Events in Ukraine boost calls for an electoral revolution in Belarus

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April 22, 2016 18:42

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.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.