Belarusian president is unsupportive of moratorium on death penalty
President Lukashenka appears to be ready to discuss a moratorium on the death penalty, however without any obligations. Minsk is counting on further normalization of relations with Brussels without making significant concessions. A moratorium on the death penalty is unlikely to be introduced due to the president’s stance.
EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis stated that a moratorium on the death penalty would be a very good incentive for Belarus-EU relations and Belarus’ reputation in the world.
The issue of the death penalty repeatedly came up in Minsk-CoE negotiations in the past. However, despite the importance of this subject for European capitals, Belarusian leadership had never seriously regarded the moratorium as an option.
In addition, abolition of the death penalty is a very unpopular idea in the Belarusian society, according to the IISEPS polls. Moreover, people voted against the abolition on the national referendum in 1996. Such vox populi is a likely reflection of the state’s stance in this regard and the efforts of the state-run media.
That said, Lukashenka regards the death penalty issue as the president’s major privilege. For instance, the president has publicly advocated for the death penalty many times: "With regard to the death penalty, we had a referendum. Whether I want or not, regardless of my position, there was a referendum decision. For me, that is the law. And when they start nudging me: "The death penalty, the dictatorship", - I tell them, the Europeans: "Make a little u-turn across the Atlantic, there is a very good friend of yours. As soon as they abolish, we shall follow”. Why am I talking about this? Not because we’ll follow the States... I am just showing them that there should be no double standards in this matter”.
For Minsk, the mere discussion about a moratorium on the death penalty enables to outline further moves in settling Belarusian-European relations.
Regardless of the reasoning by European diplomats, the Belarusian leadership is confident of its measures to curb crime, including the death penalty. As the president said in the mid-1990s, he was able to end lawlessness and "road racketeers" by using non-traditional methods of eliminating criminals.
In addition, the president referred to double standards applied by the EU, "... the death penalty... and maybe, even more stringent laws exist in the People’s Republic of China and other neighbouring states and in the Arab countries. Where are they pumping oil from? Why aren’t you demanding from them? But that is where oil comes from!”
Minsk is unlikely to seek participation of Belarusian representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. That would only create additional obligations without bringing substantial benefits, which the Belarusian leadership has already obtained avoiding unnecessary costs.
The Parliamentary Assembly could empower the Belarusian Parliament, which is not in the president’s interests. In case of a political crisis, the Parliament could become an alternative body of governance.
Overall, the death penalty is unlikely to be abolished with reference to will of the people, but is likely to be supported by parliamentarians.
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.