Makey has very little room for maneuver
On July 22nd, in Brussels, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey took part in the Eastern Partnership Foreign Minister’s meeting.
The authorities are cautious about resuming the dialogue with the West: media coverage of the Belarusian delegation participation in the Brussels Summit was explicitly moderate and simultaneously President Lukashenko made a harsh statement about the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the news about the new EU technical assistance programme was perceived positively.
Currently the ruling group perceives the possible resumption of political relations with the EU very cautiously. For example, Belarusian Foreign Ministry Press Service was the main ‘reporter’ about the outcomes of Makey’s visit to Brussels. State media coverage of the visit was extremely scant.
In addition, on July 26th, President Lukashenko spoke about the detention of a former Belarusian secret services employee, who was passing on information to the West via the Roman Catholic Church. The statement was damaging to the efforts undertaken by the Foreign Ministry and Belarusian Ambassador to the Holy See Sergey Aleynik, in particular. For a good reason, this channel was regarded as a likely mediator in restoring the dialogue with the EU.
However, the release of former presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu (in 2010 the politician was sentenced to suspended 2-year prison term) on July 25th implies that Belarusian authorities are not interested in aggravating the relations with the EU, at least on human rights issues. Nevertheless, the government is still not ready to fulfill the requirements to release and rehabilitate all political prisoners.
Finally, the authorities demonstrate predictably positive attitude to the technical assistance from the EU. On July 25th, the National Radio Channel broadcasted the news about two grants allocated for Belarus within the Eastern Partnership Programme: support for the national health system (EUR 8 million) and regional development (EUR 3.5 million).
The ruling group has once again demonstrated its uncompromising position to the EU and the intention to continue bargaining – that is why they have not fulfilled the requirement to release political prisoners. The authorities want the West to lift visa sanctions first, Minister Makey said in Brussels.
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.