Minsk is attempting to play down human rights issues in relations with EU
The Belarusian authorities aim to raise the profile of the geopolitical aspect in the Belarusian-European relations to enhance economic cooperation. That said, Minsk shows discontent with Europe’s persistence regarding Belarus’ compliance with her human rights commitments and attempts to slow down the dialogue on human rights and democratisation. The Belarusian authorities aspire to preserve the current political liberalisation without harsh persecution of the opposition, but with the use of financial mechanisms to curb protest activity.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has sharply reacted to the critical resolution of the European Parliament, which, however, is unlikely to affect Minsk’s commitment to the Belarusian-European normalisation. The Belarusian authorities hope that the document adopted by European MPs will not slow down the steady positive cooperation between Minsk and European capitals. According to the Belarusian authorities, geopolitical conflict with Russia is a crucial factor for developing Belarusian-European relations, and Minsk’s attempts to become the "regional stability donor" compensate for the lack of democracy and violations of human rights in the country.
The Belarusian authorities seek to give an additional impetus to relations with the European capitals, to update Minsk image as a stability donor in the region and put forward additional peace initiatives. For instance, the president suggested that Belarus could participate in the peacekeeping mission in Donbass, and Minsk could host the settlement process for Western capitals and the Kremlin. The Belarusian leadership hopes that such initiatives would drive away the West’s attention from the critical assessments of the human rights situation in the country.
Minsk is attempting to link financial assistance with strengthening of the Belarusian independence in order to pay down the value aspect in the dialogue with European capitals. From pragmatic cooperation with the EU, Belarus expects assistance in obtaining credit support from international institutions, assistance in joining the WTO, restoring trade preferences for Belarusian goods on the EU market, and signing a basic agreement between Belarus and the EU. Visa liberalisation issue seems to be less important for the officials in Minsk.
The Belarusian authorities do not see the need to continue political liberalisation with regard to political opposition and human rights in the country in the near future.
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.