Belarusian authorities tighten grip on opposition during World Hockey Championships
In preparation for the World Hockey Championships scheduled to take place in Minsk on May 9th - 25th, 2014, new hotels and sport facilities have been built, and visa requirements have been lifted for international fans.
The Championship is an important image-making and political event for President Lukashenko who aims to improve the outer world’s perception of the Belarusian authorities, and boost his own ratings inside the country. The Belarusian authorities count on people’s diplomacy and on impressing foreigners with Minsk’s cleanliness and order, and good event organisation. Meanwhile, the authorities have no plans to relax their grip on the opposition, and continue to ignore EU and US demands. Ahead of the presidential ‘troika’ Summit, Belarusian security forces have detained a few opposition activists. Some will be held in custody until the Championship is over.
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.