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Will Belarus authorities manage to turn it into North Korea?

Recently, Belarus authorities have been paying attention to the so-called propaganda from Russia increasingly frequently. A fresh official outbreak of discontent at the “Russian content in the Belarusian media” happened on May 15 when Igor Buzovsky, the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration said in an interview with TV program “Konturi” (“Contours”) that “the issue cannot but arouse concern in view of national culture and information security.”

This Belarusian official, who was responsible for the education of the young generation yet not so long ago, when he headed the Belarusian Republic Youth Union, said that the level of the Russian “content” in the Belarusian mass media has reached 65% and it is necessary to take measures immediately. “We need to develop both the creative and political capacities of the television,” he said. All this could be explained with Buzovsky’s personal attitude to the Belarusian information space, but for the recently intensified efforts to oust the Russian media outlets and TV channels from Belarus – this has already grown into a form of the government policy.

Although, the Russian TV channels have not been banned from Belarus yet despite the demands of the local oppositionists and nationalists, the developments of the recent months suggest that the authorities of Belarus weigh administrative methods to make the population watch only local channels and read only mainstream media. Lilia Ananich, Minister of Information of Belarus, has also addressed the future changes recently. On May 1, after the ceremonial opening of an international specialized exhibition “Mass Media in Belarus,” she made quite explicit statements concerning the Russian media outlets operating in the country. In her words, the Russian TV channels have a right to broadcast any information unless it runs contrary to the Belarusian legislation. At the same time, the major task of Belarus today is “development of the national content.”  It is not for the first time that the minister makes such statement. About a year ago, at the Plenary Sitting of the 10th Belarusian International Media Forum “Partnership for the Future: Heritage of the Great Victory,” Ananich said the authorities will “exert genuine efforts not to let the information space of the country turn into an arena of information war.”

An insight into the developments in Belarus will show that the Belarusian officials have decided that the information streams from Russia fail to satisfy the “real” demands of the population and it is necessary to offer something new and “homegrown.” However, all their measures of the recent years have failed.  For instance, a 1.5-year ago, at the meeting of Alexander Lukashenko and Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, an arrangement was made to establish a joint Belarusian-Ukrainian TV channel as an alternative to the Russian information flow. Although that project has not been implemented yet, Minsk has not refused from the arrangements made then. It appears that the local authorities still think that “the Russian content” can be replaced with the Ukrainian one if the Belarusian content proves insufficient.

However, no one in Minsk cares that this is simply impossible in the current conditions. In particular, Belarus lacks financial resources and specialists that could compete with the Russian ones. What the Belarusian TV channels can do to attract TV viewers is Russian and low-quality Ukrainian series, records of the Russian TV shows and news.  However, they take video footage for the news broadcasts from the media of other countries, particularly Russia, unless they cover the local Belarusian news.

The local authorities that have recently started taking care of the Belarusian culture and self – awareness are concerned that the “Russian content in media” cannot be fully replaced with the Belarusian one within the visible future. “Creeping Belarusization” has not yet taken roots in media, despite genuine efforts of the authorities.  Russian entertaining and information channels have been broadcast on the Belarusian Television only after undergoing strict censorship. All more or less big Russian TV channels have a “prefix – Belarus” now, which means that they undergo preliminary processing of any news provided by Russia.

These measures culminated on December 31 2015, on the New Year night when the residents of Belarus were deprived of the opportunity to choose when to start celebrating: whether after the congratulatory speech of Alexander Lukashenko or the one by Vladimir Putin.  None of the local TV channels broadcasted the Russian president’s congratulatory address, explaining it with the change from the summer time to the winter time that made the two countries’ clocks ‘go together.’  The refusal to broadcast Putin’s address on the ONT (the joint Belarusian-Russian project based on the First Channel), Russia-1 or NTV was at least disrespect for the Russians residing and celebrating New Year in Belarus.

Seeking to restrict the “undesirable information” from Russia, the Belarus authorities follow Ukraine’s example. In Ukraine, dissenting views are suppressed.  Belarus has never been considered a free state. Now when the authorities take administrative measures to force “Belarusian content” on the population, the country may degrade to the level of North Korea. Perhaps, Minsk pursues such goal, as it is much easier to govern the people unaware of what is happening in the world than the people that have an opportunity to look at the world impartially.

Pavel Yurintsev 

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