The storylines coming out of the Kremlin suggest that Minsk needs to curb a rise in nationalism and anti-Russian messaging, that’s allegedly Western-backed.
As long as Lukashenko acts within the Kremlin’s interests he is acceptable. When he begins to take independent steps … then the Russians switch on their propaganda machine.
Minsk and Moscow have been allies for years, with Belarus being economically and politically dependent on Russia for a long time. But a recent spat over energy subsidies and Russia’s campaign in Ukraine have made relations fragile, so Minsk has increasingly turned to the West for new, alternative allies.
The two countries have made peace, for now, but the Kremlin’s media machine has become increasingly uncomfortable for Belarus’ leader, Alexander Lukashenko.
“As long as Lukashenko acts within the Kremlin’s interests he is acceptable,” says Michal Janczuk, former Minsk bureau chief of Belsat TV. “When he begins to take independent steps, particularly towards the West, then the Russians switch on their propaganda machine for another slamming of the Belarusian leader.”
With relations between Moscow and Minsk regularly turning sour, Russia’s influence on the Belarusian information space has grown problematic for Lukashenko. Many political shows are blocked, and the government has also come up with more inventive ways, including live censorship, to blunt the Kremlin’s narrative.
“The news programmes are shown with a delay, there’s a five minute delay, so that if there is all of a sudden any kind of a negative news item about Belarus, what the Belarusian’s do is, they do kind of live censorship, and all of a sudden when their item comes up in the news, it cuts to five minutes of adverts and then it goes back to the Russian news again, so they can live censor what’s coming in from Moscow,” says Amy Mackinnon, senior editor, Coda Story.
Falling out with the Kremlin and managing the subsequent media is just one of Lukashenko’s challenges.
In March, Belarus saw the country’s biggest anti-government protests in years. Triggered by plans to introduce a so-called “social parasite tax” – a surcharge against those working fewer than 183 days a year, in order to discipline them – demonstrations quickly turned into a nationwide revolt against what is often called Europe’s last dictatorship.
Belsat TV, a satellite channel funded by the Polish government, is the closest thing Belarusians have to an uncensored channel on the airwaves. But during the protests in March, Belsat’s office was raided, some of its journalists were arrested, their equipment seized, and the channel’s funding might soon be cut.
“The very interesting thing about Belsat TV is that they’re highly critical of the Belarusian government. They’ve existed for 10 years and their journalists are harassed, but they haven’t been fully shut down yet. I interviewed the programming director of Belsat TV and I asked him why in such a kind of highly censored country had they been able to operate for 10 years? And he kind of floated the idea of maybe actually they can say what the Belarusian government can’t say about Russia. Which is actually maybe useful to the Belarusian government in the long run,” says Mackinnon.
Dzianis Melyantsou, senior analyst, Belarus Institute of Strategic Studies
Amy Mackinnon, senior editor, Coda Story
Michal Janczuk, former Minsk bureau chief, Belsat TV
Andrei Bastunets, head, Belarusian Association of Journalists
Source: Al Jazeera