Lukashenka seeks compromise between supporters of market reforms and conservatives
The president is attempting to find a compromise solution to economic problems between reforms and conservation. Apparently, the government is increasingly split over future economic development policy - either liberal, or conservative. Disagreement among state managers and the lack of decisive majority prevents the authorities from committing to a particular economic policy, which leads to half-measures and inconsistent decisions relating to economic reforms.
On the sidelines of the Belarusian People’s Assembly former National Bank Head Piotr Prokopovich said that economic growth required available credit resources.
President Lukashenka risks being caught between two fires due to indecision about the final choice of economic policy in the next five years. On the one hand, the Belarusian authorities have not taken an irrevocable decision regarding the implementation of full-scale structural and market reforms. Despite some liberal elements in Lukashenka’s speech at the Assembly, the President noted that the adopted five-year plan could be revised: "Because life is very diverse, plenty of other issues may emerge. We will have to make many decisions outside of this programme, based on its provisions, of course”.
On the other hand, the president is a supporter of administrative micro-management in the economy dominated by state ownership. After the presidential campaign, President Lukashenka repeatedly emphasised his commitment to the current socio-economic model and his reluctance to reform it. However, he said he was ready for market reforms, but noted the lack of consensus in the ruling elite: "I am ready for any reform, for any plans, for any action. The question is not about me: are you, society, ready for such a radical change? Silence".
In the Belarusian society and among state managers, supporters of conservative approach and administrative management have strong positions. Despite the inconsistency of the government policy and some provisions of the adopted five-year economic development programme, some conservative managers see in it some unacceptable "neoliberal reforms based on market fundamentalism”.
That said, some half-measures and often forced decisions to reform some socio-economic spheres, do not allow the economy to recover. However, the tight monetary policy has prompted the growth of dissatisfaction in the public sector, which is nostalgic about the emission stimulation of the economy and larger state support.
In turn, amid lasting economic recession, positions of liberal-minded managers in government, the National Bank and the Administration have been increasingly criticised. For instance, former National Bank head Prokopovich criticized the approach of his former colleagues to curbing inflation and supported advocates for greater credit support for the public sector: "Today, loans should costs 15%-16%. Then it will be understood by the real economy and there will be no claims to the National Bank [from businesses, industrialists]. The faster we introduce such a system, the sooner there will be prerequisites for economic growth”.
Before the Assembly, a public discussion broke in Belarusian expert community among liberals and their opponents. For instance, in SB, the newspaper of the presidential administration, ex-presidential aide on economy Tkachev published an article sharply criticising the government’s new five-year programme. Independent analysts, supporters of market reforms, have criticized the same document for the lack of effective mechanisms to implement its objectives.
Amid the lack of a clear majority between liberals and conservatives, the president is prompted to accept a compromise solution on economic transformation.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.