A likely legislative ban on the white-red-white (WRW) flag through its classification as extremist only formalizes the already ongoing absurd repressions against Belarusian historical symbols. In fact, even now, without legal grounds, displaying the WRW flag in practice is punished almost more severely than the use of Nazi symbols. The state Belarusian and pro-Kremlin propaganda networks actively use absurd parallels with the Nazis to denigrate historical symbols.
Belarusian state bodies have begun to fight against Belarusian national symbols, history, and common sense. The priority of state workers is not the fight against snow drifts and fixing central heating, but the destruction of combinations of white-red-white in public spaces. The courts responded to creativity and folk humor in the form of hanging clothes and underwear on balconies in white-red-white color sequences and even the hanging of a Japanese flag with a similar color scheme with fines and administrative arrests.
Lessons from the Russian propaganda campaign
The strange blackening of the white-red-white flag by the Belarusian state media began immediately after the landing of a group of Russian propagandists by agreement between Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin. Already around August 20, less than two weeks after the elections, the state media were full of metaphors about «fascist symbols» and comments from various «experts» on this topic, many of whom did not even have a basic knowledge of Belarusian history.
The talking heads on the topic of historical symbols on Belarusian state television channels are not professional historians, but personalities such as the pro-Russian activist Andrei Ivanov, who enthusiastically talks about the «Dulles plan» and «quantum ideology,» promoting a plan of Belarusian resettlement to «tribal communities» and harshly criticizing Belarusian sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
On Belarus Channel 1, Ivanov was talking in August about the «Polezei white-red-white flag» and «a hybrid-psychological war coming from NATO troops.» In addition, Ivanov related a sensational story about how «the American military intelligence has opened up and published on their websites how they do it.»
It is surprising that the American military intelligence provided only Ivanov with access to their websites with plans for a hybrid war against Belarus.
In September 2020, state propaganda used a new technique to discredit Belarusian historical symbols. In addition to the speculations of talking heads disguised as experts, television stations began broadcasting audio segments presented as a compilation of calls from disgruntled citizens to the police. Statements such as «They put up this dingy white-red-white thing, the fascist flag is hanging there» were intended to convince viewers of the unanimous popular criticism of the WRW symbolism.
13-year-old «zmagars» and comparisons with Nazis
Around the same time, television channels began to clog their news airtime with a selection of «repentant» confessions by citizens. One of the November segments by STV talked about the greatest crime – how two 13-year-old girls wrote «Long Live Belarus» at night in red on a white wall! The television station showed footage of crying schoolgirls in the evening at the scene of the «crime» in the company of brave security officers in full uniform. The television presenter happily criticized the «young zmagars» as well for the grammatical errors in their writing. Among other things, they claim that the followers of national symbols and historical slogans are uneducated.
Already back in October 2020, the word «zmagar» was fixed in the lexicon of state media as an analogue of «Bandera» in the Ukrainian propaganda campaign. All those who disagreed with state policy – from 13-year-old schoolgirls to elderly pensioners – were included in the term «zmagars» and ascribed negative characteristics ranging from deficient mental abilities to an inclination towards terrorism.
By December 2020, state media intensified their broadcast of painful associations through the tragic events of World War II to further discredit the WRW flag. Plots regarding the so-called national patriotic action «Memory of the Heart,» dedicated to the victims of the Nazi occupation, spilled over into offensive comments by «concerned citizens» about the WRW flag. In one of the stories about the «Memory of the Heart» an account of the atrocities of the Nazis in the local ghetto and a memorial in the Baranovichi region was suddenly followed by commentary from «Oleg Minich, a resident of Baranovichi» about the WRW as a «Nazi symbol.»
On closer inspection, it turns out that Oleg Minich is not just a resident of Baranovich, but a person in the confidence of the Belarusian power vertical: in the 2020 elections, he was a member of one of the election commissions in the agricultural town of Mir.
The following question remains unanswered: why are many critics of WRW symbols and participants in patriotic actions so inconsistent and often seen flourishing Russian flags? After all, the Russian tricolor was also used by collaborators on the territory of the former USSR during the Second World War. In particular, the white-blue-red flag, along with the naval flag with the St. Andrew’s Cross, was sometimes used by units of the collaborationist Russian Liberation Army. Still, propaganda sources do not declare this and the modern flags of many other states as «flags of collaborators» and do not call for their bans, but instead attacks exclusively Belarusian symbols.
War, WRW, and «concerned locals»
The stories about the concentration camp in the village of Krasny Bereg, many of whose victims were children, became a vivid example of propaganda manipulation about the Nazis and the WRW. Narratives of Nazi torture are abruptly interspersed with criticism of contemporary Belarusian peaceful protests. «Such actions help our youth to reveal the negative events that are now taking place in the Republic of Belarus,» said Elena Kholupova, secretary of the regional committee of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union.
Following references to the executions of civilians by the Nazis, Belarus Channel 1 throws in an inappropriate remark from the chairman of the local council of veterans, Mikhail Gubar, acting as a simple local resident: «We are already tired of this bacchanalia: the parading of this white-red-white. We are for order, for a prosperous Belarus.»
This is followed by commentary from «a resident of Dyatlovo, Gennady Surovets,» who, on behalf of «all the inhabitants of the Dyatlovo region» declares his support for the red-green flag and Alexander Lukashenko. In reality, Gennady Surovets is – and this is again deliberately hushed up by the television station – not just a local resident, but a military commissar of the Dyatlov district. That is, a lot of «concerned local residents» in the reports on slandering the WRW-flag are chairmen of local cells of pro-government organizations and «proven» citizens in good standing with the power vertical.
Further, the story describes a mass grave of 2,800 Jews, including the elderly, women, and children, after which the floor is given to another local pro-government activist from Dyatlovo: «Part of the people are now speaking under the fascist flag, under the flag of those who carried out the genocide of the Belarusian people and others. They shout, Long Live Belarus!»
The structure of the reporting leaves no doubt as to the cynical attempt of state propaganda to draw an absurd parallel between the inhuman actions of the Nazis and peaceful protesters in modern Belarus; to denigrate all those who disagree with state policy, election fraud, and torture, and the WRW flag itself, which has become a symbol of mass protests.
Relying on the formation of a simple associative series «war-fascists-WRW» is, in general, a primitive method that was undertaken back in 1995 by Yuri Azarenok in the propaganda film «Hatred. Children of Lies» on the eve of the referendum on national symbols.
Naturally, the state media also completely disregards alternative views and, in their reports on the WRW flag, demonstrate the absolutely essential opinion about its «fascist» nature. As one woman stated as the «voice of the people» in the January report Belarus 1, «I would like to legally ban WRW flags so that these fascist flags would not be on the streets.»
Insufficient knowledge of Belarusian history by a part of society simplifies the propaganda mission to discredit the WRW flag. The symbol, which for more than 100 years has been the embodiment of the striving of Belarusians for independence (created at the beginning of the 20th century by Klawdziy Duzh-Dushewski, who himself suffered from Nazi occupation and saved Jews), suddenly turned out to be «fascist» and «Nazi» in cynical propagandistic hands.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Госпропаганда и дискредитация бело-красно-белого флага: этапы и методы