Amid growing devaluation expectations Belarusian authorities strengthen power forces
The Belarusian authorities aspire to keep people’s protest activity under control by strengthening power policy components and creating appropriate background for the election campaign. In addition, the authorities hope to preserve the loyalty of voters by speculating about the conflict in Ukraine and by emphasising the external threats to Belarus’ internal stability. Meanwhile, popular discontent with the devaluation of the national currency and falling living standards is unlikely to lead to open protests or protest voting.
Belarusians have been expecting devaluation since December 2014, and the majority links possible depreciation of the Belarusian rouble with the political campaign.
Since early 2015, the Belarusian rouble has devalued by 40%. Independent Belarusian analysts say that rouble will continue to devalue. Belarusian officials avoid using the term ‘devaluation’ in the media and usually refer to rouble’s ‘volatility’. Bearing in mind that in recent years, the national currency has been devalued several times, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to keep this issue low profile and to avoid tension in society ahead of the election day. Nevertheless, despite the lack of panic among the Belarusian population, the demand for foreign currency from the population has sharply increased.
As people’s living standards are declining the Belarusian authorities are strengthening the power block. For instance, they are reviewing the presidential directive ‘Measures to strengthen public safety and discipline’. In addition, President Lukashenka has approved the regulation on the commission to combat extremism and counter-terrorism. Such commission will be established in all Belarusian regions. Any citizen activity especially by young people, which falls outside the frameworks set for the opposition, meets a harsh response by the authorities. For instance, in May 2015, the Belarusian security services searched and arrested several young people for drawing political graffiti on buildings.
Meanwhile, the most recent devaluation in late 2014 – early 2015 has not resulted in open public protests. Amid the conflict in Ukraine, the Belarusian society has reduced the level of their expectations from the authorities regarding the growth of the living standards. Even in 2011 during the harsh monetary and financial crisis and almost three-fold devaluation of the national currency, the authorities swiftly managed to localise open discontent of the population. Back then, by using force, the special services efficiently neutralised online activity, which led to ‘silent’ protests all over the country.
If socio-economic environment deteriorates and social tension grows among electorate due to the national currency depreciation, the authorities are likely to step up measures against their opponents, inter alia, with ‘preventive detention’ of opposition and youth activists. Some time ago, Interior Minister Ivan Shunevich confirmed that the law enforcement agencies were ready to act in order to prevent protest moods in society: “I guarantee that we are ready for an adequate response to any challenge, any threat. We are ready to minimize any harmful effects. I will say even more: today we are prepared to act a little earlier, if there is a need for this, so as not to push the situation to a critical stage".
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.