Drawing in the West, One-woman Protest, Ukrainian Refugees – Western Press Digest
The western press took note of refugees from Ukraine arriving in Belarus, who has in turn provided them with housing and offered them work. The story of two families demonstrates Belarus' attraction as the situation in Ukraine continues to be dangerous and chaotic.
Meanwhile, the press also took interest in the United States' renewed calls to have the investigation of 'disappeared' opposition figures re-opened.
Belarus' economic situation appears to be improving, despite regional instability. It has become one of the main importers of Moldovan apples and EU foodstuffs, likely to be used for re-export to Russia. It will also receive a new loan from Russia that will help it strengthen its foreign currency reserves and service its debts.
Belarusians will soon be able to travel to Israel without a visa according to a recent announcement made by Israel's Ambassador to Belarus. Meanwhile, the authorities in Minsk rejected a request to hold a one-person protest citing potential harm to the environment and a possibly dangerous distraction to the public at large. All of this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.
Ukrainians Heading for Belarus – Bloomberg reports that even Ukrainians who are not near the conflict zone have decided to move to Belarus where there is peace and stability. A family, who held well-paid jobs in the Chernobyl exclusion zone decided to move to Belarus after sensing the situation in Ukraine was hopeless and nothing would be changing in the near future. Belarusian officials say that over 3,000 Ukrainians have relocated to Belarus due to the crisis in the eastern region of their neighbour to the south.
Another family, who lived in rebel-held Shakhtarsk, left their homes because of the violence. The father of the family says that while he supports the beliefs of the rebels, he is not willing to kill or die for them. He was also afraid of being drafted into the Ukrainian army. Both families have been resettled in a small village where they will be offered work upon completing the registration process.
U.S. Calls on Minsk to Investigate "Disappeared" Opposition Figures – The U.S. State Department is calling on the Belarusian government to extend the statute of limitations and re-open four cases of three 'disappeared' political figures and one prominent businessmen according to RFE/RL.
The disappearances, which happened in 1999 and 2000, have never been solved, though their relatives apparently believe that Belarus' security services killed them. According to the coverage, Washington's recent statement is no coincidence, as a widow of one of the victims wrote a letter to the Secretary of State reminding them that the 15 year statue of limitations is set to expire soon. A small protest in support of the disappeared took place on 16 September.
Minsk Authorities Shoot Down One-Woman Protest – In an official decision that seems to be a piece of satire, the BBC is reporting that Minsk's deputy mayor has rejected a request by activist Tatstsyana Hrachanikava to protest in front of the Russian Embassy. The official reason for rejecting the request states, "[the] mass event that might harm the environment and green spaces, obstruct pedestrians and traffic, and distract drivers from the road".
Hrachanikava, who is an activist with the Movement for Freedom group, is part of a larger effort by activists to hold a simple protest against Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The movement's leader, Artsyom Lyava, points out the absurdity of the authorities' decision and says that, if it were the case that one person could cause such a disruption, "we won't be able to walk around or even stand still next".
Belarus is Reselling Moldova's Sanctioned Apples – Sales for Moldovan apples have found a new market in Belarus following Russian sanctions banned them from being sold in Russia according to an AP report on Business Insider. Russia, which is Moldova's largest apple market, has been included in an embargo against the EU's agricultural and food products for its signing of a trade pact with the EU.
Belarusian Head of State Lukashenka made an official visit to Moldova with a trade delegation where both sides signed a trade deal valued at $50m. According to the EU mission for Border Assistance to Moldova and Ukraine since the Russian sanctions against the EU were introduced, Belarus has seen a significant increase in food and agricultural good imports.
Belarus Approval for Another Russian Loan – Sharing a story published by Russian news sources, RFE/RL reports that Russia has approved a new loan to Belarus. The loan, which is to be distributed in Russian rubles, is said to be valued at $1.55bn. The funds will be transferred before the end of 2014. Belarus is receiving this latest loan from Russia in order to help it replenish its gold and foreign currency reserves and also service its state debts.
Belarus and Israel Sign off on Visa Waiver – At a recent Limmud educational conference for the states of the former Soviet Union, the Israeli Ambassador to Belarus, Yosef Shagal, said that Israel will soon introduce a visa-free regime with Belarus. The move, which the Israel Times says defies the West, was made to strengthen ties between the two countries.
Shagal said that recently introduced visa-free regimes with Russia and Ukraine have brought more business and tourism to Israel and also strengthened Jewish culture in both countries. While the report does not specify when the corresponding legal act will be signed, it says that the visa waiver will be in effect before the end of 2014.
Belarus and the West Growing Closer – A recent blog by analyst Richard Youngs on the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow's website says that Belarus, despite outward appearances, has successfully improved its standing in the West. In addition to having Minsk serve as the centre of negotiations for calming tensions between parties involved in the war in Ukraine, a move which the West greatly appreciated, Belarus has also indicated that it is ready to come back into the fold.
Belarus recently stated its interest in potentially discussing human rights issues with the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Youngs states that while this rapprochement will not lead to large scale changes and reforms, Minsk is nonetheless looking for a quiet means of cooperating with the West.
Ukrainians Trust Lukashenka The Most, Luring in US Business – Belarus State TV Digest
Belarusian state TV showed the Belarusian leader directly blamed Americans for plotting the present military conflict in Ukraine. On another occasion, state TV journalists reported on the benefits of bringing more American business to Belarus.
Belarus is faring better than the USA or Russia – or so state-run media journalists report when covering the recent rankings of healthcare systems by Bloomberg. They explained that its accessibility and equality, despite the financial situation of Belarusian patients, make the healthcare system unique when compared to other countries.
This and more in Belarus State TV Digest.
Ukrainians trust Lukashenka the most – according to a survey carried out in August by the Ukrainian research centre “Rating”, Lukashenka is the most beloved of international leaders. Journalists from Belarus state TV noted that 62% of Ukrainian respondents showed a positive attitude towards Alexander Lukashenka. 54% of respondents favoured Barack Obama versus 51% arguing for Angela Merkel.
Americans are behind the Ukrainian crisis? – Lukashenka suggested in an interview to the Russian state-run Channel 1 that the US was responsible for the developments in Ukraine. The journalist noted that the recent activity of Lukashenka managed to improve the image of Belarus and its leader in the international politics. The Belarusian leader charged Americans and some Ukrainian politicians with causing the Russian-Ukrainian turmoil. The only force interested in “pushing us in to this struggle” is "Uncle Sam", he stated.
Invalid East-West division of the Ukrainian society. Lukashenka also added that there is no "aggressive division in the Ukrainian nation between the West and East". He noted that the Western part of both Belarus and Ukraine are in general more nationalistic and more-Western oriented. "(…) But it does not mean they want to live in Poland or in the West”, Lukashenka explained to the interviewer.
A Youth Chamber in Belarusian parliament? – During a recent youth forum, organised by the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM), an idea to have a separate Youth Chamber was proposed. High profile politicians, such as Lidzija Jermoshyna, attended the event. A journalist for the state TV channel commented that such youth chamber could be well be just “one more initiative for the new generation to articulate its ideas, and to be heard”. The leader of the youth association Union also pointed out the necessity of attracting more young people to state bodies and institutions.
World Bank delegation comes to Minsk: a "constructive visit". Alexander Lukashenka met with the World Bank’s vice-president, Laura Tuck. He raised the issue of roads in Belarus. “The World Bank understands that Belarus is a transit country and therefore the efficiency of economies of both the East and West depends on what the roads will are like here”, Lukashenka argued. Reporters noted that Laura Tuck praised the development of Belarus, but also mentioned the necessity of reforms. “We know how to listen and implement recommendations” – a journalist comments at the end of the report.
Housing for every Belarusian? A story on improving Minsk's infrastructure and housing was another item to make the national news. The coverage displayed citizens of Minsk who were more than happy to comment on the opening of new schools and swimming pools. However, as the anchor noted, the facilities for the inhabitants are not being built at the same speed throughout the city.
The Belarusian Supreme Court rules against Belsat TV. BTR covered a court ruling that banned the use of the name “Belsat” for a Warsaw-based Belarusian independent TV channel. According to the report, Belsat violated the copyright of a Belarusian businessman who owns a company that employs the name “Belsat Plius”. It also note that similar cases are found elsewhere in the world on a fairly regular basis.
“Traditional and accessible healthcare system in Belarus". Belteleradio Channel 1 covered Bloomberg's ranking of healthcare systems throughout the world, with Belarus being ranked 43, achieving a higher standing than both America and Russia. “Everyone, regardless of their financial situation or social status, are equal when they come to the doctors' office”, she added.
Belarus attractive to American business. State TV reported on a recent Belarusian-American Economic Investment Forum that took place in New York. “The meeting can be a good foundation for long-term and potential relations”, according to the report. Americans are interested in doing business in Belarus, according to the opinion of the reporter covering the story, because of Belarus' “success and role in carrying out Eurasian projects, [its] importance in creating a settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, the taxation system in Belarus, and political stability” all help draw Americans towards Belarus.
“Dielo principa”: Will the peace in Ukraine be long-lasting?– Was a question directed at the audience during a new political talk show on ONT TV hosted by Vadzim Hihin. During the talk show the audience gathered in a studio also had a chance to react and vote either in favour or against the various positions of the show's guests. Hihin invited politicians from pro-government parties, but also analysts from Ukraine and Russia.
One guest even offered up a conspiracy theory of events explaining that it was the Americans and some forces in the Ukrainian leadership who were interested in "renting out the Black Sea". Their goal of weakening Russia's position, and not the politics of Viktor Yanukovych, were what caused the turbulent events in Ukraine. The Russian and Ukrainian experts agreed that Russia was not interested in making the Donbas a second Transdniestria. “Russia wants to be integrated with Ukraine”, Vadzim Karasyev from Ukraine stated.
The European versus Russian model of development. Maira Moira, the head of the EU Delegation to Belarus, was also a guest-speaker on the talk show. She pointed out that the EU cannot be blamed for the situation in Ukraine. She also disagreed with the Russian analyst, according to whom, Ukraine's fate in Russia, not in the EU. Moira noted that what makes the EU model of development more attractive is the "rule of law", rather than the "rule of power". Covering the debate, the state TV reporter noted that while Maira Moira was talking, the audience gave her the least support.
NATO summit in Newport. Belteleradio covered the recent NATO summit that took place in the United Kingdom. The situation in Ukriane dominated the gathering's agenda. Didier Burkhalter, the president of OSCE, noted, however, that the conflict in the country could not be settled without Russia. The report also noted that the very rhetoric of the summit was far from peaceful. “They decided to establish a rapid reaction force for Europe in Poland”, the report explained. During the gathering various groups, “who had suffered from NATO activities” protested nearby. The Belteleradio Channel 1 journalist covering the story said that the alliance had either indirectly or directly created a number of flash points in the world.
Belarus and Moldova: mutually beneficial relations. Belarusian state TV noted that both countries have found themselves living in a new reality: Belarus becoming a full-fledged member of the Customs Union, and Moldova having signed the Association Agreement with the EU. Actually, the report notes, the association between Moldova and Brussels will also be profitable for Belarus. “Moldova invites Belarus to utilise its free trade zone with the EU”, according to the story. “We will sell goods together to the EU and share the income”, Lukashenka stated during a press conference.
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.