Amid increased speculations about change of power in Belarus, importance of security forces enhances
A debate in the independent media and expert community about the prospects for change of power in Belarus may cause tension among various state departments and prompt President Lukashenka to intervene. In the Belarusian nomenclature, the fight between supporters of Belarusian-Western normalisation and those advocating for tougher role of the security forces has exacerbated. In addition, part of the Belarusian opposition would like to regain influence on the Belarusian-European relations by weakening the authorities’ pro-Western policy.
Next week, President Lukashenka will debrief the law enforcement agencies.
Some independent media outlets published speculative reports about the change of power in Belarus, President Lukashenka’s possible successor and dispositions among nomenclature groups. Apparently, media and expert community anticipates enhanced imbalances in the Belarusian nomenclature.
Amid lingering tension in the Russo-Belarusian relations and speculations about Lukashenka’s inability ‘to solve political issues with the Kremlin’, the controversy about a successor could actually bolster some contradictions in the Belarusian government. Some analysts still believe that the Belarusian officials preserved dual loyalty to Minsk and Moscow yet from the Soviet times, which is unlikely so. Nevertheless, some state agencies, the security forces and industrialists in particular, are rather oriented towards preserving a special relation with the Kremlin and regard the lingering tension between Minsk and Moscow as Moscow's dissatisfaction with Belarusian-Western normalisation.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry, led by Makey, was also subjected to information attacks, so as he was regarded as the chief architect behind the improvement of relations with Western capitals. It is worth noting that if the Belarusian authorities fail their new Western policy, the positions of street activity supporters will strengthen and the opposition may regain the influence on the Belarusian-European agenda.
In the near future, due to information attacks and speculations about the change of power in Belarus, the president is likely to lose confidence in some state agencies and strengthen the role of the security forces.
The Belarusian authorities have revived the cyclical political agenda, including preventive crackdown with the use of force during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk and a loyal attitude to the participants in the opposition events in the regions. The protest rally in Minsk has evidenced that the Belarusian society has freed from the post-Maidan syndrome and showed high self-organisation capacity during the event in the absence of opposition leaders. In the future, the authorities are likely to expand the framework for sanctioned and legal activity for the moderate opposition in order to reduce the potential for street protests.
The Freedom Day march in Minsk on March 25th, 2017 was marked by unprecedented and brutal detentions before and during the event.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to stretch in time the political cycle - liberalization followed by repressions - and move beyond the electoral campaigns. Simultaneously, Minsk has demonstrated a rather high mobilisation potential under political slogans, despite the pressure from the state media and security forces before and during Freedom Day, including the presence of armed officers and new special equipment to disperse demonstrations in the streets of Minsk. That said, in other towns (Vitebsk, Gomel, Brest and Grodno) the Freedom Day march led by the opposition, was sanctioned by the local authorities (except Vitebsk), albeit there were fewer participants than in February and March protests against the decree on social dependants.
The Belarusian leadership has depersonalised (removed leaders) the protest, preventively weakened the protest movement, and has not opted for the harsh crackdown like in 2010 with many injured and hundreds arrested. For instance, some party leaders were preventively arrested or detained (Lebedko, Rymashevsky, Gubarevich, Neklyaev, Logvinets, Severinets) before the event. Nikolai Statkevich has disappeared and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Some could not pass through the police cordons (Yanukevich and Kostusev) or participated in the rallies in the regions (Dmitriev, Korotkevich and Milinkevich).
Despite the lack of protest leaders, some demonstrators managed to self-organize and march down the Minsk centre. The march was unauthorised but gathered several thousand participants. Many were detained by the law enforcement and later released without charges. In addition, the Belarusian law enforcers used some tactics of the western riot police against peaceful protesters, allegedly in order to mitigate the criticism from Western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have used the entire set of propaganda and power mechanisms applied during the highly politicised 2006 and 2010 elections - criminal prosecution of the opposition leaders, preventive detentions and arrests of activists, harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and, finally, the crackdown on the protest action in Minsk with the use of force.
Overall, the mobilisation potential of the Belarusian society remains high and the authorities are likely to expand the legal framework for public participation in politics in order to absorb superfluous tension.