Belarusian authorities abandon tough confrontation with opposition and soften repressions against opponents
The Belarusian government is becoming more open to contacts with representatives of the opposition in order to improve its international reputation. Despite the easing of repression against the opposition, the authorities show no desire to open a public dialogue with various political forces to find a way out of the country’s systemic crisis. The Belarusian government is likely to abandon tough confrontation with the opposition in order to demonstrate limited progress in the field of democracy and human rights to the international community.
In the Freedom House’s ‘Nations in Transit 2015’ annual ranking, Belarus has improved her overall democracy scores.
Minsk has always insisted that the international community abandoned the "special approach" in assessing democracy and freedoms in the country. The Belarusian authorities are attempting to persuade Western capitals to engage in pragmatic cooperation, just like with other ‘no less authoritarian post-Soviet states’. In addition, while negotiating with the West, Minsk would like to use the argument that according to authoritative international organizations (Freedom House) Belarus’ democracy scores have improved.
That said, the Belarusian authorities associate Freedom House with the US government. Perhaps, progress marked by Freedom House has softened Minsk’s response to the State Department’s annual report to the US Congress, which provided a more rigid interpretation of the human rights situation in Belarus. In all likelihood, the Belarusian authorities have regarded the apparent inconsistency of these documents as a signal for further settlement of Belarusian-American relations.
The US State Department’s report was tough on the Belarusian authorities; the Belarusian Foreign Ministry however attempted to avoid any assessments of it not to draw yet more criticism of the situation with democracy in the country. Belarusian Foreign Ministry Press Officer Dmitry Mironchik was neutral, which had emphasised Minsk’s unwillingness to engage in a dispute with Washington: "This is an internal document of the US administration. The State Department is preparing it following the US Congress inquiry. We have no intention to comment on internal documents of the US administration”.
The Belarusian government has become more open to participation in international meetings on problems of democracy and human rights. For instance, head of Belteleradiocompany Davydko and STV CEO Koziyatko participated in the Council of Europe’s conference in London, which discussed the role of national parliaments in improving the situation with freedom of the media. That said, the only opposition ex-presidential candidate in the 2015 elections Tatsiana Karatkevich also participated in the conference.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have continued persecuting independent media journalists inside the country, albeit using somewhat ‘softer’ means. Instead of harsh clampdown, the authorities started using financial measures against the independent media and opposition leaders. Heavy fines have prompted some regional journalists to stop their cooperation with independent media outlets and led to a shocking action by Konstantin Zhukovsky.
In addition, "Tell the truth!" representatives have attempted to initiate a dialogue with the Belarusian authorities and held several meetings with leaders of deputy groups in the Parliament and representatives of ministries. However, the authorities have chosen to disregard the opposition’s proposals for cooperation in the quest for the Belarusian economy’s bailout programme.
In relations with the international community, the Belarusian authorities are likely to avoid harsh rhetoric and escalation over human rights situation in Belarus. They anticipate to contain protest activity of the opponents by using financial mechanisms.
Image: Vadzim Zamirouski, TUT.BY
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.