Opposition activists demonstrate in Minsk in support of Belsat TV

A group of Belarusian opposition activists demonstrated in front of the Presidential Administration in downtown Minsk, demanding that the government ensure the existence of a Belarusian-language independent television channel to counter Russian television propaganda.

 

Eight people took part in the demonstration, which began at about noon. Those included Paval Sevyarynets, co-chairman of Belarusian Christian Democracy; Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the United Civic Party, and Aleh Korban, leader of an opposition group called Alternatyva (Alternative).

The demonstrators displayed signs in support of Belsat TV, a Warsaw-based Belarusian-language satellite channel that is feared to be on the brink of survival.

“Our event is primarily targeting Lukashenka,” Mr. Sevyarynets told reporters. “Our thoughts regarding the fate of Belsat TV were expressed to the Polish side at our meetings [with Polish officials] and in our appeals. We are very grateful to the Poland that supported Belsat, but we don’t understand the Poland that is going to destroy it. However, the main reason there is no Belarusian-language television in Belarus and Belsat is broadcasting from abroad is located here, in this building. This is the reason Russian propaganda is reigning in our country, there is no freedom of expression in Belarus and the only Belarusian-language channel has to be situated abroad.”

Belarusians can only ask Poland for support, but they should make demands of the Belarusian government because it is funded by Belarusian taxpayers.

A few minutes into the demonstration, three police officers came up to the participants and drew up charge sheets accusing them of staging an unsanctioned event.

However, at about 1 p.m. the demonstrators were invited to enter the building of the Presidential Administration and state their demands.

As Mr. Sevyarynets told reporters after coming back half an hour later, they were received by Ihar Lamanosaw, deputy head of the Administration’s department dealing with requests and complaints from citizens. They handed him a written statement demanding that the authorities stop the retransmission of Russian television channels in Belarus because they undermine the independence of the country and add Belsat TV to the list of channels transmitted in Belarus, support it with public funds, and grant accreditation to all journalists working for the channel.

Mr. Sevyarynets pointed out that he had no illusions regarding the authorities’ reply to the statement and described the statement as a “document for history.”

He also noted that unlike previously, authorities had not violently dispersed the demonstration and had tolerated the demonstrators by allowing them to stand in front of the Presidential Administration for one hour.

Belsat TV started broadcasting on December 10, 2007 under an agreement between Polish Public Television (TVP) and the Polish foreign ministry.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski revealed on Monday that Belsat TV might cease to exist in its current form within days. "The channel is not as attractive as it should be," he said, adding that the channel's Belarusian staff would be invited to continue working for its website and make reports for TVP Polonia. Belsat TV Director Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy will be offered a senior job with TVP Polonia, he said.

"If we receive a confirmation from the Belarusian authorities that they will ensure TVP Polonia's broadcasts in much of the country's territory, this is a very attractive offer," the minister said in an interview with wPolityce.pl.

The minister said that Belsat TV was watched by a very limited audience in Belarus and had a "very modest influence on reality." TVP Polonia broadcasts throughout Belarus are a good alternative to the channel, he noted. "The Belarusian public would see how life looks like in the neighboring country," he said. "That would also be a political alternative."

Replying to the interviewer's remark that Belsat TV was "in opposition to the Lukashenka regime" whereas TVP Polonia's coverage would likely be more neutral, Mr. Waszczykowski noted that it was important to show Belarusians how Poland had been transformed since becoming a democracy. "They look at Poland the way we looked at the West during the Communist rule. We are working on [the channel's] concept at present," he said.