Russian propagandist pressing carries huge long-term threat for the national mental health. But even Belarusans have a chance to retain adequacy.

Belarusans voluntarily stay prisoners of Russian propaganda. What threats propaganda carries for the country and how to fight it?

His recipe with the EuroBelarus Information Service shared Piotr Kuzniatsou, the founder of the “Centre for Regional Development “Homel Democratic Forum”.

– The attitude of Belarusans to the Crimea’s annexation and war at Donbas proves that the public opinion is to a considerable degree influenced by Russian propaganda. Would it be right to say about information occupation of Belarus?

– It is quite right, but as I see it, it is quite tough term, as this occupation is to a large degree voluntary. In Belarus media sphere is regulated and controlled by the authorities, and in result, if we talk about e-media, we basically witness state monopoly. And it is absolutely logical that in situation of fair level of competition (as it was in Ukraine), Belarusan e-media are experiencing large problems with development. I think that that is the reason why at a certain stage we decided to use the content of Russian media, which led to what we can call “information occupation”.

This problem is, basically, typical for any sphere in Belarus – the existing system is a priori dysfunctional and has no resources for independent dynamic development, that is why we critically depend on our major donor – Moscow, both in economy, mass media, and in military sphere.

– According to the social poll conducted by the IISEPS (Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies), 50 per cent of Belarusans are ready to adjust to the new situation in case of Belarus’ annexation, while only about 20 per cent are ready to defend their country with arms. Is it that Belarusans don’t care about the sovereignty of their country, or do we just reap the fruits of informational domination of Russia media?

– Before giving any estimation, we should better get acquainted with the analogical research in other countries, where, I believe, only minority of all the population are ready to take arms.

My own feelings are somewhat different from the formulation of question. Despite domination of Russia in media sphere, lately Belarusans started developing their own national consciousness and value sovereignty. It might be happening slower than in Ukraine; however, these processes are taking place, so I don’t think that the role of Russian media is decisive here.

Russian media have much more stronger influence on Belarusans’ worldview. But as to the feeling of our uniqueness and independence, I think, they are powerless. People can be convinced that Moscow has a right to annex Crimea – Crimea is far. But it is much harder to convince them that, say, Vitebsk can become an equal part of Russia likewise any Russian region and live according to the same laws, rules, and concepts.

– Ukraine has realized the danger of Russian information domination too late, already in the mid of Ukraine-Russia war. Why the Belarusan state doesn’t learn by the mistakes of its neighbor and is not trying to escape the pressure of Russian propaganda?

– I think that the Belarusan state in this case is experiencing an excess of self-confidence. Situation in Ukraine and in Belarus is a little different. In Ukraine many TV-channels belonged to different oligarchs not subject to the state. And these oligarchs could be both pro-Western and pro-Russian, so Ukrainian authorities didn’t always have enough instruments for defense.

Whereas in Belarus the authorities can block websites or TV-channels easily; and I think that understanding the danger, they are sure that they control the situation and if needed, can just block the unwilling content.

– Does the modern Belarus have an adequate response to the threat of the information war?

– Likewise Ukraine, or any other country or nation, Belarus has only one instrument against propaganda – national consciousness. Russian media were rather openly working inside Ukraine, however, they didn’t manage to fully dispose the population to their side; moreover, they came to be powerless against the understanding of real situation and real interest of the nation. This interest was formed in the European choice: the country was tired of corruption and decided to live according to European laws, not to Russian rules.

I have no doubt that if Belarusans manage to formulate their interest, propaganda will be powerless about that. However, if not, propaganda will make everything it wants with the minds of the population.

I am sure that the possible attempts of counterpropaganda, i.e. attempts to outvoice, are useless, as Russia today is able to fill with disinformation not only Belarus, but also Ukraine, and Europe. The answer should be asymmetric and lie in the sphere of psychology. Correct understanding of the world and our interest as immunity.

– Do Belarusan authorities see the threats that Russian propaganda carries and are they ready to fight it?

– I think that the Belarusan authorities are not very good in national interests and their own, mistaking the second ones for first, and that is a root of many problems.

Russian propaganda carries a huge long-standing problem for the mental health of the nation. However, Belarusan authorities don’t understand these threats; they consider threats only if they pose danger for the existing order. If there is none such, the authorities think that when something will be revealed, they will just prohibit it.

No one knows whether this recipe is working; it might help Belarusan authorities at a certain moment. The problem is that this recipe doesn’t help Belarusan interests at all. Our authorities didn’t learn to think in the interests of the state, and because of that our country is losing a lot in the long-term prospective.

– What is the recipe of fight against Russian propaganda that you can suggest?

– Against any, not only Russian propaganda, I have one working recipe that is already implemented: I don’t have TV. Neither at home, not at work.

By Aliaksei Jurych, EuroBelarus