Minsk demonstrates commitment to dialogue with Brussels, but without major concessions

April 22, 2016 19:38

Last week, in the course of his working visit to Brussels, Foreign Minister Makey discussed issues of cooperation between Belarus and the EU and NATO. Makey met with foreign ministers of the EU member states and held talks with EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Negotiations on EU Enlargement Johannes Hahn, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow. Recently, contacts between Minsk and Western capitals at the highest level have become quite frequent. The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to expect a major breakthrough in Belarus-EU relations, due to the limited opportunities for mutual concessions. The EU is unlikely to abandon its value-based approach in relations with Minsk and completely forget about the requirement for democratic reforms. In turn, the Belarusian authorities would not agree for systemic democratic changes and further easing-off of the domestic political climate. However, the process of normalization of diplomatic relations between Minsk and Brussels will continue, perhaps with some minor concessions from both sides, eg, facilitation of the visa regime.

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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.