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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.