Lately, state propaganda apparatus in Belarus has been making more active efforts to reach Polish audiences. “As of now, everything that is happening in Belarus is available in the Polish language on an hourly basis! A premiere on Radio Belarus!” announced Belarus 1 TV on November 1, 2023. Polish residents in the areas bordering Belarus can access analytics, talk shows, and “objective facts” in Polish for 12 hours a day on Radio Belarus frequencies, the report continued. It featured Anton Vasiukevich, the General Producer of Radio Belarus, who described the demand for Belarusian information content among Polish listeners as “colossal.”
Dozens of topical TV reports were broadcast on major state TV channels in Belarus in the weeks leading up to the election date of October 15, 2023, and in the aftermath.
“It is not without reason that Poland is often called the ‘European state of America’”, one Belarus 1 TV report said. This perspective and disinformation narrative regarding an unsovereign Poland dominated the reporting on the Polish parliamentary election in Belarusian state TV. “Regardless of who wins, the ruling party will adopt clear anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian stances. There should be no illusions. The Polish political establishment is under full control of external power centres,” remarked a guest speaker on the STV political talk show in the lead-up to the Polish parliamentary election.
The post-election reporting on Belarusian state TV continued with this trend. A guest speaker on the STV TV channel claimed that all Polish political forces disregarded popular opinions and prioritised U.S. interests, resulting in the loss of Polish sovereignty being the only consequence of the October elections. The US will decide on the Polish ruling coalition, another state TV report echoed. This view was fully endorsed by election-related publications in the major pro-Kremlin outlet in Belarus, Sputnik Belarus. One article similarly stated that the U.S. position would be decisive in determining the structure of the new Polish ruling coalition.
Occasionally, other alleged external powers puppeteering Poland were named on Belarusian state TV. “Poland is already more London’s Trojan horse rather than US’s”, one guest speaker on state TV political talk show stated. In this conspiracy, the UK is trying to weaken Brussels position vis-a-vis Poland.
Claims of massive electoral violations Poland
In an apparent attempt to mirror the criticism of the Belarusian elections in Poland, Belarusian state media heavily focused on alleged massive electoral fraud in Poland. According to one of the Belarus 1 TV reports, “Less than one day is left until massive falsification in Poland. The ruling regime, with its blue-coloured hands, will try to preserve its grip on power and will show the play called ‘parliamentary elections’.”
Interestingly, the ‘blue-coloured hands’ metaphor is often-used by Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. Journalists found at least nine instances of the usage of this metaphor by Lukashenko since 2014. For example, in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, he famously promised not to hold the presidential position with “blue-coloured fingers” – a promise he notoriously failed to keep. This mirroring technique of the Belarusian state media relied on figures of speech widely known in the Belarusian society in relation to the domestic political realities.
A deficit of ballots and errors in voter lists were mentioned among other electoral violations in the post-election reporting of the ONT TV channel. This is contrasted by the Preliminary Findings and Conclusions released by the International Election Observation Mission, which do not reference irregularities with ballots or voter lists which could affect the election results.
Spinning economic troubles
While covering the Polish election campaign, the Belarusian state TV tended to portray Poland as a country facing enormous socio-economic problems. “In Poland, acute problems in economics and social sphere, a total corruption. As a result of the ruling party Law and Justice policies, unemployment is on the rise. One in three cannot find a job. Prices and external debt are increasing”, one pre-election report on ONT TV channel said while displaying gloomy photos and newspaper titles taken out of context.
In fact, all the claims above are manipulative and are either based on generalisations or exaggerated. For instance, the level of unemployment in Poland remains low. According to the latest EU statistics, it stood at 2.8% in September 2023. Poland also boasts one of the lowest long-term unemployment rates within the EU, with rates below 1%. This data is strikingly different from the claim that “one in three cannot find a job” on the Belarusian TV.
The review of the coverage of the Polish parliamentary campaign by the Belarusian TV channels suggests that beyond spreading recurring disinformation narratives about the (un)sovereign status of Poland and its huge socio-economic problems, they attempted to discredit the institution of elections in Poland as such.
For example, STV, yet another state-owned TV channel, attributed Poland’s economic progress to EU assistance and claimed that the Polish population dream of living in a dictatorship. “The Poles lived some time in democracy, now they want to go back to dictatorship. [They want] order and well-being for others’ money.” Multiple TV reports attributed economic troubles in Poland to wide-spread corruption and spread dubious claims implicating Polish officials and the ruling party. In fact, in the Corruption Perception Index 2022 produced by Transparency International, Poland ranked 45th out of 180 countries with 55 points out of 100, where 0 means highly corrupt and 100 is the opposite end.
The unprecedentedly high turnout of 74.4% at the Polish parliamentary election was a telling proof that the Polish society was seriously engaged in the competitive election campaign and did not perceive it as a US-controlled screenplay, contrary to what multiple propaganda reports on Belarusian TV alleged.