Wednesday 5 February 2003

Belarus: Crossed Signals

I wrote this from Minsk for TIME magazine on 5 February 2003.


Minsk just can't seem to make up its mind. One minute, Belarus is pushing Russian media out of its territory; the next minute, it is declaring undying love for its bigger Slav brother, hoping to join Russia in a single political entity. Often criticised for human rights abuses and interference with free speech, the Belarusian authorities are now again under fire from a wide range of critics, including Russian Democratic Party Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, for closing three Russian radio stations at the start of the year. Minsk said it would replace the closed stations — Golos Rossii, Mayak and Yunost — with domestic programming.

The authorities have also moved to cut the coverage of the Russian TV channel RTR by 30% from 1 February, and they are further demanding that all radio and TV stations re-register before this summer, which many fear is a policy aimed at reducing the number of broadcasts from Russia. Again, the desire to promote national broadcasting was given as the reason, but many have their suspicions about the government's true intentions.

Those suspicions remain because, quite simply, Russian media matter in Minsk.