Presidents Lukashenko and Nikolić played on the public
On March 12th – 13th Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić was on the official visit to Minsk
Belarus’ main goal was to demonstrate the image-making breakthrough in the Belarus’ political isolation on the eve of talks with Russian President Putin. However, there will be no real strengthening of the political cooperation between Belarus and Serbia and with the European Union using Serbia’s mediation.
Tomislav Nikolić’s surprise visit to Minsk played into the Belarusian authorities hands for several political reasons. First, the Serbian President arrived in Belarus right after talks with Ashton in Brussels about the disputed status of the Serbian community in Kosovo and about the Serbia’s accession to the EU. Belarus is known for her tough stance on condemning the war in Serbia and Kosovo’s sovereignty, and the visit gave President Lukashenko the occasion to demonstrate his position to the European Union, the US and Russia once again.
Second, on the eve of the Supreme Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia meeting in St. Petersburg on March 15th, Belarusian leadership was interested in demonstrating to the Kremlin the demand for Belarus not only in Russia but also in other countries, especially in Europe. Since 2010, the Belarusian president’s international contacts have been consistently and compulsively narrowed, primarily looping on Minsk-Moscow relations.
Nevertheless, the talks between Nikolić and Lukashenko and the set of signed documents do not suggest the political cooperation between Minsk and Belgrade will be strengthened significantly. Currently, Belarus and Serbia hold complex negotiations with their by far more powerful partners (the EU and Russia respectively) therefore they are interested in demonstrating, at least, “political alibi” to their counterparts. At the same time, both countries are seriously limited in their political maneuvers.
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.