Writing at Open Democracy, Lorenzo Berardi explores Poland’s role as a base for opposition radio broadcasting into Belarus.
It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon in December 2015 and many cars sporting Belarusian number plates are maneuvering their way in and out of the parking lot of Centrum Handlowy Marki, a shopping centre on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. As there are only 200 kilometres separating the Polish capital from the border with Belarus this is hardly a surprising sight. The distance between Warsaw and Minsk is less than the one between the Polish capital and Berlin.
Both Poland and Belarus held presidential elections last year. In May 2015 Polish voters chose the then underdog candidate, Andrzej Duda, instead of backing the president in office, Bronisław Komorowski (an outcome confirmed by the following parliamentary elections). In October last year Belarusians voted en masse for their president running for his fifth term. Alexander Lukashenko has now been leading Belarus for twenty-one years in a row, winning the latest elections with a staggering 83.47% of the vote.
To the casual observer such a landslide victory may suggest that Belarus is a stable and united country, but in fact part of Lukashenko’s success lies in controlling the national media. So much so that today only the friendly voices of State-approved televisions, radios and newspapers can be read and heard in Belarus, with the only exceptions being a few independent websites and online newspapers.
No surprise then that neighbouring Poland hosts many independent Belarusian media organisations backed by international subjects and targeting the 9.5 million people living in Belarus as their main audience. A list of Belarusian ‘non-State’ media broadcasting from Poland includes the satellite television channel Belsat TV, the website of the Charter 97 organisation as well as radio stations such as Białystok based Radio Racyja and Warsaw based Eŭrapéjskaje Rádyjo dla Biełarúsi (European Radio for Belarus).