IMMINENT MILITARY CONFLICT AND A DESIRE TO WEAKEN BELARUS: What Belarusian propaganda says about the EU
What Belarusian propaganda says about the EU
State TV channels distort the international agenda, falsify facts and project to the Belarusian viewer the image of a hostile enemy in the form of the United States and EU countries. Allegedly the West incites military conflicts, wants Belarus to be weak, and brutally suppresses peaceful protests.
After the Belarusian presidential elections on August 9, the EU did not recognize the election results and the legitimacy of Lukashenka. They then proceeded to condemn the brutality of security forces in relation to the Belarusian protests, arranged a meeting on September 28 between French President Emmanuel Macron and presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and finally imposed sanctions against 40 Belarusian officials on October 2. This EU stance has significantly influenced the countervailing rhetoric of Belarusian state media.
How do “Polish lords” and NATO influence protests in Belarus?
During August, Belarus 1, ONT and STV constructed an imaginary threat to the stability of Belarus, allegedly masterminded by Lithuania, Poland, the United States and NATO. These TV channels did not specify in what manner this external threat was manifested, only that the presence of NATO on the border constituted political pressure on Belarus.
They were silent about the fact that Poland and the Baltic states were participating in the largest pre-planned joint exercises with the United States in 25 years (Defender Europe 20 Plus), and that these concluded on schedule on August 22. ONT and Belarus 1 rather characterized the fact that military exercises were being held to assert that NATO and the United States “are fueling protest movements in society.”
During September, Belarus 1 alleged that Poland was funding the Belarusian protests. “Polish finances have been thrown into the blitzkrieg against Belarus” or “Poles have spent a lot.” The channel failed to specify a specific source or an amount, assessing it only a “significant”. TV channels continue to call the Belarusian protests of August 9-11 a “blitzkrieg”, with the use of that term clearly intended to create associations with the German occupation.
During October, state-owned TV became gradually more hostile to Lithuania, Poland, France, and the United States, portraying them as Belarus’ “enemies”, while remaining neutral regarding Germany despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel meeting with Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya on October 6.
This trend culminated on October 24 in an STV report by propagandist Grigory Azaryonok in which he declared that: “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a unipolar world was created. They [the West] enslaved the Baltics [states], Georgia. They staged a bloody civil war in Yugoslavia, triggered a monstrous and murderous Maidan in Ukraine. Belarus has always stood in their way as an indestructible outpost.” Azaryonok accused Europe of ancient hatred of the Slavs because of their victory over Napoleon and Hitler (in his opinion, Slavs won those wars), and of creating a civilization of "personal narcissism”, opposed to Belarus’ historic values.
Why does the west pressurise Belarus? to get cheap labour!
State-owned media have their own vision as to why Western Europe is allegedly interested in destabilising the political situation in Belarus.
During August, Belarus 1 repeatedly referred to domestic economic problems in Poland and Lithuania and suggested that both countries see intervention in Belarus’ domestic affairs as a possible solution. For example, Lithuania “dreams of shutting down the Belarusian Ostrovets [Nuclear Power Plant]”, and Poland “again wants ‘ad morza do morza [from the Sea to the Sea]’”, allegedly to divert attention from domestic economic turmoil caused by coronavirus. Vilnius and Warsaw were allegedly jointly lobbying U.S. interests in an attempt to further this agenda, though the channel provided no supporting evidence.
During October, state TV continued to promote their narrative of economic turmoil in Ukraine (high unemployment, low living standards after Maidan), Poland (farmers’ protests and anti-abortion protests), and the Czech Republic (impending problems with pension payments). Consequently, they suggested these states are in no position to “mentor” Belarus and should focus on their own domestic concerns. In contrast, Belarus’ socio-economic development was consistently praised with no mention of any similar economic problems.
On October 13, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya declared a “People's Ultimatum”, threatening a national strike if Lukashenka did not resign by October 26. ONT attributed Tsikhanouskaya’s ultimatum to “the West” emphasizing her political dependency and referring again to the economic interests of neighbouring states. “The ultimatum is an economic expansion of the West, the goal of which is to destroy the Belarusian economy, be it dictatorial or democratic...”, the channel delivered this evidence-free analysis alongside assertions that Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania need cheap labour from Belarus.
UNMASKING THE WEST’s role in “the OUTSKIRTS OF THE FORMER USSR”
On October 18, Belarus 1 conflated the military conflicts in Armenia and eastern Ukraine, the change of power in Kyrgyzstan and the elections in Moldova into a single narrative, alleging that post-election protests would break out in Moldova. The channel spoke of an “an arc of instability on the outskirts of the former USSR”, allegedly created by the influence of the US, NATO and the EU on developments in these states. The report said nothing about the diverse underlying causes of these conflicts, but offered a range of interpretations and conspiracies, making no mention of mass rallies in Belarus against election fraud.
The report concludes that: “The United States and, more broadly, the West are venting internal tension outwards by exporting crisis and bloodshed to foreign outskirts".
Belarus 1 repeatedly characterised Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Armenia as “the outskirts of the USSR”, presumably attempting to manipulate viewers into viewing these states through the lens of the USSR with the implication of being incorporated within and dependency on the Russian sphere of influence. The term “outskirts” intentionally diminishes the significance and independence of these states.
Similarly, in September Belarus 1 referred to Lithuania and Poland as “satellite states” but did not specify what exactly they were orbiting.
War is imminent
State media habitually use international news to further a narrative about imminent war in various fronts. ONT declared that the risk of nuclear war is the highest it has been for three decades, attributing this assessment to anonymous military analysts. Belarus 1 quoted anonymous French politicians allegedly characterising Muslim actions against Macron's policies as the beginning of a civil war. STV reported NATO exercises to the south and north of Belarus, comparing the situation to 1941: "in 1941, too, everything was presented as a counterbalance to the aggressive policy of the Union,".
VIOLENT CRACKDOWNS ON PROTESTS IS COMMON IN ‘CIVILIZED’ Europe
During October, state TV international news coverage focused on allegations of brutal suppression of mass demonstrations in Europe, the key message being that the countries which condemn violent dispersal of demonstrations in Belarus do exactly the same to their own people. They referred judgementally to the "yellow vests movement" in France, Armenians demonstrating in Brussels, mass rallies opposing the tightening of abortion rules in Poland, and a miners’ strike Krivoy Rog, Ukraine while making no mention of police violence against detained Belarusian protesters.
Belarus 1 provided a typical example: “For example, nobody is in a hurry to condemn the police in Paris for the use of riot control equipment. During the rally of Armenians in the capital of France, law enforcement officers used tear gas to disperse the rally,”.
ONT said that most French politicians supported the police, not the "yellow vests" and drew an equivalence between the actions of the security forces in France and Belarus: “Is it violent in Belarus? Let’s see how ‘non-violent’ it was this week around the world. French Lille. Hundreds of demonstrators in the city square. ‘Yellow Vests’ have also promised to play it loud. It is known how the French police acts in such cases – harshly and bareknuckle. It’s not like being held by the Belarusian OMON”.
ONT illustrated this with photographs from Belarus and France. In one a Belarusian security officer leads away a detained young woman, and in the other a French detainee is lying face down on the asphalt. ONT said nothing about violence by the “yellow vests”, who start fights with the police, break windows and overturn cars: “While Mr. Macron tried to condemn this [police violence in Belarus], in French cities, the police have been tough on the ’yellow vests’, who have been taking to the streets for two years now”.
ONT distorts facts, claiming that Macron condemned the legal detention of protesters in Belarus, when in actuality he spoke against excessive use of force during and after the arrest. No coverage of violent detentions in Belarus or the aftermath appeared on State TV.
In late October, mass protests broke out throughout Poland in response to the Constitutional Court’s decision on October 22 to disallow “medical reasons” as grounds for permitting abortions. ONT and Belarus 1 reported on rallies in Poland arguing that violent crackdowns on demonstrators were common practice with the police resorting to tear gas and physical force. What they failed to report was that there were clashes between pro-choice protesters and ultra-right nationalists who support the abortion ban and that the police had to intervene to prevent bloodshed. In addition, Belarus 1 repeatedly claimed that Andrzej Duda’s victory in the recent presidential election was rigged, however, as usual, no evidence was offered in support of this claim.
ONT, STV, and Belarus 1 aim to convince their viewers that violent crackdowns on demonstrations are a commonplace in democratic Europe, avoiding or suppressing specific details to support the claim that states which condemned the violent suppression of peaceful protests in Belarus routinely use force themselves, blurring the line between the right to peaceful assembly and violent riots. In this way, state media attempts to justify violent suppression of protests and demotivate protesters in Belarus. Not a single state TV channel mentioned the protests in Khabarovsk.
On October 11, ONT claimed that if truncheons were not used against the Belarusian demonstrators, they would act like the Kyrgyz: burning cars, looting shops, and seizing strategic buildings. According to ONT, in Brussels, "civilized European police officers wield truncheons" to prevent exactly this kind of chaos.
The foreign ministers of the 27 EU members states did not recognize the results of the election in Belarus, and 14 states declined to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president. The reaction of the EU to post-election events in Belarus has prompted state TV (STV, ONT and Belarus 1) to significantly change their editorial line, particularly in respect of France, Lithuania and Poland, omitting reference to non-recognition of the results of the presidential vote in Belarus and instead launched a campaign of negative propaganda.
State propaganda accuses EU neighbours and Ukraine of conspiring to weaken Belarus in order to distract from their own economic and social issues, contrasting the socio-economic “successes” of Belarus with economic turmoil in Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.
ONT, STV and Belarus 1 all ridiculed Lithuania and Poland, referring to these states negatively and lacing reports with anti-Western rhetoric.
Belarus 1 accused the EU and the US of creating an “arc of instability at the borders of the former USSR”, referring to conflicts in Ukraine and Armenia, but providing no supporting evidence.
State TV also intimidates viewers by raising the spectre of imminent war in France, Germany, and Ukraine and using this straw man to rationalise police violence as a ‘common democratic practice’.
Full text in Russian by Marina Elistratova
English edition by Natalia Belikova