Authorities’ concerns about public safety increase
There have been several accidents of late in the Minsk metro. On September 23rd, law enforcement agencies exercises were held in the metro without warning. On September 24th, ‘Vostok’ metro station was closed due to a short circuit in the electrical panel. On September 25th, around noon ‘Traktorny Zavod’ metro station was closed by sappers following unattended box reports. On the same day, a woman fell on the tracks at ‘Academy of Sciences’ station, and on September 26th, a 90-year-old gentleman fell on the tracks at ‘Pervomayskaya’ station.
Belarus’ authorities are demonstrating their readiness to deal with potential socio-political disruptions. The ripening economic crisis may result in a repeat of the full scale crisis from 2011. The authorities’ stake on preventive measures is meant to demonstrate their increased control and concerns for public safety.
In 2011, Belarus experienced an acute currency crisis, which compounded apathy in society caused by the crackdown on opposition protests and prosecution of leaders and activists. At some point, President Lukashenko, as well as the National Bank and the government, stopped interfering with foreign exchange market operations. The authorities were confused and unable to offer a solution to the deteriorating economic situation, which was multiplied by their failure to ensure public safety in the centre of Minsk. In the midst of the currency crisis, an attack in the Minsk metro was carried out during rush hour. It was symbolic that the terrorist attack was carried out at the busiest metro station, ‘Oktyabrskaya’, not far from the Presidential Administration.
The authorities have previously linked the currency crisis and the terrorist attack. In April 2011, Alexander Lukashenko said, that “even before the presidential elections we anticipated that pressure would be put on us to destabilize the situation purposefully and methodically. And so it happened: firstly, on the foreign exchange market, on the food market, and then there was an explosion in the metro. [It was] a whole chain”.
Since mid-2013, along with overstocked warehouses and problems with Belarusian exports to Russia (Belarus’ main market), there has been talk of the Belarusian ruble’s possible devaluation. The ‘potash conflict’ has exacerbated the situation with Belarus’ foreign exchange reserves. These trends have triggered expectations of devaluation among the population and, simultaneously, have sent a signal to the authorities about likely disruptions to public safety if the Belarusian ruble were to sharply devalue.
Thus, the growing economic crisis in the country has encouraged the authorities to pay more attention to ensuring public safety. On the one hand, the authorities are demonstrating their readiness to prevent destabilization and tensions from increasing within society. On the other hand, these developments stimulate people’s distrust of the national currency and multiply rumours about the imminent devaluation: public opinion links the accidents in the metro with a potential crisis on the currency market.
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.