Belarus Culture

Belarus Culture and Mass Media

Newspapers in Belarus

According to HOMOSOCIETY.COM, Belarus is a country located in Europe. The first newspapers in Belarusian, Poleskij listok and Nasja chata, were published underground in 1872–76, inspired by the Russian narodnik movement. Dziannitsa was founded in Petrograd in 1918 and was after the liberation from the Soviet Union the country’s largest newspaper in Belarusian. Since 1995, the situation in Belarus has been characterized by dramatic restrictions on the freedom of the press and persecution of individual journalists. Only presidential publications may be printed in the country, the largest of which are Narodnaja Hazeta (180,000 copies), Supreme Council body, and the Government magazine Respublika (130,000 copies). The largest Russian-language newspaper is the Soviet-Belorussia (330,000 copies). Oppositional newspapers, such as Narodnaja Volja and Svaboda, as well as the weekly newspaper Imja, are printed in Latvia and distributed unofficially.

The state-run TV company Belteleradyjokam has been broadcasting in two channels since 1994 and, like the country’s 13 private broadcasters, is tightly controlled by the president. So is the completely dominant radio channel Radio Belarus. The BelTA National News Agency (Belaruskaje Telegrafnaje Ahentstva) was founded in 1931. There are 299 radio and 342 TV receivers per 1,000 residents (2000).


According to APARENTINGBLOG, the cultural tradition in Belarus has roots in the Kiev Empire in the 11th century and the Lithuanian period in the 13th century. Today’s most notable cultural personality is the author Svetlana Alekseevich, who received the Nobel Prize in literature in 2015.

A well-known artist originating in Belarus is Marc Chagall, who grew up in Vitebsk’s Jewish ghetto around the turn of the 1900s. City motifs are common in his paintings. However, Chagall lived most of his life in France.

Belarussian literature experienced a rebirth in the early 1900s, when national writers Janka Kupala and Jakob Kolas laid the foundations for the modern Belarussian language. During the Stalin years (1924–1953) much of the Belarusian culture was banned. The struggle for independence to a large extent also became a struggle to regain it.

Svetlana Aleksijevich was awarded the Nobel Prize for his “multifaceted works, a monument of suffering and courage in our time”. Among her books in Swedish is the documentary interview book “Prayer for Chernobyl”. Mention should also be made of Vasil Bykau, who was internationally recognized for his works on the Second World War. Bykau was a prominent critic of President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime. The poet and human rights activist Uladzimir Njakljajeu, who was a candidate in the 2010 presidential election, was awarded the Swedish Pens Tucholsky Award in 2011. Only in 2014 was he given the opportunity to receive the award.

Belarus has a strong singing and folk music tradition. Every year, the international music festival “Slavic Market in Vitebsk” takes place in the city of Vitebsk.

There are also alternative cultural movements that, among other things, seem to strengthen the position of the Belarusian language. The independent Gallery Y in Minsk has a bookstore that sells books written and translated into Belarusian, a design shop, exhibition hall and a café where young Minsk residents gather. The gallery also organizes seminars and debates on art and culture.

In the villages of Nezvizh and Mir there are castles that are listed on the UN agency UNESCO World Heritage List. In the city of Brest is a large fortress which, after the Second World War, received the epithet heroic fortification because of the courage that Soviet soldiers showed when fighting there against the German Nazi army in 1941.

Another attraction is the Belovezhskaya Pushtja National Park, which is also on the World Heritage List. The nature area that is shared with Poland is best known in Sweden as the Białowieża forest.

In Grodno there is the Great Synagogue, whose history dates back to the 16th century, although the building is of newer dates. Only some of the former many synagogues in Belarus are preserved, as Jews in the country were subjected to severe persecution both by Nazi Germany and by the Soviet Union during the Stalin era.



The EU promises support to countries in the east

November 24

Representatives of the EU and six former Soviet republics meet in Brussels. The EU promises deeper cooperation with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The EU does not place a view on membership of the Union, on the other hand, help fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law and modernize the countries’ economy.

Latvia announces border fencing

November 1st

In neighboring Latvia, a chief within the border guard announces that a twelve-mile-long fence, with barbed wire, is to be traveled along the border. It will happen as soon as the Latvian finishes building a similar fence at its border with Russia and is expected to be ready by 2020.

Imprisonment for protests

November 1st

The poet and opposition politician Vladimir Nekliyev was sentenced to ten days in prison by a Minsk court for calling for protests against President Lukashenko’s rule. Regime critic Mikola Statkevich was sentenced for the end of October to five days in prison. The ruling against Statkevich was about a demonstration in September against a military exercise held jointly with Russia.


Demonstration against the Belarusian regime

21 October

At least 200 people are participating in a demonstration in Minsk demanding, among other things, that President Lukashenko resign. They also protest the widespread bullying in the Belarusian army, which since 2008 has driven at least 37 conscripts into suicide. The demonstration is led by opposition politician Mikola Statkevich.


“Decreased respect for human rights”

May 22

The UN Rapporteur for Belarus writes in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that respect for human rights in the country has deteriorated dramatically. According to the reporter Miklós Haraszti, the regime has fallen back to repression on a large scale after, for a few years, most often refrained from using violence. In particular, he points to the crackdown on demonstrations in March against the “sponges law” – a special tax law for those who do not have full-time employment – when over 900 people were arrested for no apparent reason, including opposition politicians, human rights activists, journalists and foreign visitors.

Opposition movement is registered

May 16

Opposition movement Govori Pravdyu (Say the truth) is allowed to register after every year since 2010 has been denied all applications.


Disguised criticism of Russia

April 21

In a televised speech, President Lukashenko said it was difficult to establish “equal and mutually respectful relations” within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEA). He complains about constant disputes between the countries, accusations of price wars and unwillingness to create joint funds. He says the Eurasian market cannot be “a particular country’s market”. Assessors say that Russia has long wanted to use the EEA to strengthen Russia’s influence in the former Soviet Union and to create a counterbalance to the EU.


The mass arrest during protests

March 25th

Kravall police seize hundreds of people in Minsk to stop a planned major protest that the regime declared illegal. Among the arrested are several journalists, but also people who just happened to be nearby. In a raid against the civil rights organization Vjasna’s office, nearly 60 people are arrested, among them several foreign observers. They will be released later. Prominent opposition politician Uladzimir Njakljajeu is stopped at the border when he arrives by train from Poland and is detained.

Lukashenko: “Armed provocateurs” arrested

21 March

President Lukashenko says that about twenty armed people who planned an “armed provocation” have been arrested. He suggests that they received military training in their home country but also in Ukraine and “probably” in Lithuania and Poland as well. Lukashenko also describes its political opponents as “fifth columnists” who, with Western funding and support from Western intelligence services, want to create tension in Belarus.

Protests are growing in strength

March 15th

About 3,000 people take part in a protest march through Minsk, where, among other things, demands are made for Lukashenko to resign. Participants in the march say that the protests are not only aimed at the “sponge tax” but equally against the difficult living conditions. In the town of Grodno, the police arrest the organizers of a protest march with about 800 participants. Since the demonstrations began in February, about 100 people have been arrested according to the human rights group Vjasna. Several of them must have been sentenced to prison for up to two weeks.

The arrest during continued protests

the 12th of March

Although Lukashenko temporarily halted the “sponge tax” protests continue and spread. Several opposition politicians and at least three journalists are arrested in connection with a demonstration in the city of Orsja. In Maladzejna, thousands of people attend a protest rally, and in Pinsk, hundreds protest against the regime. At the same time as Lukashenko said that the tax on unemployed would not be collected until further notice, he ordered the Interior Minister to establish “perfect order” in the country.

Collection of “sponge tax” is canceled

March 9

President Lukashenko announces that the recovery of a special tax from the unemployed (see February) will be suspended for the remainder of 2017. He criticizes local authorities for being overly zealous and says innocents have been affected. But the opposition claims the play is merely an attempt to silence the unusually widespread protests and that resistance to the “sponge tax” is continuing.


Protest against “sponge tax”

February 17th

A few thousand people in Minsk participate in one of the largest demonstrations in Belarus in many years. They object to a tax of about SEK 1,700 introduced by President Lukashenko to punish the “social parasites” who work less than 183 days a year. The tax is reminiscent of the attitude during the Soviet era, when those who did not have full-time work and who were not registered as job seekers were labeled as “smarter”. About 430,000 Belarusians have been ordered to pay the tax by February 20, but the days before the deadline expire, only about 10 percent have done so.

Moscow faces checks along the border

February 1st

As a result of Belarus’s decision in January to abolish the visa requirement for a number of nationals on short visits, Russia sets up checks at its border with Belarus. A “security zone” is set up on the Russian side of the border. Russian authorities justify the decision that visa facilitation to Belarus poses a security threat to Russia, but also says that it is not really about regular border checks but just about “following the flow of people” across the border. However, President Lukashenko describes the situation as Russia trying to “take strikes on Belarus” and suspects the neighboring country of planning to violate a number of current agreements on, inter alia, energy supplies.


Facilitating visa requirements

January 9

The government decides to abolish the visa requirement for citizens of 80 countries for a maximum of five days. The relief applies to, among others, citizens of the EU countries and the United States arriving by air.

Belarus Culture

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