The European Commission's plans to fund independent radio and television broadcasts into Belarus were met by harsh and sometimes scathing criticism in the European Parliament's foreign-affairs committee today.
Many members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were particularly scathing about the commission's perceived preference for Russian over Belarusian as the main language for the planned broadcasts.
Former Lithuanian President Vytatutas Landsbergis was one of a number of MEPs from former communist countries who warned the commission it risks complicity in Russia's longstanding ambitions to "Russify" its neighbors.
Some Western European MEPs pointed out that more than 60 percent of the population of Belarus considers itself ethnically Russian. Their appeals to pragmatism were drowned by protestations from representatives of smaller, Eastern European member states.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an Estonian and a vice chairman of the parliament's foreign-affairs committee, noted that indigenous languages, not Russian, had served as the main vehicles for democratic change in Eastern Europe.
Most speakers also dismissed the 2 million euros earmarked by the commission for two years' TV and radio broadcasts as by far insufficient. The commission's tendering rules, requiring applying media organizations to demonstrate an annual turnover of 3 million euros, were described as designed to exclude companies from neighboring Poland and Lithuania.
The strategy also appears to sideline the 500,000 ethnic Belarusians living in Poland and the three Baltic States, who a number of MEPs said would be best-placed to reach out to their compatriots.
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the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
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