Belarus opens up for foreigners but not for own nationals
Economic challenges have prompted the Belarusian authorities to open up Belarus to foreign businesses and tourists. The authorities are likely to continue to liberalise the entry for foreigners. However, they are unlikely to simplify the visa regime with the EU for own nationals, primarily due to economic reasons and fears of currency export from Belarus.
Belarus introduced a five-day visa-free regime for nationals of 80 states, including the European Union, Brazil, Indonesia, the US and Japan, as well, she reduced the visa cost.
Earlier, the Belarusian authorities allowed foreign citizens to visit some areas bordering with the EU without a visa – Belovezha Forest and the Augustov Channel. Meanwhile, analysts doubt the substantial influx of foreign tourists in Belarus due to inadequate infrastructure and unattractive image of the country abroad.
Preparations and the introduction of the visa-free regime has caused tension among the state agencies involved – the Foreign Ministry, the Sports and Tourism Ministry, and the Interior Ministry. Apparently, the security forces responsible for migration issues, did not welcome the Foreign Ministry efforts to open up the country for foreigners.
Meanwhile, cooperation between Minsk and European capitals on border control issues has been the most successful. In the past two decades, the European Commission spent a large amount of grant aid on border cooperation projects with the Belarusian authorities.
However, the Belarusian authorities are holding back the introduction of a visa-free regime for residents of the Belarus-EU bordering territories. The delay with the launch of small border traffic with Poland and Lithuania is likely to be due to economic concerns of currency export from the country. According to the Polish authorities, thanks to the cross-border trade, Belarusians spend circa EUR 1 billion per year in Poland.
The visa-free regime and economic recession are likely to prompt the Belarusian authorities to creating a better environment for advancing foreign tourism in Belarus, including implementing initiatives by local and regional authorities.
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.