Minsk sends a reciprocal goodwill gesture to the West
Belarusian authorities have used a relatively mild assessment of the parliamentary campaign by the OSCE observers to demonstrate their willingness to continue exchanging reciprocal concessions. But the major political prisoners remain in prison.
On September 26th and 27th political prisoners Sergei Kovalenko and Paul Syromolotov were released.
The release of two political prisoners is definitely a reaction to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission’s assessment of the parliamentary elections. This assessment was less harsh than the previous, and the authorities made a reciprocal good will gesture. Most likely, the new Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey coordinated this initiative - he personally met on September 24th with the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission Mr. Milososki.
Clearly the authorities were waiting for the West’s reaction to the elections, as both Kovalenko and Syromolotov had written pardon requests in June 2012 and as a rule such requests are considered within one month. Both former prisoners were not involved in the most resonant political case, i.e. the mass demonstrations on December 19th, 2010. Major political prisoners, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich, remain in prison.
As noted earlier, Minsk is not going to fulfill the conditions set by the West for the release (and rehabilitation) of political prisoners, but the authorities are considering the opportunities for a thaw in relations. The Belarusian authorities are pleased with the positive signal sent through the OSCE observation mission and they are prepared to respond, but they will continue fulfilling the conditions only in return for further concessions.
Most likely, the authorities’ next move will be an attempt to resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, in particular, against the backdrop of the deteriorating financial situation in the country. Previously the National Bank Chairman Mrs. Ermakova talked about it. Further releases of political prisoners will imply that the authorities have received a positive signal in terms of cooperation with the IMF.
According to Belstat, in August 7,600 people were dismissed, including 4,800 civil servants. Dismissals of civil servants were due to the optimisation in the public administration by up to 30%. Some civil servants would retain their job however would lose the status of a civil servant. Vacancies on the labour market are likely to reduce in number, thanks to the optimisation, the state administration would increase wages for public servants. The payroll fund for retained employees is likely to increase and some former state employees are likely to get jobs in affiliated organizations. The optimisation of the state apparatus should complete by January 1st, 2018, and some former civil servants are likely to join the ranks of the unemployed.