Minsk aspires to compensate for economic failures with foreign policy successes
Last week, President Lukashenka met with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. In addition, the president held talks with President Sergio Mattarella during a two-day visit to Italy. The Belarusian authorities aspire that the president’s official visit to Rome and the Vatican will open opportunities for expanding top-level political contacts with some EU countries, which are interested in cooperation with Belarus. Thanks to the Holy See, Minsk hopes to consolidate its image of a peacemaker and take the focus of the human rights issues in the Belarusian-European relations. In addition, the Belarusian authorities are hoping to organize the Pope’s visit to Minsk. The Belarusian delegation to Rome included representatives of all Christian confessions in Belarus. The Orthodox Church was represented by Archpriest Feodor Povny, known as Lukashenka’s personal confessor. There is no unity among analysts regarding whether the Belarusian Orthodox Church has coordinated its activities with the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.