Belarusian ideological workers are preparing for presidential campaign

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April 22, 2016 19:16

Ahead of the elections, the Belarusian authorities have stepped-up ideological activity, which gains importance amid the lack of funds to buy the loyalty of the electorate with income growth. However, the lack of a clear national idea is likely to have a disintegrating effect on the ideological apparatus. Ideology is unlikely to play an important role in boosting the president’s ratings if people’s living standards deteriorate or the Kremlin rumps up pressure in the information field. 

Last week, Minsk hosted a republican forum-seminar ‘The Ideological Work in the Context of the Key Messages of the President’s Address to the Belarusian People and the National Assembly of Belarus”. Almost 300 ideology workers participated in the seminar, including from the Presidential Administration, Minsk City Executive Committee, Deputy Chairmen of Regional Executive Committees, Rayon Executive Committees, and District Administrations. 

In Belarus, all public enterprises and organizations have ideology workers, whose number across the country totals circa 10,000 people. The ideologues ensure that people are aware about the actions of authorities and state policies; workers receive thematic publications and subscribe to state-run media outlets. 

In addition, the ideological apparatus functions as an additional bureaucratic superstructure, which coordinates and monitors cultural, sportive and entertainment activities, oversees relations with the state trade unions, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union and major pro-government NGOs. 

Following the president’s initiative, ideological structures became a part of the Belarusian state apparatus in 2003. Despite multiple attempts, the Belarusian authorities, so far, have been unable to formulate a national idea, which was noted by the president in 2014: "Some ten years ago I have set a task: we are a nation, but what is out national idea? It was clear what ideas we had when we were ‘soviet’. And what’s now? We have brainstormed this issue with the whole of society, including me, and to what was suggested, I said ‘no’.” 

The lack of the national idea formulated at the highest level disintegrates ideological apparatus. Most ideologues are unable to formulate the basic theses of the Belarusian state ideology, which rests upon loyalty to the president. In addition, salaries of ideologues correspond to salaries of low and mid-level public officials and range between BYR 2.5 mln and 7 mln (USD 165 – USD 450). Such modest salaries could also explain the lack of professionalism and enthusiasm of ideologues in promoting national ideology among the population. 

The Belarusian ideological apparatus has been unable to resist the Russian propaganda and shape public opinion in Belarus in relation to the events in Ukraine, which would correspond to President Lukashenka’s theses. According to independent pollsters, most population in Belarus has supported the annexation of Crimea by Russia and accepted Russian media interpretations of the conflict in Ukraine. In addition, state ideologues loose the Internet battle to the independent media, despite the disparate available funding and the newly imposed restrictions on the Internet Media in Belarus (introduced in late 2014). 

In the fight for the president’s popularity ratings ahead of the presidential elections, the authorities are prepared to mobilise all available means, however, if all their efforts fail, they might block sources of alternative information during the presidential campaign.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.