Chairman of the upper House of the Parliament Anatoly Rubinov visited Lida of the Grodno region

April 22, 2016 17:52

On 13 May Lida hosted a meeting of the Council for Cooperation of Local Self-Governments under the auspices of the Council of the Republic “Efforts of Local Councils of Deputies of Lida region in creating favourable conditions for development of tourist and excursion services and rural tourism”, opened by its Chairman of the Board Anatoly Rubinov.

Comment 

Recent initiatives of the local authorities aimed at the development of tourism in the region. Regardless of the existing development programme in this regard and some positive changes, the effect of its implementation remains low. The currency crisis and lack of resources to address it, finally forced the central authorities to look into possible ways of attracting foreign currency into the country more seriously. In 2010 export of services amounted to USD 146.7 million, about 4 million foreigners visited Belarus. Today any source of foreign currency is important. 

Yet on 11 May the Yanka Kupala Grodno State University hosted a meeting to discuss the status and prospects of development of tourism in the Grodno region with participation of the Director of the Department of Tourism of the Ministry of Sport and Tourism, and on 13 May the same issue was discussed between local government representatives with participation of Senators. Indeed, the Grodno region has a significant amount of cultural and historical sites remained, that could attract foreigners, moreover, there is a significant potential for development of agro-and ecotourism, and given the situation of currency crisis it could positively affect the unemployment. 

However, given the role the local Councils of Deputies play in the system of local governance, the Senators’ meeting with representatives of local government was only a declaration of the desire to change the situation, not implying significant changes. Currently the Grodno local government is not interested in developing small businesses that do not generate significant tax revenue to the local budgets.

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Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.

The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.

According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.

The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.

Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.

Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.