Personnel shifts follow traditional patterns
Lukahsenko’s personnel policy is based on the permanent rotation principle. The increasing threat of the financial crisis recurrence forces the President to ease ties with local officials. Yet there is no reason to talk about a new round of a ‘dialogue with the West’, on the contrary, relations between Minsk and the EU and the U.S. are maintained in the same frozen state.
On November 16th, the President made a number of appointments. In particular, he appointed former Minister of Culture Mr. Latushko Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to France, Mr. Khainovsky - Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus in Hungary and in Slovenia. In addition, the President approved the appointments of 16 heads in local and regional authorities. Staff changes were also made in the security agencies and the Defense Ministry.
Anticipating popular interpretations that Latushko’s appointment carries a certain “signal to the West”, we should note that his appointment, in the first place, is a downgrade, which indicates Latushko’s administrative weight loss. In Belarus’ governmental system the most important decisions are made by either the President or his immediate environment. On the contrary, the further away an official is from Minsk and from the President, the less influence he or she has on the Belarusian foreign policy (this does not apply to President’s assistants or his special envoys).
Thus, Latushko’s transfer back to the Foreign Ministry as Ambassador in France does not imply the resumption of the “dialogue with the West”. On the contrary, the intention is to maintain the relations in the conflict-ridden state, which is confirmed by a sequential dissolution of the officials involved in the project. Thus, earlier President Lukashenko removed Vladimir Makey from the Presidential Administration and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. Both were known as the main drivers for negotiations with Western countries in 2008-2010. Recently Mr. Latushko, former Culture Minister, who previously served as Belarusian Ambassador to Poland, was transferred back to foreign office with a ‘special’ task from the President: to study carefully the activities of the French Socialist Party.
As for other appointments in regional and local executive committees, it is most likely that they are the result of the curbing privatization programme in Belarus, and in particular, the recall of the pre-approved lists of companies put up for sale. In political terms, the national privatization programme reform reduces the local authorities’ importance as assets are located in their territories and potentially, they could have already started coordinating future sales with potential buyers. Therefore, these officials should be replaced with others, who do not have such commitments, which is what we observe.
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.