Freedom Day coverage in Belarusian media

This year’s celebrations will be remembered for the burning of president’s portraits and the dismissal of the teacher who tried to explain the meaning of the Freedom Day to her students.

The Freedom Day – 91 years since the first declaration of Belarusian independence – was celebrated rather modestly this year. The organizers had little resources for a proper preparation, and they called on the public to bring posters and flags along.

It is no wonder that the independent media covered it actively, in-detail: video and photo reports, on-line coverage and live radio broadcasts. They also offered a lot of historic materials, devoted to the Belarusian People’s Republic. You could see it on their web sites that March 25 was a truly Belarusian fest.

But, this does not seem to be shared by everyone. Sovietskaya Belorussia newspaper apparently should have written in its traditional column ‘This Day in History’ that the Belarusian People’s Republic was declared independent on March 25, 1918. Alas! We read that an engineering and construction institute in Brest was founded on that day. Not a single word about the creation of the Belarusian statehood.

An article devoted to the Freedom Day appeared on the pages of this newspaper on March 27 only. Actually, it was devoted to the action of the opposition which was once again accused of “working for cameras”. It wrote:

“On this festive evening – in the view of the opposition – everyone who gathered near the Academy of Sciences “came to work” (according to one of the action organizers). The police naturally arrived in order to prevent chaos. Apparently, the action participants came in order to be shown sad at the background of repressions. Reporters came in order to tape it properly… The internet is filled with the results of that video and photo sessions. A viewer, unfamiliar with staging techniques, will only fill sorry, seeing brutal police commandos and a peaceful column. The unequal confrontation is obvious, and nobody will look into details”.

STV television channel went even further, calling the Freedom Day “a so called celebration”.

“The use of the green young minds for the picture of “a mass action” has become a label of the opposition in the recent years… The majority of the participants are teenagers. At that age, it is all the same either to hang out with friends smoking or hang out at a rally. The “picture” was traditional as well: covered faces, beaten-off slogans and the same confusion on the faces of adult organizers of an allegedly mass protest”.

Other Belarusian state-owned TV channels did not differ much from the above reports on the Freedom Day.

Independent media’s coverage was naturally different. Nasha Niva newspaper used colorful epithets to describe the demonstrators:

“The organizers managed to win over the authorities in an elegant way. The live chain looked spectacular; people liked what they were doing. Clearly, the use of force against that pronouncedly peaceful action could never be justified”.

Viktar Ivashkevich, a deputy chairman of the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, also described the action as successful, although it was attended by fewer people that the audience of the independent press.

The burning of the portraits of the head of the country was all the more lively and memorable moment of the action. Some media were fast to throw scoop titles. ran a report titled “Lukashenka’s burning was sanctioned”. But, the Ukrainian web site titled its story like this: “Lukashenka was burnt in the center of Minsk!”

The popular web portal carried out a poll, asking visitors what the Belarusian People’s Republic and the Freedom Day mean to them. Many people did not know what it was all about, giving associations with the opposition only.

This is surprising, as this day has been celebrated in Belarus for 20 years, not at the state level, though. Apparently, there is a problem with reaching out to people to inform them. Mariana Gruzdzilovich, a teacher at the SOL Minsk education center, faced this problem personally. She was recently fired for explaining her students about the Freedom Day.

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