Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ
14th February, 2016
The annexation of Crimea to Russia, and the war in Donbass has significantly affected the social situation in the Republic of Belarus. The vast majority of the Belarusian population expressed their supported for both the Crimeans, who expressed the will to reunite with Russia, and Donbass residents in their fight for their rights against the Kiev regime.
According to the June 2014 survey of the Independent Institute of socio-economic and political studies (IISEPS, Vilnius), 62.2% of the interviewed citizens of Belarus consider the annexation of Crimea to Russia, “the return of Russia of the Russian lands, the restoration of historical justice”, while 26.9% – “imperialist seizure, occupation”. (These are the suggested wording of the Lithuanian organizers of the survey). 65.5% of respondents regarded the events in Donbass as a “popular protest against illegitimate power”, while 23.2% as “a rebellion, organized by Russia”.
However, two years after the February (2014) revolution in Ukraine, the core of nationalist propaganda in Belarus has crystallized and strengthened. Accusing Russia of “aggressive” policies, the Belarusian nationalists persistently persuade current public opinion on the perception that participants of the “anti-terrorist operation” in Donbass fight “for the freedom of Ukraine and Belarus”. This information campaign involves almost all Belarusian opposition media.
Contacts between Ukrainian and Belarusian nationalists have a long history. Back in the mid-2000s, Ukrainian troopers who were the backbone of the “Right sector” participated in mass anti-government riots in Minsk. Now the cooperation between Belarusian nationalists and their “colleagues” from Ukraine has increased significantly. The action held on September 5th 2015 in Lviv, when during a football match between Ukraine and Belarus, Ukrainian and Belarusian immigrants “ultras” with lighted torches marched in the city and chanted “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes” and “long live Belarus!”, was indicative of this. But two days earlier, September 3rd, 2015, near Brest, under the slogan “Heroes never die!” and singing the national anthem at a large gathering of people, the funeral of Alexander Cherkashin (Taras) took place, who recruited Belarusians for the war on the side of the Kiev junta.
Since the spring of 2014, the presence of Belarusians among the paramilitary “Right sector” became a regular feature of information. Belarusian Internet publications, such as “Nasha Niva”, “Narodnaya Volya” newspaper, “Belarusian partisan”, Naviny.by, “Charter 97” and “Young Front” widely disseminated this information.
On 22nd June 2015, on the anniversary of the great Patriotic war, the website “Nasha Niva” published an article, under the title “We have here our own Belarus”, which was a special report from a “Azov” training camp in Kiev, with the heroes of Belarus exercising at the base. Someone with the callsign Vanish said: “It seems to me that if the Kremlin wins in Ukraine, the war will come to our house”. The report tells in detail the activities of Artem Grotto – Belarusian military instructor of the battalion “Azov”, who along with five other instructors from Belarus had prepared 400 Ukrainian militants.
Reports titled “interview from the front” became frequent in the Belarusian nationalist media. On 10th July 2015 in “Narodnaya Volya”, revelations appeared from a “Belarusian volunteer with the Callsign Doc. The material was called “Belarusians are at war in Ukraine”. “Our brothers need help,” said Doc. So much so that we have had one enemy over the past 300-400 years … I arrived first and foremost to help Ukraine, and as for what will happen – we’ll see … If we look at this confrontation, we see two forces – Russia and the civilized world. “
On August 7th 2015, “Nasha Niva” announced the creation of a new formation called “Tactical group of Belarus”. “Our aim”, stated the message, which was made on behalf of the mysterious “Union of patriots”, “is the creation of a national department, which will contribute to the fight against a common enemy. Together to victory. Long Live Belarus! Glory To Ukraine!”
Since then, publications about the actions of this “task force” began to appear in the opposition national media regularly. The official position of the Belarusian authorities, that the war in Donbass is “not our war”, facilitated for Belarusian nationalists the creation of myth about the mass support by Belarusians of the Kiev regime, which in reality usurped the legitimate power in Ukraine, and all this despite sympathies of the majority of citizens of the Republic of Belarus to the DPR and LPR.
On 7th December 2015, the website “Charter 97” in the article “Oleg Skripka: the Belarusians are all superheroes” announced the release of video clip and a recording of a CD with the song of A. Cherkashina (Taras) “Don’t give up”. On 8th December 2015, the website “Nasha Niva” published the provocative statement of the Belarusian fighters – participants of the ATO – who called Belarus the “ghetto” and “a prison”. The comments on the website implied that these militants were willing to take the war to the territory of Belarus, using their experience in this field. “The patriots of Belarus would like or not like this experience to be useful for them, in any case they’ll be obliged to defend their country,” wrote the website of “Nasha Niva”. “And Belarus will have to defend itself. Thousands of Ukrainians were killed only because we were not prepared… the War in Ukraine has deprived us of illusions. We do not want Belarus to repeat the mistakes of Ukraine. To return to the ghetto or jail makes no sense”.
In parallel, at the end of last year, a campaign was organised for the promotion of “tactical groups” in Europe. On 10th December 2015, the same “Nasha Niva” wrote “Belarusian volunteers will meet with the Belarusian Diaspora in Belgium”. On December 12th 2015, Antwerp, soldiers of Task Force “Belarus” will meet with compatriots residing in Belgium. “Volunteers who had participated in the Maidan and the fighting in Donbass, seeing victory and defeat, will tell them about the situation in Ukraine and on the front, about the general Belarusian-Ukrainian struggle for independence”, stated the message.
On 21st December 2015, the same publication posted an advertising update: “Meeting with the Belarusians, who fought in the ATO — in Prague, December 22nd”. It was about a certain Valery Melnikov. The same line of propaganda was picked up by “Belarusian Partisan”, who wrote on 28th January the following message: “In Minsk a charity marathon was held. Help the Belarusian soldiers”. It was in support of Belarusian soldiers fighting in Donbass on the side of the official Ukrainian authorities.” And on February 8th, “Belarusian Partisan” reported the creation of a special “site-memorial of the fallen for Ukraine Belarusians”.
Trying to impress society, Belarusian nationalists have increasingly used the experiences of “Ukrainian colleagues” to create lists of “enemies of the nation”. The list of the “Black Hundred” is quite widely known in the Republic. This was published on the website of the nationalist “Young front” as a list of 100 “Pro-Russian” organizations that supposedly promote “the Russian occupation of Belarus”. The publication stated that “one hundred foci of the Kremlin’s aggression in Belarus” are included on the list of organizations.
Attempts to kindle hatred of all things Russian in Belarus, which is higher than the intensity of passion for Kiev “Maidown”, is already bearing fruit. The story which took place on 1st of July 2015 in Mogilev, in club “Histerika”, has had a lot of resonance. When a few middle aged Belorusians who were vacationing in a club ordered “Victory Day” (Russian song – O.R) for karaoke, Nazis in the club from among football ultras shouted “Sieg Heil”, “Heil Hitler”, “Bandera – our hero!”. However, those who sang “Victory Day”, were beaten. The Nazis were eventually calmed but only with the help of riot police.
Belarusian publications who are opposed to the authorities as well as being hostile to Russia receive the support of numerous foundations around the world, freely operating in the Republic of Belarus. This includes “Freedom House”, “National Endowment to Democracy” (NЕD), Konrad Adenauer, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Fund for Henry Marshall, the Soros Foundation, the Fund of Olof Palme, Stefan Batory Foundation, the Eurasia Foundation and others. Most of the funds are American, as well as German, Swedish, Polish and Danish.
The project “Narodnaya Volya” was created in 1995 with money from the “Eurasia” Fund, led the Iosif Syaredzich, who headed the “Narodnaya Volya” (former chief editor of “Narodnaya Gazeta” – the organ of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus) for more than two decades, is a major critic of the policy of rapprochement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation. Regular invitations of Syaredzich to meetings of journalists with A. Lukashenko steadily made “the necessary impression” on the Belarusian officials. As for the “Nasha Niva”, it was founded in 1991 in Vilnius and immediately expressed their “democratic orientation”. Today it is one of the centers of distribution of Russophobic material.
This was not possible in Belarus until recently. Today it is not only possible, but has become almost habitual. What is the attitude of the official structures of the Republic of Belarus to such phenomena as the Belarusian militants undergoing military training in camps of neo-Nazi “Right sector” in Ukraine, the publication of lists of “enemies of the people”, and open propaganda in the media that is hostile to Russia and Russians? It is difficult to answer this question with certainty. Judging by the fact that this phenomena continues to exist, the attitude of the authorities is at least tolerant and forgiving. This is playing with fire?