Staunton, June 28 – A year ago, Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared that “Belarus does not have a national idea (naviny.by/rubrics/society/2014/05/21/ic_news_116_436495/) and ten days ago, the country’s ideological workers were reminded that they must come up with one and soon (ctv.by/novosti-minska-i-minskoy-oblasti/18-iyunya-v-minske-proshel-respublikanskiy-forum-praktikum).
The urgency reflects the fact that ever more Belarusians are now turning to the Internet and foreign television channels rather than official government outlets to get their news and information, according to Mensk officials (minsknews.by/blog/2015/06/18/bolee-60-belorusov-ne-slushayut-radio-ne-chitayut-gazet-okolo-50/).
And it also is a product of the fact that despite the existence of some 10,000 ideologists in Belarus, they have made little progress in coming up with such a national idea. Indeed, some of them concede that despite Lukashenka’s order and their numbers, they are “still looking” for such a concept (naviny.by/rubrics/society/2015/06/26/ic_articles_116_189189/).
At the meeting of ideologists on June 18, Deputy Communications Minister Dmitry Shedko said that 44 percent of Belarusians now go online for news and information, up from only two percent in 2001. He added that “more than 60 percent don’t listen to the radio, about 50 percent don’t read newspapers, and about 10 percent don’t watch television.”
Those who do read newspaper often do so online, but they also turn to social media. As a result, Shedko said, the country’s ideologists need to ensure not only the production of necessary articles and programs but the delivery of them to Belarusians in a way that will ensure they pay attention.
Ensuring that is increasingly difficult, he suggested. “If yesterday there are only three or four television channels accessible on the territory of the country, today that number has risen to 150” because of cable and satellite. Given this plethora of sources, Shedko said, the ideologists must make sure Belarusians choose just what is necessary.
But telephone interviews conducted with some of them by Adarya Gushtyn of “Naviny” suggest that the ideologists are far from clear on what message they should deliver at least on the question of the country’s “national idea.” Their answers to its definitions speak volumes about conditions in the country Lukashenka rules today:
· Pavel Bagrovets, the deputy director for ideological work of the Mensk TV Information Network, said that “we are looking” for a national idea and pointed out that “Moses led the Jews through the desert for 40 years … The main thing is to remain confident about tomorrow.”
· Oleg Koropov, the deputy chief for ideological work at the Mohylev oblast executive committee, said that he “doesn’t have the chance to discuss this; I’m not alone in the office. You’ve telephoned a simple specialist with this question. Call the head of the department. The professors haven’t formulated an idea; what can I say!”
· Valentin Gukalo, the deputy chairman for ideology of the Ozeransky agricultural firm, said that “the national idea has basically been formed because our state is developing well. Our priorities are freedom and independence so that Belarus will survive in the universe. The ask of an ideologue to explain to people the policy of the state.”
· Galina Chernova, the ideological chief of the Bobruysk district executive committee, said she “couldn’t answer such a question over the telephone. Come to us in Bobruysk. We don’t work with journalists on the telephone. In general, how do I know that you are a journalist? And how do you know that I am the head of a department?”
· And Tatyana Kruchko, the ideological chief of the Gomel city executive committee, said the Mensk journalist should speak with participants of the ideological forum. “I wasn’t there and therefore I fear I’m not up to date on what was discussed. A national idea? You know, I’m at work; I have a meeting soon; I can’t speak.”