|With free enterprise stifled, opposition activists detained, and independent
media restricted, the Soviet-style rule of President Aleksander Lukashenko
continued to have disastrous effects on Belarus' economic and political life.
The United States and other Western governments withdrew their ambassadors
after Lukashenko locked diplomats out of their Minsk houses in June. And
Belarussian citizens warned that their president's disdain for the West reflects
his ultimate goal: to rule a Slavic union that includes Russia.
To combat his critics, Lukashenko increased the already onerous restrictions
on the media. In April, the press in Minsk learned of an undated, secret
government memorandum that directed state agencies not to give resolutions,
orders, or other official documents to non-state media. The memorandum also
barred state officials from commenting about official documents to independent
journalists, and restricted state advertising to state-run media. The latter
move was a severe financial threat to the emerging independent press, which
mainly consists of small-circulation daily and weekly newspapers.
In May, CPJ named Lukashenko one of the world's 10 worst Enemies
of the Press for the second year in a row. When that news was reported
by the Minsk-based independent weekly Zdravy Smysl, the State
Committee on the Press issued a warning to the paper, charging it had provided
"distorted information. "The warning was based on the newspaper's use of the
word "decree" to describe the secret memorandum forbidding distribution of
government documents to non-state media.
In November, Lukashenko refused to allow Pavel Sheremet, Minsk bureau chief
for Russian ORT television and editor of Belorusskaya Delovaya
Gazeta, to travel to New York City to receive CPJ's 1998 International
Press Freedom Award. Sheremet is a citizen of Belarus and ORT bureau chief
in Minsk. The Belarus government has frequently targeted him for official
harassment, including imprisonment, stripping him of his professional
credentials, and barring him from traveling abroad. On November 26, two days
after CPJ's awards ceremony, the government finally told Sheremet he was
free to travel. Instead of going to New York City, Sheremet received the
award from a CPJ delegation that traveled to Minsk on December 8 to present
the honor before dozens of independent journalists, diplomats, and Belarussian