Ice Hockey Championship, Joining Forces Against Western Sanctions? – Belarus State TV Digest
The Ice Hockey World Championship have dominated the news coverage on Belarus' Channel 1. Journalists regularly report on the games, but also praise the event's organisation.
The official celebrations carried out on Victory Day, held annually on 9 May, were another popular topic. The Belarusian head of state answered questions from journalists during the commerative event, including questions about the Eurasian Union and combating corruption.
Journalists also regularly covered the current developments in Ukraine. While commenting on the referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk, one journalist remarked that Western and Russian observers have ignored it.
Western Military Forces to Stay in Estonia? ‘Spring storm’ with its 6,000 officers, NATO military drills, was recently launched in Estonia. The military exercises take place in areas close to the border with Russia, notes the report. Poland and Denmark have sent their own fighter jets over Estonian airspace to protect it. After the drills, an American command will remain in Estonia until the end of the year, he concluded.
‘A Symbolic Meeting in Moscow’… a day before Victory Day. The coverage noted that Victory Day remains a sacred anniversary for every former soviet republic. "60 years ago [we stood] together against fascism, today again together we deal with [new] challenges and threats", the reporter states, commenting on the meeting of five leaders of the CIS countries in Moscow.
The heads of states of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia gathered in Moscow to discuss security issues, but also in preparation for the Eurasian Economic Union Agreement that is soon expected to be signed.
Belarusian state TV showed President Vladimir Putin stating that "from time to time nationalism rises here and there" and commented that the case of Ukraine showed the consequences of irresponsibly conducted politics.
Alexander Lukashenka criticised those who diminish the importance of the Soviet nation. Lukashenka and Putin discussed also the developments taking place in Ukraine, but also how to challenge sanctions together.
Commemoration of Victory Day in Ukraine. Reporting on Kyiv, state TV noted that this year there was no traditional Victory Day parade in the country. The report continues on to state that tension can be felt in the air. The state authorities placed flowers on the main Tomb of the Unknown Soldier momenment and a special service took place throughout the nation's churches. Only Donetsk held a parade with war veterans that proceeded through the city.
Referendum in Donetsk and Lugansk. State TV reports that the Ukrainian authorities did not recognise the results of the referendum. The authorities also argued that fewer people took part in the elections in reality as the supporters of federalisation claim. In the opinion of journalist covering the story, it is impossible to confirm its results as "both foreign and Russian observers have ignored the referendum".
The coverage also points out that according to the Ukrainian Constitution the status of particular regions cannot be decided by a local referendum alone. "Nevertheless, the Ukrainian authorities once again have announced their readiness to conduct a dialogue with the east", the report continues. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, argues that Kiev should start talks with the Donbas.
Is Ukraine on the Brink of the Civil War? Journalists cited the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius. In his opinion to solve the conflict in Ukraine, it is necessary for Russia, European Union, US and Kyiv to all be involved in the negotiation process.
At the same time, the International Monetary Fund stated that the Ukrainian economy had the worst economic indicators when compared to its neighbouring Eastern European countries. Over the last 20 years the GDP of Ukraine has not seen noticeable growth. The IMF expects that Kyiv will immediately change its economic policies and increase its prices for electricity and utilities.
Victory Day: Lukashenka Speaks to Reporters. After the official part of the celebrations had concluded, the head of the Belarusian state answered questions from Russian and Belarusian journalists.
Were all the controversial issues regarding the Eurasian Union resolved? Lukashenka emphasised that all sides had reached agreement on all the outstanding issues. Where there were still controversial issues where disagreements existed, bilateral agreements were reached.
Will the sanctions on Russia have implications on Belarus' economy? Lukashenka pointed out that the countries should be mobilised and react to the sanctions by increased production on their internal markets. "First of all, we should move production to our own companies, pay them well for their work and live as well as Germany", he stated enthusiastically. "Then nobody will talk about economic sanctions. We will be self-sufficient", he continued.
Has the head of state already started a political campaign or is his combat on corruption an honest act? Lukashenka replied that he started his electoral campaign already back in December 2010 after he won presidential elections. The problem of corruption remains valid today and requires attention from the state. He continued by explaining the governments recent struggles with increased levels of bribery.
"If you will not vote for me…" "I will not be offended", he stated. The person who would replace him, should not, however, go about destroying what has already been established.
The Belarusian Parliament. Several laws were recently passed in the Parliament. One of them is an amnesty law that was announced in connection with the 70th anniversary of Belarus' liberation from the German-fascist occupiers. The amnesty law is proof the humanitarian nature of the Belarusian state according to the reporter providing the coverage.
Further, they mentioned that around 2,700 prisoners who have proven they are rehabilitated will be released on this occasion. Amnesty will include the under-aged, pregnant women, pensioners and the disabled, provided that they did not commit any serious crimes.
Belarusian MPs have also passed a law on ‘Belarusians Living Abroad’, which seeks to embrace 3.5m members of the Belarusian diaspora. The law envisages means of getting support for various activities in the spheres of culture, education, and tourism.
Talk Show on ONT ‘Pozicija’ The central issue discussed in the course of the programme was Belarusian hospitality and the attractiveness of Minsk to foreigners arriving to watch the World Ice Hockey Championships. Among the programme's guests were the representatives of the police, a Belarusian movie director, Russian hockey fan clubs but also foreign hockey fans.
All agreed that there was a high level of organisation surrounding the championships. One guest noted that the ‘honesty of Belarusians’ distinguished the event from when it was held in Helsinki.
62% of viewers of the talk show voted via text message that they are sure that foreigners will again come to Belarus after the hockey championships are over.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1) and ONT. 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.
The Hockey Championships Launch: Pleased Foreigners and Repressed Citizens
On 9 May the World Hockey Championships officially started in Minsk. Belarus hosts the largest sports event in its history and the largest inflow of foreign tourists ever.
Belarusian authorities endeavoured to make tourists' life comfortable and even allowed them to come without visas provided that they show they have purchased a hockey ticket at the border. Most visitors indeed seem satisfied with the country and call it clean and friendly.
Meanwhile, the fears of the Belarusian authorities resulted in repressive measures against certain categories of Belarusians. About 30 political activists were arrested ahead of the event with fabricated accusations. Moreover, demobilised servicemen are not allowed to move freely and prostitutes are receiving extra time in prison for appearing on the streets.
The Largest International Sports Event in Belarusian History
The 2014 World Hockey Championship became the largest sports event that Belarus has ever hosted. At this point, around 17,000 fans from Europe came to Belarus with the “ticket instead of visa” scheme. According to this policy, if one buys a ticket to any of the matches, they receive the right to enter Belarus without a visa and stay here for the duration of the championships.
Among the most numerous groups among Minsk's guests are Latvians (7,000), Poles (4,500) and Lithuanians and Slovaks (around 1,500). However, the majority of tourists have come from Russia. Because of the absence of a real border no one can tell how many of them actually came. Meanwhile, State Border Committee predicts the main influx of fans will come closer to the play-off period.
As the Minsk local authorities report, during the first four days of the event hockey fans drank over 100 tonnes of beer. The record for attendance of matches so far happened during the USA-Russia on 12 May, where 14,000 tickets were sold.
Most tourists interviewed by the journalists speak positively about the level of the championship management, services in the city and the city itself.
They call Minsk a clean city and people kind and friendly. The atmosphere seems friendly despite the Ukrainian crisis and tension between Russia and the West. Russian tourists were surprised that on 9 May people in the streets were mostly sober.
Russian Fans: Problem or Myth?
Belarusian security services were suspicious of Russian fans ahead of the event because of the rumour that they plan to hold a Russian March on 9 May. President of the Russian fan club “Russia United” said that he was invited to the police and KGB, where they inquired about potential threats from Russian fans.
From his words it became clear that organised Russian fans were themselves afraid of the Belarusian security forces. They even consulted with local authorities on the use of St. George’s ribbon, because earlier on information appeared on the Internet stating that such ribbons cannot be used during official celebrations.
Although hockey fans indeed appeared more peaceful than football ultras usually prove to be, several unpleasant incidents occurred in the first days of the event. On 9 May drunk Russians hung several Russian flags on the fence of Georgian embassy. But when they decided to remove Georgian flag from the flagpole and replace it by the Russian one, police had to interfere.
On 12 May police also detained two Russians who stole souvenirs from an ice arena shop. They received fines for their transgressions because the sum of the stolen items did not exceed the amount necessary to open a criminal case.
Hiding Military Men and Prostitutes
Despite the generally positive atmosphere at the championship, people complain about the ridiculous security measures. Some say that police would not let them in a local park with a litre of water because it violates security norms, while inside the park people drank vodka and beer freely at the tables. People report that at night police strongly recommended them to leave the city centre, and when they refused to, police violently forced them out using tear gas.
On the Internet people say that the authorities also try to hide demobilised army soldiers during the championships. They are not allowed to go home in uniform and army institutions are responsible for organising their transportation to their regions of origin. Thus the authorities are attempting to not have Belarus viewed as a militarised country while still maintaining public order, since ex-servicemen usually like to celebrate demobilisation with bouts of drinking and tend to engage in fighting.
The authorities are also trying to avoid putting out an image of being a sex tourism destination. Prostitutes complain that the police are cracking down on them despite the fact that demand for their services grows at such events. Now they risk 15-20 days in jail for being on the street, while previously they just had to pay a fine.
Prostitution is officially banned in Belarus but women actually work openly in the streets. Anonymous policeman told TUT.by that girls not only from Belarusian regions, but also from abroad come to earn at such events and the police try to control all of them. It was also noted that they tend to be good informers about what is going on around town.
Political Cleanup – the Dark Side of the Championship
Ahead of the championships a number of foreign and Belarusian human rights organisations urged the governments of the participating countries not to come to Minsk and thus express their condemnation of the political prisoner problem and other human rights violations. Lukashenka pointed out earlier that events of such scale are not just sports but political events.
The Belarusian authorities responded to these comments in their customary way. On 7 May border officers detained Martin Uggla – the head of the Swedish human rights organisation Östgruppen at the Minsk airport. They told him that he was a persona non grata and the next day sent him back. Östgruppen is an organisation that has been cooperating with the Belarusian democratic opposition for many years.
On 8 May two representatives of the Youth of Norwegian Christian-Democratic Party were not allowed to enter Belarus. They were stopped in the train Vilnius-Minsk and put on a train back to Vilnius. The border guards explained to them that they were on a blacklist and cannot enter Belarus.
Also, right before the start of the event the police decided to 'preventively' arrest political activists to avoid any political actions that could damage the event's image. As of 9 May, around 30 activists were detained and a few more searched.
The authorities accused all of them of disorderly conduct and noncompliance with police orders and sentenced them from 10 to 20 days in prison. Meanwhile, Minister of the Interior Ihar Šunievič denies the political nature of the detentions. He told journalists that there exist no such definitions as preventive detention and all arrested people committed administrative offences.
Although the Belarusian authorities are doing their best to please tourists, they continue to apply repressive measures against their own citizens. By superficial cleanliness and friendliness they try to hide the real nature of the political regime in Belarus.