The political crisis of 2020-2021 showed that all that is really left in the propaganda arsenal of the Belarusian regime are the tattered remnants of Lukashenka’s cult of personality and cynical invocation of history equating political opponents with the genocidal Nazis and Nazi accomplices of 80 years ago.
An obvious manifestation of this strategy is the criminal case opened by the Office of the Prosecutor General in April 2021 regarding the genocide of the Belarusian people by the Nazis. The purpose of this initiative is to provide a pretext for Prosecutor General Andrei Shved to make monthly speeches invoking the spectre of fascism.
The prosecutor’s office carries out a cynical, politically motivated instruction, and state propaganda then uses this to escalate its own narrative. A neat example of logically fallacious circular reasoning whereby the conclusion (all opponents are Nazis) creates its own premise.
The genocide ratchet
State propaganda equates the internal political crisis with war, segues from there to the Nazis and onwards to genocide. Anyone who considers the history of Belarus beyond Soviet ideological clichés is trying to “split society” and “rewrite history”, prompting dire warnings from regime loyalists:
"Paying tribute to our memory, we must look to the future. Crimes like the genocide of the Belarusian people, the destruction of ethnic and social groups by the Nazis must not be repeated. This is our common duty and, without exaggeration, the most critical and urgent task for the entire world community, especially under current conditions, when there are attempts to split society and rewrite history for the sake of some ‘new race’."
—Igor Gedich, a member of the Council of the Republic and director of the Grodno Regional Drama Theatre, speaking to BelTA
Naturally, state propaganda never gives concrete examples of the Belarusian national democratic movement “justifying Nazism”, “distorting history”, or “glorifying Nazi criminals” for the simple reason that there aren’t any. They, therefore, resort to conjuring up shadowy and unidentified figures who are actively engaged in these activities but heroically opposed by the authorities led by Lukashenka.
"The President of our country has become a symbol of sovereignty, national interests and freedom,”
—Mikalai Shchekin; propagandist of SB.Belarus Today.
In fact, propaganda alleges that Lukashenka has already saved Belarus from genocide in the form of “shock reforms” characteristic of countries like Poland. The peculiar propensity of Belarusian citizens to seek work in Poland is pointedly not addressed.
"And to reflect on this: it is thanks to the unconditional leadership qualities of their President that Belarusians mostly did not receive the necessary – painful, and sometimes deadly, but vital – vaccinations ... And if one recalls Poland, we did not allow “shock therapy”, which was not therapy at all, but resembled the genocide of its own people,”
— Andrei Mukovozchik in SB. Belarus Today.
Naturally, to combat “genocide” and “justifiers of Nazism”, measures approaching martial law are self-explanatory, and Lukashenka’s supporters (“us”) are implicitly justified in employing almost any methods, much like Stalin in a previous era.
"This is used by those who are interested in falsifying history and destroying our memory. Hence the attempts to raise flags with alien symbols on our land. Belarus should clearly understand that we have no need to justify our past or our present to anyone. We gave everything we could to secure the survival of our country."
—Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, Doctor of Military Sciences Nikolai Buzin, quoted by Narodnaya Gazeta.
Prosecutor General Andrei Shved follows the same line, speaking to the Belarus-1 TV channel. Referring to the hundreds of criminal cases following the protests of 2020-2021, he declares that: “Taking into account the circumstances, prosecutors take a principled position. Maybe some will find it harsh, but given the war that has been declared upon our state, this corresponds to the real situation.”
Given that young people were particularly active in protests against election fraud and violence by the police and security forces, state propaganda emphasises the need for “correct” education of young people.
"To preserve this truth and historical facts for future generations. Today, this topic is relevant primarily for the younger generation. Perhaps, the genocide of Belarusians during the war should be carefully studied in educational institutions to begin to form the correct attitude of the younger generation to these events from an early age."
—Viktor Ananich, Deputy Chairman of the Standing Commission of the Council of the Republic on Economy, Budget and Finance, quoted by BelTA
National flag = "genocide"; criticizing Lukashenka = "SS"
State propaganda finds almost nothing in common between the modern national democratic movement and the Belarusian nationalists of WWII. Some of these figures actually did commit war crimes, as did representatives of all other political forces, from Soviet partisans and Chekists to Polish and Lithuanian nationalists.
The focus of official ire is the white-red-white Belarusian national flag. However, the “Pahonya” coat of arms, also used by Belarusian nationalists during the war and officially considered an intangible cultural value of the Republic of Belarus, does not prompt such a reaction.
"We received indisputable evidence in archival materials that this symbol – we call it the BCHB [white-red-white flag] – was an integral part of the uniform of the punitive battalions of the SS. This was part of the description established by the fascist occupiers, and we have received photo and video evidence that the SS and, unfortunately, some Belarusians, dressed in a uniform with white-red-white symbols, were part of the units that participated in punitive operations,”
—BelTA quotes the words of Andrei Shved.
These “punitive battalions of the SS with white-red-white symbols” are not identified. The 13th Belarusian Police Battalion certainly existed under the control of the SD, and in wartime, propaganda was referred to as the “Belarusian SS battalion”. However, authoritative historiography indicates that this was the only such unit and was not officially part of the SS.
For obvious reasons, the Prosecutor General does not mention the Belarusian nationalists with the same white-red-white symbols who saved Belarusian villages or the Soviet partisans who emulated the Nazis by burning them down. For example, it is verifiable that Barovtsy in Vileika district was protected by Belarusian nationalists from the Union of Belarusian Youth who used the same white-red-white symbols and banners.
"Reprisals were about to be inflicted on the inhabitants of the village of Barovtsy - burning their houses. The village was saved by Peter Danilovich Savchyts (Kulinchik), a member of the Union of Belarusian Youth, who managed to prove that there were no Barovtsy inhabitants in the partisans,”
— historians Simon Barys and Anatol Rogach in their book “Narachanka і yae bergi”.
However, the proposal of the Prosecutor General’s Office to ban the white-red-white flag is not due to its alleged use by criminal groups in the distant past. The progagandists freely admit that the events of 2020 are the real motivation.
"As the events of August last year showed …. Neo-fascists and extremists of all stripes have reappeared on the streets of our cities under BCHB [white-red-white] banners, with the same goals as their predecessors, who faithfully served the occupiers – to destroy and destroy,”
— propagandists of Belarus Today
"They also turned the BCHB [white-red-white flag] into a symbol of rebellion, riots on the street and lawlessness. This was the red line, after which a completely different conversation began with the “supporters [of change]”. Note that in the first days of the rebellion, no one was apprehended simply for carrying a symbol, but the “fighters” began openly violent disorder,”
— Dmitry Kryat, a political observer of SB. “Belarus Today” (ibid.)
The anthem “Magutny Bozha” was adopted as another symbol of the August 2020 Belarusian national democratic movement, having been previously performed at numerous official events with the participation of state representatives.
However, since the work was composed by Natalia Arsenyeva in 1943 under German occupation, the unique logic of propaganda asserts the taint of fascism.
"The collaborators knew and saw everything. There can be no excuse for them. Did they not see what they were doing to the Jews? The same Arsenyeva, who wrote “Magutny Bozha”, walked around Minsk and overlooked the 100,000 person ghetto?”
– Vadim Gigin, the dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Belarusian State University in the newspaper “7 days”.
Soviet terror, including the persecution of devout Christians before, during and after the war, was also an open secret. What follows from this logic? That everyone who wrote poetry in the USSR is a criminal?
".. They’re like Kushel and Arsenyeva. Collaborators to the core. If there was a war, they would become the SS."
–Andrei Mukovozchik, propagandist “SB. Belarus Today” equates Belarusian wartime figures with the anti-Lukashenka movement.
Sanctions – “genocide”
To a propagandist, “genocide” is just an abstract, inflammatory word casually used in a manner that devalues the reality of the suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians by drawing an equivalence with economic sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenka.
"Sanctions represent a desire to see the Belarusian people starving and dying. We can say new fascism and new genocide. You know, I would just say the word. “sanctions” against our native country beat us in the face ... The Nazis wanted to seize living space from us and make us slaves to the Bauers. Today’s “Western democrats” want to seize economic space from Belarus and use her people as cheap labour. Their sanctions must try to destroy our economy to achieve this. Do you see a fundamental difference between the two? I do not."
"Sanctions and the policy of genocide of the Belarusian people by the collective West has spurred unity between the two peoples [Belarus and Russia] and become the rallying of Belarusian civil society in the face of these challenges."
— Nikolai Shchekin, propagandist with Belarus Today
At one point, while dwelling on wartime genocide, propagandists decry the replacement of the red-green flag of Lukashenka with the national Belarusian white-red-white flag in Riga. This event in May 2021 is “particularly outrageous” because:
"Latvian units were the foremost Nazis. It is especially outrageous that today people, some of whom have ancestors directly responsible for the Oswego tragedy and much more, hold a ceremony in Riga with our state flag. The entire north of Belarus was carved up by Latvian Nazi units. It was a classic genocide."
— Igor Marzaliuk, leading historical propagandist for Lukashenka.
Propaganda comprehensively characterises all neighbours as enemies, except for Russia. In fact, everyone but Russia is engaged in the genocide of the Belarusian people.
"Colleagues [State Journalists] have had to reframe their work in light of the conditions of an information hybrid war. Previously, the work of our journalists tended towards a pro-state conciliatory line that smoothed out sharp corners, tried to avoid thrusting contradictions into historical self-images and traditions and culture. We did not dwell on the great feat of Soviet victory or the terrible facts of genocide that give rise to a contradiction between the current state policy of Belarus and that of Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states. However, the position of neighbouring states simply forced the Belarusian state and the patriotic media community to move away from this policy."
–Andrei Krivosheev, the host of the program “Understandable Policy. Plus” on Belarus 1 TV and the chairman of the Belarusian Union of Journalists.
“There is joy and celebration in the camp of the political refugees: the next set of sanctions are being prepared against Belarus. They are quite open about their goals: the destruction of the country’s economy. They say that if you “implode” export enterprises and cut off the country from currency markets, people will starve, and workers will strike and take to the streets. Sorry, but this smells like genocide ... the Nazis fought against Bolshevism like this: if you eliminate the Eastern Slavs, then there will be no Bolshevism.”
— Vladimir Volchkov, propagandist of the newspaper Respublika.
“Genocide” along the border
All neighbours of Belarus, which support the Belarusian national democratic movement of 2020-21 in one way or another, are painted by Lukashenkist propaganda as heirs of Nazism.
“Alas, the attack on history stretches along almost the whole border. From Belarusian children, they tried to create Poles with a distorted understanding of history. The propaganda of Polish literature and art was replete with the glorification of murderers who participated in the genocide of Belarusians,”
— “Rural Newspaper” on the liquidation of The Polish School LLC
Inside Belarus, those guilty of “distortion of history” remain faceless and anonymous. Outside, entire countries and international institutions stand accused.
“On September 19, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which it called the German-Soviet non-aggression treaty of August 23, 1939, the reason for the outbreak of the Second World War, bringing Western falsification of history to a fundamentally new level. Earlier outright lies were peddled by some publicists or individual politicians, but now these lies are beginning to be openly validated at the interstate level. At the local level, the Polish Sejm has already accused the USSR of responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. Allegedly the non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR freed Hitler’s hands to attack Poland and set the stage for the subsequent hostilities in Europe,
—Vyacheslav Danilovich, rector of the Academy of Management in SB. Belarus Today.
Addressing the people of the entire European Union, propagandist Alexei Dzermant in the newspaper “Respublika” writes:
“This was done by your grandfathers and great-grandfathers, who were rewarded for their plans and actions. They got their due then, but today the memory of their atrocities and our well-deserved, just Victory needs to be protected against those who would turn everything upside down. This happens all the time. In Ukraine, Nazi accomplices are heroes; in the Baltic States, the SS are freedom fighters; in Germany, the Wehrmacht is not guilty of anything, in particular, or at least this is how the actions of the German occupiers are presented in many recent films.”
Propaganda also attributes to “Nazism” the actions of Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland to prevent illegal migrants from
“One of the reasons for the worsening Lithuanian crisis is xenophobic propaganda and adherence to Nazi ideas, and this phenomenon has grown among our neighbours for some time... What the Lithuanian security forces are doing now to migrants raises a natural question: how can this happen in Europe in the XXI century?”
—Vadim Gigin in SB. Belarus Today.
“They violated all moral precepts and international principles. They turned the EU’s migration policy inside out. They used the clubs and bullets of ‘democracy’. Lithuania staged a real genocide” according to other propagandists in the same newspaper.
To maintain a fever pitch of national outrage, state media regularly publish stories of Nazi crimes in Belarus and the actions of Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian and Lithuanian anti-Soviet units.
Propaganda also alleges that former Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus was a participant in such crimes: “The young Voldemaras at one time served as either a lieutenant or an orderly for Antanas Impulevičius, the bloodiest Lithuanian collaborator with the occupiers. He commanded the 2nd (12th) Schutzmannschaft Battalion, that is, the Security Police.”
In reality, Adamkus did not serve in the 12th battalion of the security police (which committed war crimes), but in the 2nd regiment of the Lithuanian “Defense Forces of the Fatherland”, which never entered Belarusian territory.
Lukashenka’s Prosecutor General’s Office admits it is unsure where Adamkus served in 1944:
“The investigation is checking the information that he voluntarily took an oath to the headquarters of the so-called Fatherland Defense Army and entered the service as a delegate of the Minsk Butcher Voldemaras Adamkavicius.”
Reports of the discovery of graves of victims of the Nazi genocide and the launch of investigations by the prosecutor’s office are equally unreliable. It is unknown whether professional forensic archaeologists and historians examined the site.
The “Historians” of King Antimidas
King Midas of Greek legend had the gift of turning everything he touched into gold. This provides the basis for a joke about King Antimidas, who turns everything he touches into a much less pleasant and valuable substance.
In this case, Antimidas, lacking any other ideological basis, lazily and cynically turned to the history of war and Nazi crimes.
Regrettably, these propaganda attempts are likely to lead to incitement to hatred and undermine the Belarusian people's confidence in the truth about the real crimes of the Nazis and their accomplices.
Cover photo: BelTA