Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Information War In Belarus

The European Union is moving forward with its plans to provide information via the airwaves to dictator-controlled Belarus. $2.45 million has been awarded to a German-led consortium which will begin independent media broadcasts into Belarus before the March presidential "election." The selected consortium includes partners in Poland (European Radio for Belarus), Lithuania (Radio Baltic Wave), Russia (RTVi) and even Belarus (journalists, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations). The two-year project involves radio and television broadcasts, the Internet, support of the Belarusian press, and the training of journalists.

However, that project isn't enough argues PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). PACE representatives contend that the current plan just doesn't meet the overwhelming blackout which Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenka has thrown over his country's people. Indeed, in these months before the next election, Lukashenka's administration has taken a series of measures to prevent any expression of political dissent at all. Furthermore, it is stepping up its obstruction of the activities of democratic forces yet alive in the country and completely silencing what remaining independent media is there.

PACE called on Council of Europe member states to give immediate financial and if necessary logistical support to
independent broadcasting to Belarus from abroad, preferably employing independent Belarusian journalists who would broadcast in the Belarusian language. PACE also urged the European Union to extend its visa ban to include a larger number of high-ranking officials in the Lukashenka regime, consider easing visa requirements for ordinary Belarusian citizens, and "take appropriate steps to identify and freeze bank accounts and other assets belonging to President Lukashenka and others from his entourage."

News of the PACE resolution was greeted by Lukashenka in his typical fashion, boasting of his power to keep his countrymen free from decadent Western news and commentary. He claimed that Belarus's national broadcasting system "is ready to ward off information attacks with offensive counterpropaganda actions...."We will not lose the information war. Belarusian radio and television channels have not lost their sharpness." Lukashenka also reiterated his position that Belarus's broadcasting system is an "integral part of state policies and ideology" -- meaning, the controllers who invent, distort and when necessary omit altogether the news, will continue to keep the Belarussian people from knowing how weak, corrupt and ineffective is the government of President Lukashenka.