Ukrainian Conflict in Belarusian State Media – Belarus State TV Digest
The Belarus state media widely covered the crisis in neighbouring Ukraine. Some of those featured by Belarusian state TV argued that external forces, including the EU and USA, provoked and financially aided the protesters to overthrow the government in Ukraine.
Others believe that the Ukrainian authorities were completely detached from the people so the Ukrainian events were not surprising.
At the same time, a visit by Uladzimir Makei to the Baltic States drew the attention of the media. Journalists pointed out that Belarus' relationship with Vilnius and Riga remain positive. The officials also discussed improving Minsk-Brussels relations.
Catastrophic situation in Ukraine. According to unnamed experts quoted by Belarusian television, the chances for a civilised settlement of the conflict essentially zero. The Ukrainians are clearing the shelves of products in stores because they are increasingly worried about the developing situation in the country.
Long queues to ATMs prove that they also fear losing their savings, while international banks are closing their branch headquarters in Kiev. “Nobody knows what will happen in the country tomorrow,” one journalist noted. Fires, pogroms and chaos remain Ukraine's present reality. “The most horrible event is the death of dozens of people. This is already a national catastrophe,” state TV journalist concluded.
The high price of the present political crisis. A state TV reporter commented on impeachment of the president Victor Yanukovych, while new elections look like they will cost Ukraine US$2bn. However, the country can receive financial aid from abroad, an amount estimated to be around $35bn for both this year and the year ahead, she continued.
The new Ukrainian authorities have already requested financial aid from their international partners, including Poland and the USA. “It has already been proposed that an international donors’ conference should be organised with the EU countries, USA, representatives of the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions,” the journalist added.
Yanukovych met with representatives of media in Rostov-on-Don. He stated that was still the official head of Ukraine. Yanukovych also apologised that he was not able to prevent bloodshed. “Experts say that Ukraine is on the brink of economic collapse,” the news reports. According to the National Bank and Ministry of Finance, the treasury has been looted and is barren, she continued.
To save the economy, the new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk does not exclude the possibility of increasing the price of gas, as well as cutting subsidies and social programmes throughout Ukraine The reporter also noted the outbreak of protests in Crimea, with its participants do not recognise the new Ukrainian leadership. The Council of Crimea has elected a new Prime Minister for the autonomous republic, Sergei Aksyonov.
Moscow decides to intervene with its military in Crimea. The Council of the Russian Federation supported Putin’s proposal for the use of the armed forces on the territory of Crimea. Earlier, the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, requested Putin to help secure peace in the region, the journalist reports.
ONT TV talk shows on Ukraine. Recently the state TV talk show Pazicija covered the conflict in Ukraine twice. The host of the show, Vadzim Hihin invited a few guest speakers, among them representatives from the minority Ukrainian and Russian communities in Belarus.
The first show was called “Ukraine: Between Peace and War” introduced the situation in Ukraine to the audience with some brief reportage done by by Tengiz Dumbadze, an ONT reporter. At the very beginning he explained that he aimed to present an objective version of events, and thus visited both Eastern and Western regions.
People in the East are less aggressive than in the West of Ukraine. Dumbadze noted that 70-80% of the protesters in Kiev came from western Ukraine. In his opinion the Donetsk region has always been the most hard-working and stable, and even today there is relative stability. In the eastern region of the country, people work hard, mine coal and earn money for the good of the country. “A fact is a fact. Here people talk less about politics, and instead just work,” he commented.
The reporter presented the opinions of the students from the east who argued for a peaceful settlement of the crisis and compromise between all parties. Later on, the ONT journalist visited Lviv where he talked to some old men who criticised Yanukovych and his entourage with sharp words.
The correspondent commented that Ukraine's politicians failed to learn anything from the previous revolution and again created problems and suffering for ordinary people, and they should rather think now how to prevent any further escalation of the conflict.
The Ukrainians envy Belarusians' political leadership. The ONT correspondent talked to some random people in Eastern Ukraine and some of them praised Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenka. “A leader like in your country is needed here,” an older man stated. According to the journalist, politicians have divided people into two camps and the nation has become the hostage of its politicians.
On another occasion, the talk show Pazicija again focused on the Ukrainian conflict. The programme was entitled, "The Ukrainian Tragedy" and was hosted Maira Mora, the Head of the EU delegation to Belarus, Yauheni Preiherman from the Liberal Club and several government-friendly analysts and activists.
Why the EU wanted to sign an association agreement with a corrupt Ukraine? One of the commentators noted that there were two nations in Ukraine with completely different mentalities. Another participant argued that the former Ukrainian authorities have parted ways with society. If everything would was going well in the country, nobody would take to the streets to protest.
The moderator asked Moira why the EU wanted to sign an association agreement with a country like Ukraine. The official replied that the EU was a tool for changes, not a goal itself. “It is a tool to obtain the know-how, and it is readily available, free of charge,” she said.
A Communist Party representative ironically commented that a ban of the Communist Party in Ukraine meant the new values have made the country truly democratic, with plenty of freedom and space for diverse opinions. He suggested that the USA and Europe inspired and financed the Ukrainian revolt. In his opinion, the Ukrainians are one with the Russian and Belarusian nations.
Participants pointed out the threat stemming from radical groups in Ukraine. Moira argued that the EU did not financially support any of these groups.
Positive dynamics in EU-Belarus relations. Alexander Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, the head of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss politics.
“There is no point in pursuing some kind of global politics. If we have a place where we have economic interests, regarding the diversification of our exports and external trade, then we have politics there,” Lukashenka stated.
They also discussed the improving relations with the European Union. “No serious breakthrough has been reached. There are real obstacles in our relationship, which cannot be, unfortunately, removed in a day or a month,” Makei said after the meeting.
The State TV journalist commented that Minsk is ready for dialogue both with its European partners and the USA, but “not at the cost of restricting our national interests.”
Makei visits Belarus' good neighbours: Latvia…. The reported goal of the official visit was strengthening bilateral relations with Latvia, but also Minsk's co-operation with the EU. This time, more attention was paid by both sides to Belarus' ties with the EU, the journalist emphasised.
…and Lithuania. Minsk is enjoying rather fruitful co-operation with Vilnius as well. “Exemplary Belarusian-Lithuanian diplomatic relations show that stability is a wonderful foundation for mutually beneficial co-operation,” the journalist concluded.
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.
Gender Equality, How To Modernize The Belarusian Economy – Belarus Civil Society Digest
The Eastern Europe Studies Centre together with Stefan Batory Foundation invites the public to a discussion on gender equality in Belarus. The project Civic Dialogue hosted a panel discussion on how to modernise the Belarusian economy.
The Central Electoral Commission of Belarus agreed to implement some of the changes proposed by the Helsinki Human Rights Committee. Now the central governing bodies of political parties and other public associations will have the right to send observers to precincts during voting.
Civil society campaigns
Art Siadziba launches a campaign to buy its own premises. Deprived of rent for the fifth time, Art Siadziba has launched the Building Art Siadziba Together! campaign to raise money for its own premises. The organisers plan to collect $200,000 to purchase their own premises in Minsk's downtown and create an independent cultural and social space open to all Belarusians. The campaign has its own website dom.artsiadziba.by – an interactive house where anyone can buy bricks, each of which costs $5.
Discussion of a universal gender webportal. Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC), together with the Stefan Batory Foundation invite the public to the event GenderBY.com: Creation of an Internet Portal on Women's Rights in Belarus. The discussion is to raise points on the key aspects of creating a universal and interactive Internet portal about gender equality in Belarus (tentative name –www.genderby.com) and establish a working group for its development. The meeting will be held on 14-15 March at the EESC office in Vilnius. The contact e-mail: aivaras.zukauskas (at) eesc.lt.
The 2nd Social Forum set to take place in Minsk. On 10-11 April the Minsk International Education Centre (IBB) will host the 2nd Republican Social Forum. Organised by IBB and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Forum is to propose recommendations for the development of social services on the basis of multi-stakeholder participation and dialogue. The Forum's thematic areas will include such topics as NGOs on the market of social services, public support for and trust in NGOs, socially responsible economics and partnerships in the social sphere, etc. All types of organisations, except political parties, are invited to participate.
Courses and training
Leadership for women. The forums SYD and IRI have begun accepting applications for participation in leadership courses for young Belarusian activists entitled Expanding representation and opportunities for women in political parties and NGOs. The course aims to teach a group of young Belarusian females about gender issues, women's leadership and international experience in this field. The training will be held in Lithuania; all of the invited lecturers are gender experts from Belarus, Lithuania and Sweden. The application deadline is 10 March.
Non-formal education for all generations portal. On 17 February a new Internet portal Non-formal education for all generations was presented in Minsk. Initiated by the Belarusian Association of UNESCO Clubs, the web platform serves as a hub for communication for providers of non-formal educational services and consumers of these services and aims to provide timely and complete information to citizens of all ages about possibilities for self-development and improvement in various areas of an individuals' personal and professional competencies.
Civic Dialogue: Paths to modernise the economy of Belarus. On 25 February in Minsk, Civic Dialogue hosted an expert roundtable on Strategies for the Modernization of the Belarusian Economy. No government officials attended the event, though they had previously declared their willingness to participate. At the same time, the organisers believe that the conclusions derived from the roundtable could be used when drafting the state strategy of development of Belarus until 2030.
Training course on cross-sectoral dialogue. CSO representatives are invited to participate in the educational course Developing the capacity of CSOs in conducting cross-sectoral dialogue. The course is organised by the ACT educational NGO and the Assembly of Democratic NGOs and aims to develop the competencies required to conduct effective dialogue with other sectors (government, business, international agencies, etc.) in the interests of specific target groups that are being served. The training course consists of six 3-day training sessions; the first training will be held on 24-26 March.
Energy Club presented Austrian experience in Minsk. The Energy Club launched a series of events dedicated to the EU's energy efficiency and renewable energy sources policy (RES). The first gathering for the new series took place on February 26 in Minsk. The invited speaker, Prof. Herbert Lechner, Deputy Executive Director of the Austrian Energy Agency guided the audience through the EU's Climate and Energy Policy, while suggesting practical examples of how Austria deals with its own energy security challenges. The event is organised under the auspices of the ODB EU-Belarus Task-Force programme.
Eco-campaign Social Network. Live launched. The new campaign aims to convey important environmental information to citizens who do not use the Internet, as well as raise the level of social activity and the level of personal responsibility of Belarusians in general. Graduates of the School of the Environmental Activism together with the Green Alliance prepared five leaflets, which describe in detail where one can deliver clothes, dispose of paper products or dangerous waste. Everyone can take part in distributing leaflets, printing them out and posting them in public places.
Interaction between the state and society
The right to public dissent is taken away. In Belarus, the public discussion of urban development projects will be conducted in only two formats – either through strictly informing participants and conducting an analysis of public opinion or through the work of a commission. Public meetings with the massive participation of citizens will no longer take place. These "innovations" have been included into a resolution of the Council of Ministers, which is entering into force on 1 April 2014.
Viasna fails to protect website in court. On 18 February the Central District Court of Minsk heard a complaint filed by the Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Centre Viasna, Valiancin Stefanovich, to challenge a decision by the Prosecutor General's Office to blacklist the spring96.org website as a resource with restricted access. The court ruled that Valiancin Stefanovich was legally an improper plaintiff, because he is not the owner of the website spring96.org, and the blacklisting of the website did not violate his personal rights.
Another prosecutor's warning to independent journalists. On 19 February Jury Dziashuk was summoned to the Prosecutor's Office of the Lida district, where the journalist received an official warning, referring to a ban on working for foreign media without accreditation, as well as the inadmissibility of the publication of unverified information.
BHC complaint satisfied – CEC reverses the admission of observers. On 19 February the Central Election Commission satisfied an appeal by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and amended the Regulation on Election Observers: now central governing bodies of political parties and other public associations will have the right to send observers to precincts during elections. According to human rights defenders, it is a positive step as the procedure is more liberal.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.