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Belarusian Officials, Activists Protest Russian TV Report On Lukashenka

The group Belarusian Youth protest against Russian NTV's broadcast in Minsk on July 6.
The group Belarusian Youth protest against Russian NTV's broadcast in Minsk on July 6.
MINSK -- Pro-government youth activists in Belarus staged a protest in Minsk against a Russian TV station after it broadcast a critical documentary about Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

About 12 members of the Belarusian Youth participated in the demonstration, dubbed "NTV Stinks," by sitting on a couch and pretending to watch an NTV program in protective suits with toilet paper and air freshener nearby.

The protesters were dismayed when several passersby expressed support for NTV.

NTV's broadcast on July 4 of the Lukashenka documentary, titled "The Godfather," described the suspicious 1999 death of opposition leader Henadz Karpenka and the disappearances of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, opposition leader Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, who are alleged in the documentary to have been kidnapped and murdered by a government-run death squad more than a decade ago.

The program also discussed Lukashenka's private life, including his young son Kolya, whose mother's identity has not been made public. It also portrayed generous Moscow support for Lukashenka and Belarus over the years -- said to have been worth billions of dollars -- and features an infamous Lukashenka statement in which he praises Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Former Russian Deputy Premier and current opposition leader Boris Nemtsov suggested "The Godfather" couldn't have been made without the agreement of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. But Nemtsov added that he didn't think the broadcast meant Lukashenka's administration is nearing its end.

Belarusian journalist Pavel Sharamet -- the co-author of a book about Lukashenka called "The Accidental President" who was recently stripped of his Belarusian citizenship -- told RFE/RL on July 5 that the recent spate of anti-Lukashenka programming in Russian is evidence of "a coordinated new information policy" by Russia toward the Belarusian president. He called it a "warning" to Lukashenka.

Belarusian officials were quick to complain about NTV's airing of "The Godfather."

Anatol Rubinau, speaker of the upper house of the Belarusian parliament, wrote in the state newspaper "Sovetskaja Belarusija" that "the constant, gross media attacks on our president, our country, which have become typical for Moscow's largest mass media outlets, are outrageous." He added that such attacks show "disrespect for the entire Belarusian nation."

Vital Sliwka, a spokesman for the Belarusian Embassy in Moscow, described the documentary as "criminal."

Yuri Khashchavatski, a documentary filmmaker ("An Ordinary President"), told RFE/RL that he helped Russian filmmakers make "The Godfather."

"It's a lot easier for Russians to make such a film [than it is for independent Belarusian filmmakers or journalists]," he said. Khashchavatski said Belarusians would be "immediately targeted, shaken down, and their cameras confiscated. This movie was made under peaceful circumstances with the permission of Russia's higher authorities.... It's a very important film."

Ryhor Kastusiou, whom the opposition Belarusian Popular Front has named as a candidate in Belarus's next presidential election, told RFE/RL that the NTV documentary was "an attempt to show Lukashenka 'who's the boss,' and perhaps even to create another president, one that will be chosen by Russia's political elites.... It's just the first step in the war with Lukashenka, but [the Russians] are the ones who raised him, who saved him in 1996 -- they have always been feeding this regime."

For Freedom movement chairman and former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich told RFE/RL that the showing of the documentary is "undoubtedly a positive thing" but added that "it should have happened much earlier."

While he suggested a senior Russian political hand might have been involved in the documentary's airing, Russian oppositionist Nemtsov told RFE/RL that "it's impossible to believe that NTV's airing of the film about Lukashenka, although true, is evidence of some changing trend. Because Putin's Russia is totalitarian and corrupt and completely uninterested in Belarus becoming free, democratic, and having a European choice. Putin's Russia is only interested in securing Belarusian stakes [in key industries] and in influencing events from the position of being the 'older brother.'"