Belarus attempts to revise its information policy
The Belarusian propaganda machine was unable to effectively neutralise the aggressive propaganda campaign by the Russian media. However, Belarus’ state-run media have started developing mechanisms to counteract information pressure from the Kremlin. Ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities seek to strengthen information control in Belarus and to reduce the influence of the Russian media in shaping public opinion.
Amid events in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities seek to increase control over the Belarusian information space. Belarusian media were unprepared to counteract Russian propaganda, and to shape and promote their own position concerning the Russo-Ukrainian crisis.
A statement made by the Russian Ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Surikov, was indicative of this situation. In his opinion, Lukashenko’s position as regards the Russo-Ukrainian crisis differs from that of Belarusian public opinion.
Russia’s anti-Ukrainian propaganda in the media has undoubtedly had a significant influence on Belarusian public opinion, which supports Russian aggression in Ukraine. According to opinion polls survey by IISEPS, in March Lukashenko’s popular rating increased amid events in Ukraine, however, this growth was influenced by euphoria about Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Despite the fact that President Lukashenko has repeatedly voiced his stance on the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, which differs from Russia’s position, the Belarusian state media have been unable to make it dominant in Belarus’ public space.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities are beginning to realise that the Kremlin no longer controls the increasing imperialistic ambitions in Russian society and the growing demand for its expansionist policy, especially with regard to Ukraine. Even the editor of the largest state-run newspaper in Belarus, Pavel Yakubovich, rather sharply commented on the war hysteria stirring up in Russian society, “teach a fool to bow with grace and he would fall flat on his face. Those who had the patience on Tuesday night to watch the Moscow programme ‘Special Correspondent’ with Mamontov to the very end could verify the accuracy of the aphorism”. The voiced criticism of the Russian position on Ukraine in the Belarusian state media was certainly coordinated with the Belarusian authorities.
Simultaneously, the Belarusian leadership has begun to review the state information policy and is reshuffling information managers. For example, Lukashenko dismissed the Information Minister Proleskovsky and replaced the spokesperson in his Administration.
In addition, state-run media have started a series of publications about Belarus’ long-term development prospects. For example, Presidential Aide Rudy proposed to revise the socio-economic model, which no longer ensured development: “I believe that to advance development, it is important not only to increase competitiveness of old industries, but also to collect fruits from the new ones”.
Ahead of the 2015 Presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities will attempt to weaken the Russian media’s influence in Belarus and will revise the state media’s information policy, allowing for some pluralism in a public debate about socio-economic development. However, the environment for the independent media will not be mitigated or changed.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.