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Analysis: Belarusian Television Airs Anti-U.S., Anti-Opposition Propaganda Series

By RFE/RL analyst Jan Maksymiuk A political protest in Minsk in 2006 (epa) The government-controlled Belarusian Television showed a three-part documentary last week titled "Network," in which it accused U.S. pro-democracy funds of financing the Belarusian opposition and sponsoring a coup d'etat in Belarus.

Many Belarusian commentators concluded that the authorities, in their idiosyncratic way, have just started a propaganda campaign for parliamentary elections due to be held this fall. If so, then the distinctive feature of this campaign seems to be the official message that this time it is Washington that is the main ill-wisher of the Belarusian people and the principal sinister operator supporting the Belarusian opposition.

'Belarusian Militants'

On June 9, Belarusian Television alleged that Ukraine hosts two camps in which "Belarusian militants" are being prepared for some unspecified but evidently hostile tasks in Belarus. According to the station, the instructors at these camps are Ukrainian nationalists who have gained their experience in "hot spots" in the post-Soviet area.

Belarusian Television also reported that the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) -- an organization promoting democracy worldwide -- is among the sponsors of these camps.

Former NDI Director Nelson Ledsky tells RFE/RL that the report is absurd. "It is totally false," he says. "The National Democratic Institute has nothing to do with it, has no training camps in Ukraine or in Belarus, and has not participated in any activities of the kind you described."

According to Ledsky, the NDI supported election monitors in Belarus in the past but ceased to do so several years ago when these people "got into trouble with the law."

Indeed, in the run-up to the presidential election in 2006, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) arrested four Belarusian election monitors -- Mikalay Astreyka, Alyaksandr Shalayka, Tsimafey Dranchuk, and Enira Branitskaya -- on charges of pursuing activities related to terrorism.

Subsequently, the four were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to two years.

On June 10, Belarusian Television added the Washington-based International Republican Institute to its list of sponsors making trouble in Belarus.

Hidden Enemies

Alyaksandr Klaskouski, a political commentator from Minsk, tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service that the Belarusian government does not even try to be original, and replicates the propagandistic cliches used many times in the past.

"In general, everything is being made under a traditional propaganda prescription," Klaskouski says. "From this point of view, there is nothing new. The main idea that is being imposed on the audience is that we are surrounded by enemies weaving plots and wanting to shatter our stability, so one needs to be vigilant and stand firm by the authorities [who] secure this stability."

Shortly before the 2006 presidential election in Minsk, then-KGB Chairman Stsyapan Sukharenka asserted during a news conference that opposition activists were planning to detonate explosives in a crowd at one of their postelection protests in Minsk and blame the authorities for the resulting bloodshed. According to Sukharenka, "militants" from Georgia, Ukraine, and former Yugoslav republics assisted the Belarusian opposition in making this plot happen.

And Sukharenka showed a film in which an unidentified man -- allegedly trained to cause problems in Belarus by the said "militants" -- confessed that he had intended to poison the water-supply system in Minsk with dead rats on the eve of the presidential election.

Is this sort of antiopposition propaganda effective? And what are its main objectives?

Andrey Rasinski, a film critic from Minsk, says the effectiveness of such films is limited, but adds that there is still an audience in Belarus that listens to such stories.

Main Target: Washington

"The objectives [of such propaganda films] are fairly traditional -- to paralyze society, smear political opponents with dirt as much as possible, and make it impossible for opposition politicians to gain trust among the people," Rasinski says. "This is an absolutely traditional, standard model."

Klaskouski underscores the fact that, in contrast to previous political campaigns in Belarus -- the presidential elections in 2001 and 2006 and the parliamentary elections coupled with a constitutional referendum in 2004 -- this time the official propaganda machine has somewhat hushed up its anti-Western rhetoric by solely targeting the United States.

"The United States and U.S. institutes appear to be the main wicked force in this series, which is, so to say, a sort of justification for the current diplomatic war [with Washington] and, in general, for the fact that [Minsk's] relations with the West have reached an impasse," he says.

After a series of diplomatic expulsions initiated by the Belarusian side, there are five U.S. diplomats in Minsk and the same number of Belarusian diplomats in Washington.

Belarusian-U.S. relations seem to be at their lowest point historically. And one can hardly expect that they will improve before September 28, when elections are to be held.

RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report

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