January 12, 1959 - October 20, 2004
People Never Lie As Often As Before an Election
by Veronika Cherkasova
During the hot summer of 1994, in the heat of the Belarus presidential election campaign, Aleksandr Lukashenko called a press conference. Facing reporters in the national press center, he was asking for their help. Hovering around were his comrades – Leonid Sinitsin and Viktor Sheyman.
“My campaign headquarters prepared an address expressly for you, dear journalists,” Aleksandr Grigoryevich announced.
Leonid Sinitsin read the text:
“The first round of elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus showed the power of the journalistic word. Yet at the same time, the journalists demonstrated their helplessness under conditions of the state’s absolute monopoly on information. Conclusions and opinions were imposed on them. In television and radio broadcasts they were forced to say words that did not correspond to their own civic positions. Since June 23, 1994, the situation has radically changed.
In fact, our people have made their choice by voting against poverty, lies, and lack of rights. Against the course of the current government. The presidential election actually turned out to be a vote of no confidence for the authorities, and the authorities were unable (even if they wanted) to conceal the will of the people. Although those on their way out are still trying to influence the people, their time has come. The people freed themselves from the fear of those who sat above. The press, too, must rid itself from this fear today.
We make no secret that our team, the team of Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko, believes in our victory. This is why, in case of a victory, we can guarantee all members of the mass media the following:
This is how it all happened. The iron chancellor Otto von Bismarck noted once that people never lie as often as during a war, after a hunt and before an election. Although, are they really lying? Possibly, at the moment when a politician is uttering his campaign promises, he truly believes that he will keep them.
Even for a while after the election a politician still believes this and keeps promising: at the first press conference after his election as the President of the Republic of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko announced that “Belorusskaya Molodezhnaya” (a youth radio station) and “Krynitsa” (a youth magazine) must be restored.
But then he realized that he got all he wanted and it would be okay to stop promising.
Things changed overnight: in December of 1994, the year of Lukashenko’s victory, three newspapers went to press with blank spots instead of a censored report by Sergey Antonchik. And since then there has been no stopping it: signing the decree that dismissed Igor Osinsky from his post as editor-in-chief of “Sovyetskaya Byelorussiya,” then firing Iosif Seredich, editor-in-chief of “Narodnaya Gazeta,” closing the “8th Independent Channel,” firing editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Znamya Yunosti” Mikhail Katyushenko…
From April to July 1995, five shows of the “Politika” studio were taken off the air. Ironically, the first show, “Teledebates,” was cancelled personally by Mr. Sinitsin who at the earlier memorable press conference personally read the statement promising to end the state monopoly on mass media and to cease political censorship.
The tone and the content of presidential statements changed: “If a newspaper permits even the slightest inaccuracy, there’ll be no newspaper.” “Journalists of the Russian radio stations, I want to officially warn you: pack and go back to Moscow before we find you.” How’s that for a breath of press freedom?
Only a year after his election, Aleksandr Lukashenko declared in an address on national television that the independent media had “run out of time,” adding that they shouldn’t “hold a grudge later.” What are you talking about, Aleksandr Grigoryevich? Nobody would hold a grudge against you… But, where would you be today without those journalists to whom you were appealing to join forces with you in order to pull the people away from the abyss and shed the proverbial chains of slavery? Whom would you be blaming for the “incorrectly interpreted” statements all these years?
If not for us, you’d be convinced that your words could be taken at face value. What a disasterous delusion that would be! And please don’t hold a grudge against us for this publication: wasn’t it you who showed what your campaign promises and proclamations are worth?
Aleksandr Grigoryevich! We endorse every word of your passionate 1994 address. The question is: would you say it again today?
Published in the newspaper “Nasha Svaboda” (“Our Freedom”) on February 7, 2001
In exchange, we are asking for only one thing today: gather your courage and prove to the people that you serve their interests and not those of the ruling clique that is pushing the people into an abyss. Show the people that you are able to objectively cover the events and are not concerned with only your own wellbeing. Our common goal – of both politicians and the press – is to pull the people away from the abyss. And together we can accomplish this, if we have enough civic courage.
Let us gather our patience and try to enable the people to stand up and the press to inhale a breath of freedom. It is wrong to live as slaves, rule over slaves and raise slaves. I believe in your courage, integrity and sense of professionalism.”
- Liquidation of the state media monopoly, cessation of political censorship.
- Cessation of political persecution of journalists, security and decent jobs for the members of all mass media who were, against their will, involved in the campaign of lies and defamation against Vyacheslav Kebich’s political opponents.
- Creation of normal conditions for journalists’ creative work and their free access to information, independent of bureaucrats’ will.