The first article of the series, devoted to the influence of Russian propaganda of the war in Belarus, described the sources and «repeaters» of pro-Kremlin propaganda and outlined the main directions of changes in its subject and semantic lines, which appeared in connection with the preparation, beginning and course of Russia’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine. In particular, it was established that the «internal» thematic lines of propaganda concerning Belarusan subjects did not disappear in connection with the war, but were shifted to the periphery of the information agenda. The «unifying» and «mobilization» lines took the first place.
«Military alliance» with Russia
During the months of the war, the motive of the «union state» of Russia and Belarus got a new, one might say, more «uncompromising» sound. The propaganda increasingly insists on the thesis that the successful future of Belarus is possible only in an alliance with Russia or as a part of it. This is obviously connected with the growing international isolation of Belarus during the war, the introduction of new sanctions, the severance of the last economic ties with Europe and, as a consequence, the growing political and economic dependence on Russia. The propaganda keeps saying that only the union with Russia will ensure the state and political independence of the Belarusan people, thus protecting them from «polarization» and assimilation by the West.
The thesis of «integration» became a universal answer to any challenge: «I hear all the time: tomorrow absorption, tomorrow incorporation [so in the original — author’s note] … 30 years have passed. We haven’t incorporated, we haven’t absorbed, we haven’t taken anything away. And frankly speaking, we get from Russia everything that a sovereign independent state needs.» (Alexander Lukashenko, 30.06.2022).
Another widespread and pre-existing image, which received a powerful impulse in its development after the beginning of the war: Belarus is a part of the «Russian world», Belarusians are a part of the Russian people. The propagandists’ statements emphasize the inviolable connection of three Slavic peoples — Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians; Belarus is even proclaimed the hearth of Slavic culture.
The image of the «Slavic brotherhood», split and destroyed by the West, is popular in war propaganda. Lukashenko used it in his speeches more than once, lamenting that «we let the West push us against each other». But the foundation for this myth was laid even earlier — apparently, by Vladimir Putin’s article «On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians,» published on the Kremlin website and widely discussed by analysts in the summer of 2021 as an ideological basis for preparations for large-scale aggression.
The image of the «Slavic brotherhood» of the three nations «works» for another important propaganda narrative — the West, not Russia, is to blame for the war. It was he who pushed the «brotherly nations» against each other, it was he who prepared an attack and sabotage attacks against Russia and is making plans to seize the western lands of Belarus. By striking first at the hostile forces of the West, Putin «returns» Ukraine to the historical bosom of Slavic unity. Thus, the myth of the «Slavic brotherhood» that has fallen victim to an insidious conspiracy is harmoniously integrated into the justification of the so-called «preventive strike» that Putin delivered in Ukraine against the hostile West and its «Nazi puppets».
The logical continuation of this myth: sooner or later the West is bound to abandon «deceived» and «used» Ukraine, which, according to the propagandists, «the West does not need neither as a member of NATO, nor as a member of the European Union» (Vladimir Makei). «The West … signed the final verdict of Ukraine and Ukrainians, who are nothing more than biomass for it.» There is only one way out — only the family of brotherly nations will pick up and accept Ukraine in open arms.
Paradoxically, the story about the «brotherhood» of the Slavic peoples develops in parallel with the campaign of slander, libel and ridicule of Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities and residents of the country, unleashed by propaganda long before the war. From the recently glorified «Slavic brotherhood» Ukrainians find themselves ostracized by other propagandists — for example, for «abolishing» Russian culture: «We, citizens of Belarus and Russia, as bearers of the Slavic code of the nation, must not allow the demolition of monuments [in Ukraine] … We will never and never allow anyone to mock the Belarusian and Russian people…».
We will write more about the anti-Ukrainian propaganda in Belarus in the next article of the series.
Among the Belarusan propaganda narratives, there are, paradoxically enough, openly «anti-Belarusian» ones. Basically, they are aimed at weakening the positions of supporters of Belarus as a national and independent state in order to emphasize once again the necessity of unification with Russia. One of such ongoing narratives is that «the history of independent Belarus is alien and inglorious» (and its variant: «only the Soviet period of Belarus’ history is «glorious»). Sometimes paradoxical judgments are expressed, for example, about the holiday of the People’s Unity Day on September 17: «Thanks to the liberation campaign of the Red Army on September 17, 1939 (author’s note: That is, when the western territories were annexed to the Belarusian SSR as a result of the so-called «fourth» partition of Poland between Hitler’s Germany and the USSR). Belarus became united and really got statehood. Yes, it was a part of the USSR, but thanks to that the whole world knows us now!».
From the first lie follows the second one, also not new: the Belarusan historical symbols (the white-black-and-white flag, the coat of arms «Pogonya», etc.) are symbols of our enemies, alien, Nazi, inglorious. Those who use them now, namely — the democratic opposition and participants of mass protests — are collaborators, terrorists, provocateurs, Nazis. Lukashenko: «The blood of every third Belarusian is on these flags … There are cries of the Minsk ghetto people, cries and groans of people tortured in concentration camps, there is shame, betrayal and collaborationism.
On November 10, 2022 the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus recognized the traditional patriotic slogan «Zhyve Belarus!» «Nazi symbols».
«The opposition are puppets of the West.»
Such propaganda is conducted by the Lukashenka regime with the sole purpose of undermining support for the democratic opposition in the country. The main resources of the propaganda since 2020 have been directed to this task. The center of this narrative was and remains Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who won the presidential election, and the democratic forces and activists united around her, declared by the propaganda as puppets of the West.
Our modest organization was not spared by the propagandists: «The rat’s face of Bachebesia is more and more openly sticking out from under the veil of ‘democracy, values and freedom’ … iSANS is the most natural spy subversive office, working for the Western intelligence services».
As preparations for the «big war» began, anti-opposition narratives gradually gave way to much more strident anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and disinformation than before.
«Belarus is Russia’s reliable shield»
Another «ongoing» narrative that has developed with the outbreak of the big war: Belarus is a reliable defender of Russia, which «covers the western borders to ensure that our Russian brothers are not stabbed in the back» (Olga Shpilevskaya, 14.03.2022) and will not allow anyone to «shoot a Russian man in the back» (Alexander Lukashenko, 03.07.2022).
Since 2014, official Belarus has been declaring itself as a purely peaceful and even «neutral» state in relation to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The self-proclaimed «president» managed to play on this deception for a long time, especially during the first years of the armed confrontation in Donbass, when the leaders of European countries, as well as Ukraine and Russia, gathered in the capital of Belarus under the auspices of the Minsk agreements. But it did not manage to fool the Western countries for a long time — the bloody suppression of peaceful protests in August-November 2020 showed the true face of Belarusan «peacemaking». The West did not recognize the presidential election, turned its back on Lukashenko and imposed large-scale sanctions against his regime.
Since then, the record titled «The West and NATO are pushing Belarus to war» has continued to play relentlessly:
«Putin has never asked me: come on, go in, kill someone in Ukraine and so on. But they, the West, are pushing us into this conflict to deal with both Russia and Belarus» (17.06.2022).
«I have the right to ask and demand from the president of brotherly Russia to make [Western powers — ed.] afraid to cross the state border of the Republic of Belarus. That is what I have done.» (02.07.2022).
«Belarusians fighting for Ukraine are terrorists.»
A new plot, the appearance of which is directly connected with the war: Belarusan citizens fighting on the side of Ukraine (Kalinowski’s regiment, Pagonya’s regiment, Teror battalion, etc.) are «terrorists». They are trying to make an image of «mercenaries», whose «subversive groups» are preparing to «invade the Belarusan territory». Despite the fact that these citizens have in no way harmed Belarus itself and in fact act in the interests not only of the Ukrainian, but also of the Belarusan people, their actions are recognized as criminal and contrary to the official policy. No wonder, because Lukashenko’s regime is a military ally of Russia in the war against Ukraine and an accomplice of aggression, providing territory, bridgeheads, military airfields and other infrastructure to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
In the next articles of this series, we will discuss how the propaganda rhetoric in Belarus towards Ukraine and Western countries has changed after the beginning of large-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Пропаганда войны в Беларуси. Часть 2. «Путин возвращает Украину в историческое лоно славянского единства. Беларусь – надежный защитник России».