Minsk advocates for Helsinki-2
Minsk aspires to use all means available, including the OSCE to relax tension between Russia and the West. Minsk hopes that vigorous diplomacy and peace efforts will help reduce the risks of being drawn in the regional confrontation.
At the OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg, Foreign Minister Makei said that Belarus was ready to host a meeting for the leaders of Russia, the US, EU, and China "to have a frank conversation about the reasons of the crisis in the international relations”.
Last week, the OSCE released the final report on the 2016 parliamentary elections in Belarus, emphasising that despite some improvements, the elections were non-transparent and non-competitive, and recommending improving the electoral procedures. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the conclusion created a basis for a dialogue. On December 9th, 2016, Minsk hosted a panel discussion on the implementation of the National Human Rights Plan with the participation of public officials and civil society representatives.
Belarus’ cooperation with the EU and international institutions has taken a constructive path. The Belarusian authorities aim to strengthen the Belarusian-European relations by enhancing Belarus’ image as a neutral state and a peace facilitator in the regional conflicts. That said, Minsk is eager to continue the Minsk process, preserve and develop good-neighbourly relations with Ukraine.
The Belarusian authorities believe the Belarusian-European normalisation is important, primarily because they are interested in reducing tension in the region, which threatens Belarus’ security. Minsk hopes that vigorous diplomacy and peace efforts will help reduce the risks of being drawn in the regional confrontation.
The Belarusian authorities have revived the cyclical political agenda, including preventive crackdown with the use of force during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk and a loyal attitude to the participants in the opposition events in the regions. The protest rally in Minsk has evidenced that the Belarusian society has freed from the post-Maidan syndrome and showed high self-organisation capacity during the event in the absence of opposition leaders. In the future, the authorities are likely to expand the framework for sanctioned and legal activity for the moderate opposition in order to reduce the potential for street protests.
The Freedom Day march in Minsk on March 25th, 2017 was marked by unprecedented and brutal detentions before and during the event.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to stretch in time the political cycle - liberalization followed by repressions - and move beyond the electoral campaigns. Simultaneously, Minsk has demonstrated a rather high mobilisation potential under political slogans, despite the pressure from the state media and security forces before and during Freedom Day, including the presence of armed officers and new special equipment to disperse demonstrations in the streets of Minsk. That said, in other towns (Vitebsk, Gomel, Brest and Grodno) the Freedom Day march led by the opposition, was sanctioned by the local authorities (except Vitebsk), albeit there were fewer participants than in February and March protests against the decree on social dependants.
The Belarusian leadership has depersonalised (removed leaders) the protest, preventively weakened the protest movement, and has not opted for the harsh crackdown like in 2010 with many injured and hundreds arrested. For instance, some party leaders were preventively arrested or detained (Lebedko, Rymashevsky, Gubarevich, Neklyaev, Logvinets, Severinets) before the event. Nikolai Statkevich has disappeared and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Some could not pass through the police cordons (Yanukevich and Kostusev) or participated in the rallies in the regions (Dmitriev, Korotkevich and Milinkevich).
Despite the lack of protest leaders, some demonstrators managed to self-organize and march down the Minsk centre. The march was unauthorised but gathered several thousand participants. Many were detained by the law enforcement and later released without charges. In addition, the Belarusian law enforcers used some tactics of the western riot police against peaceful protesters, allegedly in order to mitigate the criticism from Western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have used the entire set of propaganda and power mechanisms applied during the highly politicised 2006 and 2010 elections - criminal prosecution of the opposition leaders, preventive detentions and arrests of activists, harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and, finally, the crackdown on the protest action in Minsk with the use of force.
Overall, the mobilisation potential of the Belarusian society remains high and the authorities are likely to expand the legal framework for public participation in politics in order to absorb superfluous tension.