Address of President of the Republic of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko at the plenary session of the 15th World Congress of the Russian Press

    It is a pleasure to meet with you today because as an experienced politician I sometimes intuitively feel the audience. And today this hall is filled with the spirit of not only democracy and freedom, but also with the atmosphere of freethinking, if I may say so. This atmosphere has always contributed to the development of any society. That is why I feel that today this forum brought together such people, mainly journalists, writers, public figures.

    Dear friends,

    Belarus hosts such a prestigious forum for the first time and we are sincerely glad to welcome you on the Belarusian land. Unfortunately, this is the first such forum in the country. We should have held it in the Belarusian land before.

    By the way, I see many famous people in this hall. I think they are my old friends. I am convinced that after the congress I will be able to say the same about every one of you.

    Although you represent different countries, the mass media you work for express different views on global developments, you are all united by the great, rich and wise Russian language. It is the Russian language that creates the unique spiritual space uniting millions of people from all over the world.

    Belarus has a special attitude to the Russian language because it is the state language in the country. We, the entire Belarusian nation, made this principled decision at the referendum back in 1995.

    Today it is unbelievable that there were times when our radical nationalists wanted to oust not only the Russian language, but also all Russian people from Belarus. Fortunately, we coped with this threat. We managed to build a peaceful and quiet country where no one would ever think of harassing others just because they speak “the wrong” language.

    Peaceful, calm and secure life, civil accord are the fundamental values which are safeguarded by the Belarusians and which, as we can see, are a rear thing in the modern world.

    When making the decision to grant the Russian language the status of a state language, we were guided by a clear understanding that the great Russian language which is the foundation of one of the richest cultures is the common heritage of all people who once created our common Fatherland.

    Is it possible to say that renowned writer Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol was only Russian or only Ukrainian? And we should not forget that the genius of the Russian literature, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, is of the Belarusian origin.

    It is inseparable, just like the grand Russian language is inseparable. Belarusians, Ukrainians, Muscovites, Siberians, Jews, Tatars, all the peoples living in our vast and once common country, made a contribution to the formation and development of the language.

    I remember very well the storm of criticism I received from our local radicals-nationalists after I said that the Russian language is a native tongue for Belarusian people and it is a common heritage of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians…

    I stick to the same view today. The Russian language was at the root of the great Russian culture that is also a common heritage of many peoples, including us, provided we understand the notion of the Russian culture and the Russian civilization in a broad meaning of the word.

    The Russian civilization and the Russian-speaking world created paramount moral values and cultural achievements.

    We used these values to build our statehood and the Belarusian development model.

    Solidarity and justice are the two words that can most fully describe the principles we adhere to . These are the principles glorified in the great Russian literature.

    We in Belarus were unable and unwilling to embrace rationalistic principles of individualism that underpin the free market philosophy that says that the strongest will survive. Kindness, respect for a human being, helping the weak are the supreme Christian values that have always inspired the Russian civilization. They constitute the basis of the Belarusian socio-economic model.

    We rejected radical reforms because they would have ruined hundreds of thousands of lives. The principles of solidarity, mutual assistance when the society is happy for successes of the strong, supports the weak and protects the underprivileged have made the basis of our social policy.

    The principle of justice is equally important for us. We have never advocated equality in poverty. However, we respect only those who earned their money and wealth in an honest way, by painstaking work and talent, not by a chance or by cheating or stealing.

    There is no conspicuous gap between the rich and the poor in Belarus. There is no property that was stolen from people. We have made it clear for our own selves that the economic system based on sheer deceit cannot be steady. Those who acquired wealth without earning it will not be able to make good use of it. Only those who grew rich owing to their hard work and talent will be able to manage their money efficiently.

    Total removal of ethic principles from the economy will backfire on the very economic system making it parasitic and inefficient.

    This is a significant difference of the Belarusian model. However, this is also a congeniality and affinity with genuine spiritual values of the Russian-speaking world and the Russian civilization in the broad meaning of the word that we all belong to.

    The same can be said about politics. Probably, you know that Belarus is often accused of lacking freedom of speech. It is ludicrous to accuse anyone of this in the Internet era. Usually these are hypocritical people. They understand perfectly well that there is no absolute freedom in the world. He who does not depend on the government, is dependent on the owner of the newspaper, advertisers, vagaries of the public, and after all, on mistakes, emotions and delusions of journalists.

    There is no universal formula to ensure the objectivity of the press. And even the countries which pride themselves on centuries-old traditions of freedom of speech often have to deal with the scandals exposing the underside of many modern media outlets.

    We have heard many stories of information manipulation, illegal wiretapping, paid-for publications, public opinion manipulation on the part of global media corporations.

    The new electronic era has exacerbated these problems even further. By giving the humankind the unprecedented opportunities of instant communication, it has abruptly lowered the bar for quality journalism, and the responsibility of journalists themselves.

    Consumers of information themselves who were initially thrilled by the free flow of electronic information are confused today. If earlier the newspaper was responsible for its words, verified facts and maintained a minimum level of good faith, today it is unclear whom to believe, how to distinguish between fact and rumor and what to do with the eye-catching information which tomorrow will turn out to be a duck, idle talk or provocation. And not even tomorrow, just half an hour later.

    Ironically, this phenomenon has the upside too. Disappointment in the low-quality information flow will be increasing. Accordingly, the demand for high-quality, intelligent and reliable journalism will increase.

    I think that it is no big problem that the huge rise in popularity of the Internet may lead to the crisis of the printed press. As far as I know, many such publications run electronic versions and successfully compete online. This reaffirms the simple fact: the living word is the main thing. This has always been the case in human history and probably will remain so. The word and the thought have been delivered by different technical means: from ancient papyrus to contemporary computer networks. But still the meaning and the content have always had been the main thing.

    It is early to talk about the disappearance of the profession of a journalist, publisher and editor. The Internet technically makes everyone “a journalist” and he can write about anything he wants. But it does not mean that each is guaranteed the readers’ attention, success and recognition. Despite any technical progress, experience and skills remain to be a rare thing today. Truly talented articles still require hard labor, sharp intellect and strong will. That is why the future of the press, the future of mass media will rest in the hands of such people as you – talented, honest and committed journalists.

    And here, of course, your journalist solidarity is very important. The World Congress of the Russian Press is not only the laboratory to study the processes which take place in Russian-language media outlets published somewhere between Iceland and Australia, Brazil and Japan, but also a priceless experience of new contacts.

    I am glad that successful in this field are my good friends Vitaly Ignatenko and Mikhail Gusman who have reached impressive progress in developing the world network of Russian-language press.

    If you need help of Belarus, we are all yours.

    Dear friends,

    I send my best greetings to all participants of the World Congress of the Russian Press. I am convinced that the forum will be a success. You will have many interesting meetings. I think that those of you who came to Belarus for the first time will learn a lot about the country. It is a shame that a 25 year-old person who speaks Russian has never been to Belarus. I think every human being should come here at least once. I strongly hope that you will like this land that cannot by strange for you because all of us are Russian people, we share a unique feature – one and the same language. For our part, we will do our best to help you leave the best and warmest memories about in Belarus.

    When I was proposed to organize such a congress, I realized that it is huge responsibility. I weighed all pros and cons. But one of the practical reasons for me was that the congress will give journalists from our regions a chance to meet with you. This is unique experience and good practice for our journalists.

    Once again, dear friends, I extend the best greetings on behalf of the Belarusian nation. Today all Belarusian people will know that you are guests here. You will go to the most sacred place, the Brest Fortress, which should be visited by every Russian person. You will see the places where our common victory which saved Europe from the ordeals of Nazism started. God forbid this never happens again! Perhaps, this is one of the major goals of the congress.

    Good luck!