Global Dialogue on Integration, Poverty in the EU – Belarus State TV Digest
Over the last week state TV channel 1 reported on the top-level meetings of the member states of the Eurasian Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States, which recently took place in Minsk. Alexander Lukashenka urged Tbilisi to return to the CIS and participate in the integration processes in the post-Soviet space.
Belarusian state journalists also covered the forum of youth movement which celebrated its 95th anniversary. During the event the head of state spoke at length about patriotism. The Belarusian students praised the idea of youth organisations and employment opportunities in Belarus.
Minsk became a centre for a global dialogue on integration. Over the last week Minsk was in the spotlight of many commentators. The top-level meetings of presidents of the Eurasian Union member states and the Commonwealth of Independent States took place in Minsk. Politicians conducted a global dialogue about integration, as state TV noted.
Belarusian journalists pointed out the symbolic meaning of place of the meetings – the newly constructed Palace of Independence. During the Belarusian presidency in the organisation, a great deal of work was reportedly done.
The integration processes in the post-Soviet sphere are tempting more states. The state media stated that more and more countries are interested in joining the Eurasian Union and the Customs Union. Today the authorities of countries such as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine are considering integration in the post-Soviet space. Even Turkey, a serious economic partner of the EU, would be keen on joining the integrating countries.
Lukashenka drew attention to Georgia’s return to the CIS. He pointed out that both in Georgian society and the government there is a desire to rejoin the Commonwealth. The Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovich, also said that the doors to the CIS will always remain open to Georgians. Journalists recalled that the idea of Georgia’s return was the initiative of Lukashenka and found more and more supporters over the days of their gathering.
Belarusian youth should be patriotic. The head of state with his son visited the Youth Forum “Youth. Traditions. Future”, which recently took place in Minsk. Belarusian state TV noted that without youth there is no future for any state or nation. During the event the head of state emphasised that Belarus needs young people who love their country.
State tv showed young Belarusian students who participated in various youth-oriented projects and praised their work.
They also showed viewers that Lukashenka as a student was also involved in similiar activities. Students talked, joked and drank a cup of tea with Lukashenka during the event.
The state will continue to support Belarusian youth. Journalist noted that Belarus had never rejected any of their positive inheritance from the Soviet era. And thanks to continuing on with the youth policy from their soviet past, the state has benefited from it.
Students talked about their experience in working in the student organisations. A boy who worked in a construction group praised the very idea of these organisations, but also the salaries that working students can receive. The boy stated that for two months of work, they received around 19m Belarusian rubles (around $2,000). In his words, those who want to work in Belarus, can find a well-paid job.
Lukashenka reacted to some proposals to involve the student movements to work in construction of a power plant, which is being carried out as a joint project with Russia.The head of state promised to discuss this idea with Vladimir Putin. Perhaps when both states will work on the next power plant in Kaliningrad, they could involve some of the youth. The audience present at the meeting applauded vigorously in response.
Belarus has done everything to attract foreign investors. It was reported that Belarus has prepared all conditions in terms of legislation to become attractive for the foreign capital. Thus over the last years the country is moving upward in the international ratings regarding the its business friendliness. Today Belarus sits in 64th place out of 198 countries. However, some investors complain that the local officials and bureaucrats efficiently block the inflow of the foreign capital. State TV promised to research that issue thoroughly and present it to their viewers.
The European Union is facing poverty, a crisis of trust. State TV reported that poverty in the EU is on rise. Today almost 17% of the EU population, which is 84 million people, lives in poverty. Journalist pointed out that that twenty four million EU citizens remain jobless. The financial and economic crisis in the EU caused a social crisis. Thus, fewer EU citizens trust in European ideas, only 31%, according to data from the European Social and Economic Committee.
The US betrays its European allies. Belarusian journalist noted that scandalous spying activity of America goes beyond all limits. The Americans spied not only on its rivals, but also its partners, such as Germany.
During a tough telephone conversation between Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, the American president confirmed that at that moment their talk was not being listened to by intelligence agencies. TV asked however if it was spying before. The US has more problems with other partners such as France, Brasil and Mexico. The country’s relations with Europe are already tense. What else can be found in Snowden’s information leak? – Belarusian journalist asked.
Georgians elected a new president. Belarusian state TV informed its audience that Georgy Margvelashvili, won over 62% of the votes. It showed Georgians who praised the newly elected president and his vision of the country. Margvelashvili opts for constructivism in relations with Moscow, continuation of economic reforms and activisation in the international organisations.
Journalist pointed out how democratic and open the presidential elections were. At the same time, they are concerned about the president’s performance in the aftermath of the legislative amendments that had just come into force. These shift executive prerogatives to the government and Georgia's parliament.
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.
Mediabarometer: Belarusian Opposition Needs to Do its Homework
At the end of October the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) published a new issue of its Political Mediabarometer. It shows that many in the Belarus opposition seem to focus more on international activities and less on work inside the country.
The Political Mediabarometer reflects public communications of Belarusian political parties and movements and their presence in Belarusian media and covers April-June 2013. According to the BISS' findings, the public campaign Tell the Truth, United Civic Party and the Party of the Belarusian People's Front appeared the most frequently in Belarusian media.
This media presence, however, does not lead to any serious level of public support even for the biggest parties or the most well-known politicians. The Belarusian opposition needs to fight for any publicity just to be recognised by the common people. Some of the new political forces – for example, the campaign Tell the Truth – manage to do it better.
Who is the Opposition?
Many opposition activists may become upset after reading the new BISS study done by Aliaksei Pikulik and Alena Artsiomenka. The number of politicians' mentions according to the BISS – dropped from 3,900 in January-March to 3,084 in April-June. This means that as a whole, the opponents of the current government became less visible in the public sphere.
Essentially, oppositional political forces often have to focus on, in the least, publicity before looking for new supporters. Moreover, according to Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), the level of trust in oppositional parties among Belarusians in March stood at 13.1%, while the level of distrust reached 60.1%.
The media paid more attention to those politicians who demonstrated more offline activities and communicated proactively, not only reacting to what others have done or said but taking the initiative themselves.
Anatol Liabedzka of the United Civic Party still leads the ranking of media presence, while the tendency towards a growing media presence for both Yanukevich and Milinkevich continues (at the end of 2012 the former was in 12th place and the latter 7th place).
In 2012, Liabedzka and a former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau replaced each other at first place in the BISS ranking. In the first quarter of 2013, Sannikau found himself already at third place. And according to the study in April-June 2013 he fell even lower – to sixth place. In October 2012, he received political asylum in the UK, and as is often the case, physical absence rarely makes a politician more popular at home.
Tell the Truth traditionally leads the ranking of political forces which more or less corresponded with the ranking of their leaders. Absolute media presence rankings for the top-5 parties and movements remain higher than those of their individual representatives and it proves that they are more than “one-man-parties”.
Party Equals Leader?
They, however, remain very much concentrated on Minsk. The proportion of regional activists, according to the BISS study, had declined. The share of provincial party leaders and members anyway never reached a tangible level. Only Tell the Truth has a tangible share of alternative representatives who articulated political messages in the period screened by the BISS. In all cases, when the media mentioned the United Civic Party, PBNF, Christian Democrats, and For the Freedom, their reporting was related only to their leader (or leaders).
Only Young Front had a considerable share of coverage linked to their regional leaders, and the Conservative-Christian Party of the Belarusian People's Front – to a regional party member.
This means that politics involved the same circle of well-known faces. Unfortunately, the old politicians of the Belarusian opposition have limited popularity among the broader public. According to the IISEPS opinion survey conducted in March, support for Niakliaeu reached 5.1% and Milinkevich and Sannikau got only 2.8% each.
Along with regional activists, the share of women also declined. In the first quarter of 2013 four women, namely Iryna Khalip, Maryna Adamovich, Natallia Radzina and Nasta Dashkevich (Palazhanka) made it into the top-12 of the ranking. But later in the year only Maryna Adamovich, the wife of the incarcerated presidential candidate Mikola Statkevich, was still at the top.
The Opposition Prefers International Activities
Politicians and political forces over this period of time actively discussed a more balanced and diverse set of issues. In particular they focused more upon issues of international relations, domestic politics and social matters. Since April 2012, when BISS started this study, Belarusian politicians rather frequently talked about economics. The share of such statements doubled: previously it never exceeded 6-7 per cent, now it reached 15 per cent of all communications. It made the discourse of the opposition more interesting to common people.
The BISS experts named the events related to the communications of Belarusian political forces from April-June, although they did not study them per se. The study suggests that the Belarusian opposition pays more attention to international activities than to domestic problems, which are more important to common people.
Domestic events included Chernobyl Way, a traditional rally dedicated to the anniversary of Chernobyl catastrophe; and formation of political coalition People's Referendum (Narodny Referendum). Inside this coalition, Tell the Truth, For Freedom, the PBNF and BSDP declared that they would work together as strategic partners during the forthcoming local, presidential and parliamentary elections.
The international activities of opposition, on the other hand, were more impressive. In the second quarter of this year, its representatives participated in a conference on Belarus in Brussels held by the European People's Party, urged the EU to ease visa regime, hold a series of meeting in Lithuanian Seimas and addressed the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry about the conditions under which the EU could normalise relations with Belarus.
Tell the Truth Grows Stronger
Yet international advocacy cannot substitute active political work inside the country. The study suggests that politicians proposed fewer new initiatives between April and June. Only Andrei Dzmitryeu (Tell the Truth) and Dzmitry Vus in this time span put forth any proposals. In general, the share of proactive communication – those when the politicians addressed publicity out of their own initiative – declined, while share of reactive communication responding to somebody else's actions or statements, grew to 85 per cent.
The structure of opposition and its activities are changing very slowly. An obvious maverick, the movement Tell the Truth demonstrate steady and vibrant activity. In less than five years it made it from zero to probably the most promising political force in an otherwise conservative Belarusian opposition. The political agenda of the movement looks rather flexible. So far, it simply takes on every local initiative it can find.
The Belarusian opposition has faced harsh suppression for years, an yet it still exists and is functioning. The new BISS study suggests that to become more visible in the domestic media and more popular among Belarusians, the opposition should spend less time doing international activities and work more inside Belarus, with its potential electorate.