo fire. Belarusian citizens buy more flats in Moscow than citizens from any other CIS member.

This and more in the latest Belarus state press digest.

Foreign policy  and domestic politics

The government can prepare a referendum in Belarus in 70 days with extra-budgetary funds. The head of the Central Electoral Commission, Lidzija Jarmošyna, informed that a referendum, the plans on which were recently revealed, can be arranged within 70 days.

The Central Electoral Commission organises a national referendum because most sections of the constitution can only be changed in this way. However, Jarmošyna did not specify what constitutional changes the authorities will propose, and said that the Constitutional Court will largely deal with the issue.

Moreover, it will be organised with extra-budgetary funds; companies and individuals will transfer money to the Central Electoral Commission’s account. It will cost three-to-four times less than elections because the budget only covers leaflet printing and one week’s work by the election commissions, writes Zviazda.

Lukashenka accumulated a large number of issues to discuss with the European Union. Zviazda reports that during his visit to Georgia on 22 March, the Belarusian president gave an interview to the Georgian television. Responding to a question about why he did not attend the summit of the Eastern Partnership in Brussels late last year, Lukashenka said that foreign minister Makiej was better prepared for the event’s agenda. However, in future, the president also plans to visit an EU summit since he has “a lot of proposals and issues that should be discussed with the EU.”

Фото: пресс-служба президента Беларуси

Lukashenka with the Georgian president. Photo: tut.by

Asked what he would demand from the EU, Lukashenka responded: “I do not have any claims. I just want that Europe respects us and understand the value of Belarus.” At the same time, he urged the EU not to “teach” Belarus democracy: “We see a democratic Georgia, a democratic Europe, all the pros and cons of the model. But we have our own national peculiarities.”

Belarus amended legislation to increase control over internet media. Belarus Segodnia interviewed information minister Aliaksandr Karliukievič on legal amendments designed to regulate the internet in Belarus. The amendments impose on owners of online media outlets responsibility for any information posted. The minister argues that this will make the internet safer for children.

The law introduces the term “web resource” to refer to internet media which, after voluntarily state registration, will be able to employ journalists and claim the same rights as traditional media. Their obligations will include banning the dissemination of restricted information, materials containing obscene words and expressions, false information that could harm the state or public interests, and information discrediting the honour, dignity and business reputation of individuals and legal entities.

The new law contains one particularly controversial aspect. It introduces mandatory authentication of users who post any information on the internet, including comments. The minister, however, claims that the identification procedure primarily protects the owners of internet resources, who risk being prosecuted should they publish illegal content.


Belarus carries out an emergency check following the Kemerovo fire. The Belarusian authorities launched an emergency check of all buildings that serve large crowds of people after a fire in the Russian city Kemerovo left dozens of people dead. President Lukashenka demanded that the interior minister, Ihar Šunievič, “severely punishes” any flaws that could lead to similar consequences.

In Minsk alone, emergency services checked 103 places and launched preventive measures without imposing penalties in a further 84. As a result, the authorities fined 30 heads of organisations residing in the checked buildings and 13 officials, and launched administrative proceedings against 87 people according to Respublika.

The Belarusian police fight organised crime and war mercenaries. Specnaz magazine interviews the head of the Central Department for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption, Mikalaj Karpiankoŭ, on the agency’s 27th birthday.

In recent years, grey schemes involving goods subject to import bans in Russia because of sanctions proliferated among Russian dealers. They bring goods from Europe to Belarus, change the labels and documentation, and move them on to Russia as legal imports. Other Russian criminals present themselves as logistics company managers and offer services to Belarusian businesses. They take the goods on false invoices and then vanish into the expanses of Russia.

As for criminal gangs, about 700 members and leaders of organised groups remain under monitoring on the territory of Belarus, especially in the prison system. Karpiankoŭ’s department takes measures to prevent the penetration of crime bosses from Russia and Ukraine and thwart their efforts to settle down and invest their money in Belarus. Another recent direction of the department’s work is dealing with Belarusian mercenaries in the war in eastern Ukraine. The agency currently is checking 734 Belarusian citizens and non-citizens for involvement in the conflict. Of these, 188 were recognised as such, and the agency initiated ten criminal cases in 2017.


Belarusians buy more flats in Moscow than any other CIS citizens. The Minsk Times quotes a study by the Est-a-Tet investment and property company on apartment purchases in Moscow by CIS citizens. Belarusians appeared the keenest buyers of Moscow flats, accounting for 42.5% of all deals. Residents of Minsk and Brest, aged 35-40, featured most prominently accounting for 25 per cent of such cases taking out mortgages in Russia.

Photo: sb.by

In total, residents of CIS states account for around 1 per cent of buyers. Belarusians take the lead, followed by Ukrainians (23.75%) and Kazakhs (13.75%). Belarusians receive assistance from banks which give mortgages on almost the same terms as for Russian citizens. For example, if residents from other CIS states want to buy property in Moscow, they face complex procedures and much red tape, and therefore prefer to rent. Belarusians don’t face such problems.

Agriculture should be a business, not a social project. During the national seminar on the development of rural areas and improving the efficiency of the agricultural industry, Lukashenka stated that at the present level of technology and discipline of production state agricultural companies can increase the output by one-and-a-half times.

As he said, “Food is politics, both domestic and foreign. The state of the agricultural sector shapes the well-being and stability of the country. This is the most important factor of our independence.” However, problems in agriculture remain widespread. The prosecutor general and head of the State Control Committee reported cases of falsification, theft, corruption and underperformance, writes Belarus Segodnia.

The state press digest is based on a review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media primarily convey 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.

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