Belarusian authorities aim to narrow social base for protests and limit effects of decree on social dependants
Amid Belarusian-western normalisation, the president avoids escalating the confrontation with those discontent with the decree on ‘social parasites’. Meanwhile, the authorities apply soft repressions against opposition activists and seek to restrict the tax burden on citizens. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities are considering different options to ‘freeze’ the decree and minimise reputational losses for the president.
The police has summoned civic activists and politicians to draw up protocols for taking part in the "March of non-parasites”.
Amid Belarusian-western normalisation, the Belarusian authorities are prompted to develop a comprehensive approach to counteract growing protests. If protests mount, they are likely use force as a last resort to clamp down the protest movement. Apparently, the lack of visible reaction of the Belarusian authorities to recent protests suggests there is some confusion and anticipation that unrest would fade away shortly. The president only briefly noted that social protests were linked to external influences.
The majority of those protesting in the regions are ordinary citizens, who previously supported the president, which makes it difficult for the authorities to choose means to counteract them and challenges the use of force. Previously, the authorities used force to disperse street protests, pre-emptively arrested activists and organisers, and arrested participants in the protests. However, those were political protests organised by the opposition or protests by entrepreneurs, who were largely identified as the opposition. In cases when social unrest involved large social groups, including working people, the Belarusian authorities usually made concessions to the protesters.
So far, the authorities’ reaction to social protests, such as drafting administrative protocols against most active participants, exempting some social groups from the tax, and ad hoc concessions to the most active opponents (providing employment and removing the tax burden) should not raise concerns in the West. In addition, the ideologists are attempting to raise fear levels in society and to step up the loyalty of the national democratic opposition by talking about threats and risks to Belarus’ stability and independence.
The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to "decapitate" the protests and leave them without the organizers from the opposition, as this could bring to the fore previously unknown and more radical leaders.
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.