Minsk’s interest in putting foothold on international arena could induce some liberalisation
Civil society and the Belarusian opposition have benefited from the OSCE PA summer session in Minsk and under the pressure of the international community, launched negotiations with the Belarusian authorities on ongoing issues. The state has been forced to extend political freedoms during the OSCE PA session, significantly curtail repressions and demonstrate an attempt to launch an internal political dialogue with the assistance of the European parliamentarians. Amid attempts to updated their peacekeeping image on the international arena, the Belarusian authorities are likely to continue a strictly dosed liberalisation and step up contacts with the opposition.
The authorities, the opposition, Western ambassadors and the UN special rapporteur presented their claims to each other during the seminar on human rights in Belarus.
Despite the conventional rhetoric about the absence of human rights violations, the Belarusian authorities decided to hold a joint event with civil society and opposition on human rights issues. Participants in the seminar included human rights activists, Tell the Truth leaders, leaders of the centre-right coalition, and oppositional MP Anna Kanopatskaya. For many years, the Belarusian leadership was ignoring the political opposition and ruled out such a dialogue inside the country or, in rare cases, independently selected participants for discussions.
The presence of foreign delegations and Minsk's attempts to shape a positive image for Western diplomats has limited the actions of security forces. Members of the Belarusian National Congress headed by Statkevich held several unauthorized protest actions in the centre of Minsk, apparently without any consequences for them. The authorities have repeatedly demonstrated their readiness to allow unauthorised opposition protests with political slogans. As a rule, such activities are punished with fines imposed on most active participants and organisers post factum.
Apparently, if the authorities engage in a dialogue with civil society and the opposition, those supporting street protests would decrease in number and consolidate in the BNC. Some opposition representatives, who participated in protests with social and economic demands in February-March 2017, would be ready to mitigate their positions should the authorities become more open to contacts. Nevertheless, street protests could enhance if inconsiderate actions of the authorities cause an increase in tension in society.
Overall, Minsk’s foreign policy initiatives to strengthen its foothold on the international arena have prompted the authorities to revise their domestic policy approaches. As never before, the Belarusian leadership is interested in boosting its international authority, which could lead to limited political liberalisation.
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.