Events in Ukraine boost calls for an electoral revolution in Belarus
Events in Ukraine have served to boost calls within Belarus’ opposition for a ‘revolutionary’ scenario. While president Lukashenko does not fear protest moods spreading to Belarus, the authorities have nevertheless started using preventive measures to fetter civil society’s self-organization.
Several dozen Belarusians had planned a visit to Kiev to support Euro-Maidan participants. However, 65 km outside Minsk, in Marina Gorka, law enforcement officers detained a bus-load of supporters for 21 hours.
Belarusian society is divided over fundamental values, inter alia, regarding Belarus’ geopolitical choice.
The vast majority of the Belarusian opposition and civil society support European integration. However, the opposition is split on how to transform the current Belarusian regime. When several attempts to change leadership in Belarus through electoral revolution failed, some opposition groups started consistently advocating for an evolutionary transition to democracy, which envisaged talks with the current government.
Nevertheless, all opposition and civil society groups in Belarus looked at events in Ukraine with enthusiasm. A number of opposition leaders visited Kiev last week. Leaders from the Belarusian Popular Front, “For Freedom!”, and “Tell the Truth” delivered a speech on Euro-Maidan, Many Belarusian civil society activists are currently in Kiev and events in Ukraine are covered by the Belarusian independent media as leading news stories.
Belarusian officials have not commented on the events in Ukraine. The Belarusian authorities are not interested in Kiev joining the Kremlin’s integration projects as they believe that Ukraine’s participation would substantially reduce Belarus’ role and reduce Russian subsidies to Belarus.
President Lukashenko does not fear protest moods spreading to Belarus. State media provides scarce coverage of the events in Ukraine and the population has not formed a particular stance on this issue.
However, the authorities have started using preventive measures to hamper civil society’s self-organization. For example, the Belarusian security services attempted to prevent a group trip from Belarus to Kiev from participating in the opposition protests there.
The outcome of the events in Ukraine is likely to affect Belarus’ opposition strategies. If the Ukrainian opposition manages to achieve its goals, Belarusian civil society will be more inspired to carry out a similar scenario during the next presidential elections in Belarus. However, if the Euro-Maidan fails, Belarusian opposition will mainly seek alternative strategies to transform the regime in Belarus. If the events in Ukraine grow into a protracted conflict, the Belarusian authorities may use this in their propaganda in 2014, focusing on the negative effects of the destabilization in Ukraine.
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.