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Authorities insist on permissive requirements for street rallies

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April 24, 2017 15:41
Image: www.bnp.by and Anton Suryapin

The Belarusian authorities continue to insist on the permissive principle for holding opposition street rallies and apply pointed detentions and fines against activists in unauthorised protests. Currently, the opposition has two centres for coordinating street activity: Statkevich-led Belarusian National Committee, encouraging the population to march in the Minsk centre on May Day without an authorisation; and the organizing committee of Chernobyl Path 2017 and May Day rallies, including the right-wingers, Tell the Truth and independent trade unions, standing for an authorised and safe format.

Minsk authorities and the opposition have agreed on the Chernobyl Shliakh (Chernobyl Path) format.

Following negotiations between the opposition and the Minsk City authorities, the latter have agreed to authorise the Chernobyl Path to start at 6 pm on April 26th at the Academy of Sciences and allowed the participants to march towards the Bangalore Square, a traditional route for this annual rally. The authorities made an attempt to shift the start of the rally to 2 pm in order to reduce participation in the rally, but finally, the compromise had been achieved.

In addition, part of the opposition and independent trade unions have planned a series of "solidarity marches" with socio-economic slogans, which should start in Minsk and 30 Belarusian regions on May 1st. Meanwhile, the BNC, headed by Statkevich is calling upon the population to gather on the October Square in Minsk for an unauthorised May Day rally with social and political demands. Given the possible clampdown by the authorities, unauthorised protests are unlikely to be popular among the activists.

The authorities are unlikely to take the risk and authorise the ‘solidarity marches’, including in the capital, due to the fears of convergence of the political agenda and socio-economic demands and the opposition gaining in popularity among the population.

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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.

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