The case of «rehabilitation of Nazism» in coverage by Belarusian state media 

The case of «rehabilitation of Nazism» in coverage by Belarusian state media

Recently, the Belarusian authorities began to actively employ rhetoric about the «falsification of history and the rehabilitation of Nazism» by Western countries, which has already resulted in criminal prosecution of several Polish minority activists and another Belarusian-Polish diplomatic scandal.

The occasion was an event in the Brest-based organization Polish School on February 28, dedicated to the day of memory of «cursed soldiers.» In Polish historiography, this term means members of the anti-Soviet underground who continued to fight after the end of World War II. As a result, the Polish consuls in Brest and Grodno were expelled from Belarus and the Charge d’Affaires of Poland in Belarus, Martin Wojciechowski, was called twice to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to receive notes of protest. In response, Poland expelled two Belarusian consuls from the country.

In addition, soon criminal cases were opened against several activists of the unregistered Union of Poles in Belarus, including its head Anzhelika Borys and well-known journalist Andrei Pochobut, under the article on inciting hatred and violence. The newspaper Belarus Segodnya hurried to write about them as criminals without waiting for a trial or the end of the investigation.

«Honoring Rajs» without mentioning him?

The essence of the criminal claim regarding the event is that it allegedly glorified the war criminal Romuald Rajs and members of his troop, who in 1946 destroyed five villages in eastern Poland and killed 79 of their Orthodox Belarusian inhabitants. Rajs himself was executed for these crimes in the Polish People’s Republic in the late 1940s.

«Dressed in the national uniform of a Polish scout organization, the young people sang songs and recited poems to the glory of war criminals, including Romuald Rajs, known by the nickname Bury. The criminal case has been sent to the department of the Investigative Committee for the Brest region to set up an investigation,» the Belarusian prosecutor’s office said.

However, the Charge d’Affaires of Poland in Belarus Martin Wojciechowski denied this in independent media: «Maybe they read poems, but 100% not to the glory of Rajs. His name was not even mentioned at that meeting. We checked this carefully. Had it been otherwise, our consul simply would not have participated in the event.» Wojciechowski also noted that in Hajnówka, where the tragic events associated with Rajs’s crimes took place, this year there were no marches dedicated to him. On the contrary, local authorities, the Belarusian diaspora in Poland, representatives of the Orthodox Church, and Belarusian diplomats participated in an event to honor the memory of his victims.

Likely, the state media and the Belarusian authorities automatically interpret the mention of the broad category of «cursed soldiers» as a celebration of war criminals like Rajs, but the logic is strange at best. Belarus has not yet provided any concrete confirmation of the mention of Rajs during this event. In the stories about «Rajs’s tribute» on state television, several photographs and video frames from the Polish School were shown repeatedly, but the name of the war criminal was not shown on any of them. As a result, the scout uniform of event participants and the map of interwar Poland became the object of attacks.

«Propaganda of Nazism under the guidance of Western diplomats»

All state-owned television channels declared explicitly that the event was «honoring Rajs,» although there was no confirmation of his name on the air. Belarus Channel 1 christened the event as a «mass event aimed at promoting Nazism» taking place «under the strict guidance of Western diplomats.»

The television station STV called the event «a cynical costume show» in memory of the murderer of Belarusians Romuald Rajs. In another STV story, Belarusian bureaucrat Andrei Savinykh said that neo-Nazi organizations are raising their heads in Poland and that Hitler’s book «Mein Kampf» is freely available for sale.

The BT report claims that during searches «office equipment, statutory documents, posters, photographs, and literature about the activities of the Polish Nazi Romuald Rajs and members of the Polish anti-communist underground during World War II» were seized. There is no footage to support any form of mention of Rajs; instead, scout uniforms and portraits of Polish historical figures are displayed.

However, according to BT, even the scout uniforms are not as innocent as they might seem: «In the Polish scout school Belarusian children were dressed in military uniforms. These could be the same as those worn by those who burned and slaughtered Belarusians, slaughtered Orthodox adherents.» Moreover, a few days later another story on Belarus Channel 1 already explicitly called the scout clothes «the uniform of the war criminal Bury!»

In their stories, Belarusian state television channels ignored completely the official response from Poland, promoting fully the version of «honoring Rajs» as something already proven. Television station ONT reacted strangely to this, saying, «We here, you know, are sometimes criticized for not giving airtime to our opponents.» The «opponents» in this long piece by ONT are two Polish minority activists in Belarus, or rather their personal telephone conversations. These individuals discuss the incident without holding back.

Judging by television presenter Igor Tur’s commentary, the personal conversations were used on air without their consent: «Alina and Anna, you are probably offended by me for this broadcast. I will respond: why are you and they silently nodding and agreeing with Warsaw in public? You know what they are doing. Is money more important? We just helped you become a little more honest. Don’t thank us for it!»

«Child Bombs»

As in the past, state television channels extensively used rhetoric about wounded Belarusian children used in dirty political games. As one story from Belarus Channel 1 says, «the most disgusting thing is that the Polish side seems to be trying to encourage our children with the idea that «Bury» and his accomplices should be honored by Belarusians; that is, those whom his gang cut down with special cruelty.» This story, like others, does not provide evidence of any mention of the war criminal Rajs-Bury during the event in question.

In one of the programs on the television channel ONT, Gennady Davydko, head of Belaya Rus, described the incident as one of the episodes of the war when either Poland or the «collective West» was against Belarus and stated the following: «They act like enemies. They are thrashing history, trying to make bombs out of our children which are designed to explode on our territory.»

In their stories, the television channels use a propaganda message about the aggressive plans and imperialism of modern Poland. As one of the tools for influencing a child’s psyche, they named the map of interwar Poland, which hung inside the «Polish School.» «Obviously, the map gifted to the children is nothing more than an illustration of blatant Polish appetites. Draw your own conclusions!», the STV television program declares.

Belarus Channel 1 also hinted at territorial claims by modern Poland: «In addition to the contours of the country [Poland], one can read the attached outlines of half of Belarus, as well as Lithuania and Transcarpathia… These ambitious plans of the Polish side are actually being introduced into the subconscious of adolescents.»

The Belarusian authorities continue to follow Russian ideologies. Beginning in autumn 2020, Belarusian state-owned media began regularly broadcasting pro-Kremlin propaganda messages, many of which they had avoided until then. For a long time, Minsk tried to sidestep the long-standing rhetoric of the Russian authorities and pro-Kremlin media regarding the alleged «falsification of history and the rehabilitation of Nazism» in Western countries, but recently turned to it and has been using this kind of rhetoric more actively in recent months.

Материал доступен на русском языке: Дело о «реабилитации нацизма» в освещении белорусских государственных СМИ