Belarusian state propaganda cynically uses Syrian tragedy

May 15, 2017 11:44
Image: Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from Aleppo, Syria

The Belarusian state propaganda uses the tragedy of the civil war in Syria for its own needs. That said, the Belarusian authorities realistically assess Assad prospects to win the war. Although they formally support the government in Damascus, they do so in a very restrained manner: Syria, destroyed by the war, is not regarded as a promising partner in the Middle East.

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has appeared on the Belarusian state television, which has become a notable event. However, the Belarusian propaganda has appealed to the Syrian events purely for domestic reasons.

Syria has practically ceased to exist as a single state. Assad retains control over part of Syria solely thanks to direct military intervention by Russia and Iran. Minsk is well aware of that. For many years, the Belarusian authorities have built partnerships with the Arabian monarchies and Turkey with varying degrees of success. The latter, provide financial, political and military support to anti-Assad rebels. Minsk is carrying out an extremely pragmatic, if not cynical, foreign policy. It has no practical reason to support Bashir al-Assad and jeopardize already established relations with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

Bashir al-Assad’s interview with the Belarusian state television should be regarded as:

- intimidation of the Belarusian population with possible consequences of political destabilization. That said, Ukraine as a negative example is becoming less effective. The severity of the war in Syria provides the state propaganda with a lot more texture

- a demarche designed to demonstrate discontent with the Western policy towards Belarus

- a gesture of loyalty to Russia, which is increasingly drawn into the Syrian civil war, and expressing discontent with the fact that she does not receive political and moral support from her formal allies

The fact that Bashir al-Assad has appeared on the Belarusian state TV is not a sign that the Belarusian-Syrian relations have entered a new stage, let alone that Minsk has engaged in the Syrian conflict. The Belarusian authorities in a conventional manner attempt to use the crisis in other states to address their domestic political and propaganda issues.

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Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.

The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.

The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.

Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.

President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.

Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.