Belarus government is defensive of its information security
On June 26th, the House of Representatives adopted amendments to the Administrative Offences Code, which envisage penalties for illegal organization of opinion polls to survey socio-political situation in the country.
Due to tight electoral calendar and president’s low electoral rating the ruling group has to increase self-defense mechanisms against potential domestic and international political rivals. At the same time, these restrictive measures protect some players in the domestic public polls market from unwanted economic competition.
Adoption of these amendments implies that the authorities are concerned about the socio-political situation in the country, but do not have sufficient resources to shift the situation in their favor, namely, President Lukashenko’s electoral rating (33.4% according to March survey by IISEPS). Unlike before, Lukashenko’s rating stopped responding to real incomes’ growth. In addition, independent researchers also note low level of trust in the state institutions.
The adopted amendments envisage penalties for carrying out public opinion polls on issues related to social and political situation in the country, as well as national referenda and presidential and parliamentary elections without proper accreditation. Fines are envisaged for the interviewers (up to circa 200 Euro) and for the polling institution (up to 1000 Euro). The fine increases if violation repeats (up to 500 Euro and 2000 Euro accordingly).
The said amendments were drafted yet in June 2012. Potentially, the government hoped that the increase in the living standards and economic stabilization would increase the trust levels vis-à-vis the state after the 2011 crisis. However this is not the case.
During the 2014 – 2016 election period, social and political situation in the county is of the authorities’ great concern – three election campaigns will be held (local, parliamentary and presidential elections). As mentioned before, Eurasian integration creates challenges, inter alia, for Belarus’ information security, enabling international companies carrying out public polls about important political issues (eg “Integration” Foundation), including exit polls on voting days (eg ‘Inside’ Agency organized exit-polls in December 2010 in Minsk).
The adopted amendments will certainly play into the hands of state and quasi independent research institutes, for instance, the Information-Analytical Center of the Presidential Administration, quasi independent center Ecoom, and the Sociology Institute at the National Science Academy and the Center for Sociological and Political Studies at the Belarus’ State University.
Introduced penalties enable these organizations to lobby accreditations for organizing opinion polls and may eventually make them inevitable partners for foreign research companies when they hold surveys in Belarus (counseling, providing network of accredited interviewers and other organizational services).
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.