The authorities tightened the rules for officials and business
Trials and investigations against high-ranking officials and businessmen during the election campaign period will have a pacifying effect on business and will strengthen internal discipline in nomenklatura. The developments show that neither business, nor officials have effective tools to resist the Belarusian authorities.
On September 6th, former Deputy Chairman of the Vitebsk Oblast Executive Committee Leonid Kovalev was sentenced to 7 years’ imprisonment in a maximum security prison with confiscation of property. On September 7th businessman Yuri Dankov was charged with covering up prostitution. On September 10th, the trial against the former head of the Council of the Republic Secretariat, Gleb Bedritsky, charged with corruption, will begin.
The aforementioned events are a random coincidence, but objectively speaking, the authorities are interested in tightening the rules before the elections, not only for the opposition, but also for the officials, to put their loyalty through a test. Therefore these three cases meant to send signals to at least two social groups: officials and businessmen.
In particular, the former deputy chairman of the Vitebsk Oblast Executive Committee Mr. Kovalev was convicted for large scale bribery while organizing mass entertainment in Vitebsk. The punishment for such a high ranking official has another dimension. In 2005-2008, Mr. Kovalev headed the Belarusian Republican Youth Union therefore the authorities will have an additional argument to strengthen control over the organization if necessary, as it is highly active during the election campaign.
The trial against the former head of the Secretariat of the National Assembly’s upper chamber Mr. Bedritsky will have a disciplinary effect not only on the future members and the staff of the Council of the Republic, but also on the Parliament as a whole. If after these elections some kind of political reform is initiated in Belarus (as Lukashenko previously hinted), the revealed corruption in the Parliament will allow the President to manage new deputies more effectively.
Finally, the arrest of a well known businessman Yuri Dankov, owner of the largest and oldest entertainment complex Dankoff Club in Minsk – irrelevant whether he is guilty or not – will be interpreted by other businessmen as a warning against excessively independent behavior (Mr. Dankov is known for his critical statements about the authorities). Moreover, Mr. Dankov’s arrest – he has long been a deputy of the Minsk City Council and even nominated for the presidency – will have a chilling effect on the former deputies who planned business careers after the elections.
All the three examples also demonstrate that the defendants in these cases have no effective tools to counter the authorities and to protect their interests. In particular, Mr. Bedritsky has written a request to the President asking for release, and Mr. Dankov has stoically accepted the beginning of the investigation and was not trying to start a public campaign in self-defense before the arrest. On the other hand, this is a traditional behavior of Belarusian officials and businessmen.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.