The work schedule of the Belarus president is always full of events. Aleksandr Lukashenko holds conferences and working meetings on the most topical matters for the country's development, regularly visits the regions, goes on foreign trips and welcomes foreign guests, talks to reporters, signs decrees and laws… And even if there are no public events, it does not mean that the head of state does not work. It must be said that even when he relaxes, for instance, by playing ice hockey or chopping firewood, Aleksandr Lukashenko sometimes finds the time to give yet another instruction. All the decisions must be prompted by life, he likes to say.
The President's Week project is intended for those, who want to keep up with the head of state, be up-to-date on the latest statements and decisions of the Belarusian leader.
What will Belarus and Russia do to counteract the pressure of sanctions and information pressure of the collective West? How does the Union State development advance and does it threaten sovereignty? Why should we not follow ultrafashionable trends and what national staples does Belarus have? We will also talk about details of the traditional reception hosted on behalf of the president on Old New Year where Aleksandr Lukashenko presented government awards and spoke about the most topical matters of the day.
All of it and much more than that can be found in the new episode of BelTA's special project President's Week.
JUST WHAT WE NEED. What matter should be the most important one in the Union State of Belarus and Russia?
Aleksandr Lukashenko began the work week with a meeting with State Secretary of the Union State of Belarus and Russia Dmitry Mezentsev. The meeting took place in the Palace of Independence on 9 January.
Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “It is good that this year is beginning with this event. Sincerely speaking, we have to update the agenda of the Union State and begin by summarizing the accomplishments and sketching out future steps. With this in mind it is necessary to organize an offline meeting of supreme bodies of our Union State. I think we could opt for holding a session of the Council of Ministers and using the results to determine the timing of the session of the Supreme State Council, which will involve top officials of our Union State.”
The realization of sectoral programs should be the key item on the bilateral agenda, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “Economic programs, scientific programs, humanitarian programs and other programs that we finance. Curtailing them is out of the question. We have to only increase funding on the basis of the most relevant principles and directions of our work in economy: import substitution and so on. What our states need today. Both Belarus and Russia,” the president noted.
Dmitry Mezentsev brought a number of proposals to the meeting with the head of state. The president mentioned some of them. “I absolutely accept and like the proposal to eradicate red-tape in the operation of the Standing Committee (you are officials first and foremost) and for you, the Standing Committee to send the main messages and impulses for debureaucratizing the system relating to the operation of Union State bodies,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
After the meeting with the head of state Dmitry Mezentsev told reporters about the joint response of Belarus and Russia to modern challenges: “The joint practice of forming import substitution programs, new manufacturing chains, a new technological paradigm represents an answer to challenges, including the sanctions-fuelled pressure. We would like Union State programs to work for the benefit of real sectors of the economy. Eight programs like that have been sketched out this year in the sphere of microelectronics, high technologies, defense of the Union State, and space industry.”
According to the state secretary, the next sessions of the Union State Council of Ministers and the Supreme State Council will be dedicated to analyzing what has been done so far and working out new tasks that will emphasize the depth and the scale of integration-based interaction of Belarus and Russia. The matter of dropping roaming charges will be raised once again. “This work has to complete. The presidents gave the relevant instructions. We also suggested the presidents should look into the matter of symbols of the Union State. I am convinced that the instructions that will be given will allow determining via a collective, public opinion the flag, the anthem that will correspond to the stage of relations that exists between Belarus and Russia today,” Dmitry Mezentsev stressed.
UNION STATE INFOFIST. What is Lukashenko's stance on the format of the joint media holding company?
The meeting with Dmitry Mezentsev also focused on another matter that is very close to the state secretary, whose work had been related to journalism and mass media in the past. Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “We discussed the matter of setting up a joint media holding company once. I understand that press secretaries of Belarus and Russia have moved away from this work for some reason and left it either to you to handle on your own (although such things cannot be accomplished single-handedly). I'd like to remind you once again: it is our common decision, the decision of the presidents of Belarus and Russia to create a good, proper, powerful, and definitely modern [media holding company]. Otherwise, we are going to waste money with zero effect. I don't like attaching companies to something else. We need an independent holding company that lives up to the times.”
The president remarked that time itself requires it. “To whom can we attach ourselves today? To whom can Belarus and Russia attach themselves? It is our destiny to walk together and for someone else to get attached to us. This is why I think that this media holding company has to start working this year, preferably in the first half of the year,” he said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the administrations of the presidents of Belarus and Russia should work on the matter together with the Standing Committee of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. “Dmitry Fyodorovich [Mezentsev] cannot move this rock on his own. But his activeness, experience, and knowledge in this sphere should help us a lot. At least you know how the operation of the holding company has to be organized and it is very important. We know some proposals of yours of this kind. They are received absolutely normally in Belarus. One thing though, Sergei Fyodorovich [Aleinik]. This complex, this media holding company has to be self-directed, independent if we want to create something serious and completely fulfill the 28 programs, which we put together back in the day. This movement has to continue,” Aleksandr Lukashenko told Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Aleinik, who was present during the meeting.
MORE THAN A BANG. What issues did the Belarusian-Russian agenda contain and how are the 28 Union State programs being implemented?
The advancement of Belarus-Russia relations and, in particular, progress in implementing 28 sectoral Union State programs were discussed at a government conference hosted by the president on Thursday, 12 January. The relevant programs were adopted at a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia slightly more than a year before. “We were in agreement back then that their implementation would significantly advance the efforts to ensure equal rights of individuals and economic entities of the two countries. Equal conditions for people and companies are the foundation for our relations with fraternal Russia. That is why we agreed on many decisions regarding our cooperation with the Russian Federation,” the head of state explained. According to him, the programs primarily concern economic integration, creation of an environment conducive to manufacturing cooperation between companies of the two countries.
The programs and departmental plans contain about 1,000 steps and measures on implementing them. Deadlines and responsible individuals have been specified, the president reminded. “About 70% of such activities have already been completed. However, the implementation of some of the important [activities] is lagging behind the agreed schedules. I am told that our Russian partners are moving slowly on a number of issues. Yet I always say that we cannot put the blame on just one side. We are also under-performing in some areas,” the president said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that a lot of work had been done to create and adjust the legal framework for interstate cooperation. “Yet, despite the implementation of most of the measures, Belarus has not yet seen any noticeable progress, primarily in energy sector, manufacturing, and transport,” he continued. “The implementation of the programs to create common markets for natural gas, oil and oil products required consideration at the highest level. During the December talks with the president of Russia, the necessary solutions were found (at least for three years). Work is now underway to formalize these arrangements in existing documents,” the president added.
The president emphasized that everything should be transparent when it comes to such important areas of work as harmonization of tax legislation and coordination of tax and customs control at the borders of the Union State. “The Russians are okay with Belarusian representatives inspecting any point of the border to see what is going on there. Traceability, control over commodity flows - you have to admit, this is an important matter for any state,” he said.
Speaking about prospects, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that Belarus will continue to deepen economic integration with Russia, but talks about a new package of integration documents can begin only after the previous one is implemented in full. “If at least one clause is not implemented, there can be no talk about a new package of integration documents. We made a point of it with the president of the Russian Federation at the latest meeting in St Petersburg,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. The president urged to make the greatest possible effort to implement the programs and to avoid delays in decision-making. “Yet, there shouldn't be any haste either. God forbid we make a mistake,” he warned. Aleksandr Lukashenko called for treading carefully and cautiously, especially now when the two countries are jointly resisting the rampant pressure of sanctions from the so-called collective West.
The president drew attention to the fact that the governments of Belarus and Russia and the prime ministers personally are responsible for the implementation of the integration programs. “All the issues that you raised with the presidents have been resolved. Solutions have been found. We live a normal life. The conditions for the operation of our enterprises, companies and for people's life are a bit better than last year and maybe even more than just a bit.” In particular, it is true for the energy resources Belarus gets from Russia. “As for our dependence on Russia's natural gas, oil, petroleum products and other commodities, things are better now. If something has not been formalized yet and is not reflected by documents, you can discuss and decide on it with the prime minister, the government. The heads of state have made all the necessary decisions. Sincerely speaking: Russia has responded favorably to everything that we've asked,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed.
“I warn you that there has been no talk of Russia or Belarus giving up their sovereignty, and there can't be such talk. There is simply no need [for that]. The existing format of cooperation with Russia has not been exhausted yet,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
The president remarked that if the two countries see at some point in the future that additional decisions are needed to promote integration and facilitate economic convergence, the relevant matters will be discussed.
The head of state emphasized that it was not just a decision of the presidents of the two countries to pass the 28 Union State programs. The adoption of the programs had been preceded by a long period of preparatory work. “Putin and I did not make any decisions off the cuff. We did not. The officials in charge had met and discussed these programs at the Supreme State Council. We approved these programs. But there were a lot of sparks when we were adopting these programs,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
He recalled that at one time there were various proposals as to what to include in the integration package, up to the proposal to create a parliament and other things. However, in the end Belarus and Russia agreed on those 28 programs that are currently being implemented, and everything else was rejected. It was decided that if the two countries were not yet ready to address some issues, they should be put aside for the time being. “We will make decisions on them if needed. That was what was said. And we have always insisted that first things first. It was of fundamental importance. And these 28 programs remained. They deal with social and economic matters as well as security matters. Time has changed and those security programs that we approved more than a year ago are no longer relevant . We have already moved very far in our bilateral relations when it comes to security matters,” the president said.
“In other words, life gave us a nudge and we embraced closer integration. This is how we should act. Decisions prompted by life. Otherwise, we will ruin everything,” the Belarusian leader added.
NATIONAL STAPLES. Why should one fear ultrafashionable values and trends?
The presentation of Spiritual Revival awards, special prizes for workers of culture and art, and the special prize Belarusian Sport Olympus is a traditional event on the president's schedule. Presidential decrees to bestow these awards were signed in late 2022 but the solemn award ceremony always takes place soon after the celebration of Orthodox Christmas and represents a continuation of this light and beautiful holiday for the entire family. This time it took place in the Palace of the Republic on 10 January. “The prizes we present on these winter days every year are a tribute to the original traditions that connect ages and generations. A tribute to the spiritual force of Belarusians, who are wise and hardworking, Belarusians, who love their native land and honor the ancestors,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.”
“But we've always known and today we recognize particularly acutely that all the material and immaterial values created by the Belarusian nation act as staples, on which basis the national statehood was born and developed. “They are in works of the first enlighteners of the Belarusian land, in the temples, palaces, and museums built by our architects, in works of music, pictorial art, poetry, and prose created by our talented compatriots. They are in heroic deeds of the winner nation, which gifted us peace, independence, the very right to live; heroic deeds of the hardworking nation, which revived the native land after it was scorched by fire. We see them in Orthodox Christianity, which united Slavs into an ancient state and taught them mercy, love for peace, and love for their neighbors over 1,000 years ago,” the president stated.
He pointed out that national cultures and traditions cannot be adapted to match a unified standard, that the world is beautiful thanks to its diversity. The fact is confirmed by the history of the Belarusian state where people of different faiths and different ethnic origins have lived for over a century in accord while enriching each other spiritually. “And if there is accord and respect, then there will be peace,” Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced. “We also understand that our example is a genuine challenge for the project bent on global unification to match ultrafashionable values and so-called trends forced upon the entire world. We understand that this cultural expansion (it is also called soft expansion) will be followed by not exactly soft, I'd even say, quite hard consequences for independent states: the loss of statehood and sovereignty. The loss of oneself as a nation. This is why it is necessary to remember that the future of our kids depends on how we safeguard the purity of the native tongue, on what holidays and symbols we allow to enter our home. If we want them to live freely and independently in our land the way we do, we should first and foremost learn how to differentiate native traditions from foreign ones.”
Addressing laureates of the awards and prizes, Aleksandr Lukashenko said part of his speech in Belarusian. “Your creative accomplishments represent an invigorating wellspring that fills the treasury of national culture. I know well that you don't do your work in order to get awards or material benefits. Your professional and life path has been chosen by your heart. This is why you are worthy of high praise and deep respect of the people like no one else. With your spiritual, creative, and professional accomplishments you create the future of our Belarus. I am very proud of you and deeply grateful for your work,” the head of state stressed.
Aleksandr Lukashenko continued: “With particular respect I'd like to say a few words about today's laureates. About the people, who are dedicated to their work and with their own example promote ideals of mercy and kindness in the contemporary society, raise young Belarusians as patriots, and pass their great and sincere love for the native land onto them. By implementing cultural and educational projects of special importance, you help preserve historical truth and eternal legacy of the Belarusian nation.”
He wished everyone peace, well, good health, new accomplishments for the benefit of the native country, artistic discoveries and sport victories in the new year of 2023.
EVERYONE CAN DANCE. Who was invited to the presidential ball and what depends on these people?
A traditional reception on Old New Year on behalf of the president ended the week's series of public events. The reception took place on 14 January.
“Dear friends! The winter holidays are coming to an end. We celebrated these holidays well: in the comfort and warmth of home, at the festive table, but most importantly, under the peaceful Belarusian sky. Traditionally, I thank all of you for your work, for your position, which in this difficult time is a reliable support for our state,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “And, of course, I thank you for your creativity and talent (as I understand, we have exceptionally talented and creative people in this hall today). Without these qualities given to you by the God, the New Year and Christmas days would not be so fascinating and interesting. When the country was holidaying, you were working: at children's shows, street concert venues, on television. Therefore, tonight is your holiday! You deserve this holiday.”
Journalists, political analysts, artists, athletes, representatives of various professions and spheres of activity, top officials, and heads of government bodies and enterprises were invited to the presidential reception.
“In short, the people who are immersed in the political life of the country and the world. The people who, frankly speaking, make this policy and create this world. I will put it bluntly: no matter what information agenda or other agenda we face, we, Belarusians have always built our policy and way of life independently, and we will continue to do so. It depends on all of us, about 300 people present here, what our country will be like and what kind of life we will have in our land,” the head of state said. “No external circumstances and threats will change our goals. Our choice is creation."
"We purposefully moved from the Year of National Unity to the Year of Historical Memory, knowing that the former is simply impossible without the latter and vice versa. Just as it is impossible to imagine the future, a good, bright future, without such concepts as peace and creation. This is how we want to see 2023 – the Year of Peace and Creation. And not only in our own land," the president emphasized.
The head of state noted that even those who opposed the state, as they say, the “regime” yesterday understand this today. “Today they see their salvation in this regime. About 90% of them. I've already talked about this in the temple: we are ready for this. In what form it will be, what path they should take to come home is up to you to decide,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.
“Dear friends! I have every confidence in you and millions of people like you, true patriots. Therefore, I will repeat what I said on 7 January: this year should definitely be better. We promised this to people,” the Belarusian leader said.
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko bestowed awards upon reporters and cultural workers during the reception.
“Well done to all of you! I know, however, that your creative potential is still hugely untapped. Time requires more action from each of us. I hope that we, having already rung in the New Year, have become thoroughly involved in solving the tasks that we have to address this year. I mean that we have already set to work. I count on this very much,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko. “I wish you to continue discovering new sides of yourselves, conquering new heights in your profession, trying to be one step ahead of the current moment we are talking about.”
The president stressed that he was presenting well-deserved awards with a sense of great pride and sincere gratitude. “We have not forgotten that there are the very best. Today we are celebrating a little bit of the best of us,” the head of state added.
In recognition of fruitful work, outstanding professionalism, a significant personal contribution to the development of national journalism and television, outstanding achievements in the sphere of theater art and music art Francysk Skaryna medals were bestowed upon Head of the Belarus President Activities Coverage Department of the Belarusian Telegraph Agency Vladimir Matveyev, Head of the Culture News Department of the Main Directorate Television News Agency of the Belarusian National State Television and Radio Company Mikhail Revutsky, Editor of the Belarus President Activities Coverage Department of the publishing house Belarus Segodnya Yevgeny Kononovich, a soloist of the National Academic Folk Orchestra named after I. Zhinovich Andrei Kolosov, Principal Director of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater Anna Motornaya, and a soloist, leading stage foreman of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theater Dmitry Shabetya.
Eight mass media workers received presidential thanks in recognition of their significant personal contributions to the realization of the state information policy, outstanding professionalism, objective and in-depth coverage of public, political, social, and cultural events in the country's life. Head of the Internet Resources Support and Development Department of the Belarusian Telegraph Agency Natalya Yeremich was one of them.