Belarusian ideological workers are preparing for presidential campaign
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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.