Minsk is torn between repressions and attempts to revive a dialogue with the West
On May 2 an office of Radio Racja, a Belarusian and Polish radio, was searched and equipment was confiscated. On May 3, it was reported that a room that had previously been confirmed for the Belarusian NGO Assembly congress on May 5-6 was denied.
The escalation of oppressive measures against Belarusian journalists and NGO representatives continues following the brutal arrests of Chernobyl Way participants on April 26 in Minsk. Most likely Minsk has considered the decision by the EU Council of Foreign Ministers taken on April 23 not to expand sanctions against Belarus to be insufficient. Moreover, Belarus’ government responded negatively to the fact that Switzerland joined the sanctions on April 30.
Minsk has additional motivation to keep its tough domestic policy at a time when a political conflict between Brussels and Kiev concerning Yulia Tymoshenko is escalating, when 12 European presidents have boycotted the Yalta summit of Central and East European leaders on 11-12 May, and when a possible boycott of Ukrainian matches within the European Football Championship may occur. Thus the Belarusian regime is showing solidarity with Kiev from afar, which has resulted in the mutual lifting of restrictions in the meat and beer trade.
At the same time, the Belarusian authorities continue to make attempts to revive a dialogue with Western Europe in the roundabout way suggested by the EU – with the intermediary of The Vatican.
On May 7-10 Archbishop Cyril Vasil, Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Vatican, will come to Minsk. This visit seems to be part of a plan launched personally by President Lukashenko in April.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.