Belarusian authorities aim to tighten control over IT and boost its role in economy
The president has demonstrated a loyal attitude to the IT sector, and simultaneously stepped up control over the industry. By appointing a compromise candidate, Vsevolod Yanchevsky, to lead the High Tech Park, the Belarusian authorities aspire to relax tension between the IT sector and the state, which occurred following Tsepkalo’s dismissal. Apparently, the Belarusian leadership envisages applying private business practices in traditional industries to the IT sector, i.e. allowing large businesses to develop in exchange for the loyalty to the current authorities and their financial needs.
The president has appointed his aide, Chair of the Supervisory Board of the HTP and long time supervisor of the IT industry, Vsevolod Yanchevsky, as he Head of the HTP Administration.
Amid distress in traditional industries, the state has stepped up its interest in the IT development in an attempt to boost economic growth. The president counts on prompt economic effects thanks to large investment in the economy. For instance, last week he visited Belarusian IT companies together with Russian billionaire and IT investor Mikhail Gutseriev. Meanwhile, apparently not all senior officials from the president’s inner circle share his views, so they speak about the long-term IT development in order to prevent criticism in his regard in the future.
IT sector leaders have reacted positively to the appointment of former chief ideologist from the presidential administration Yanchevsky to lead the HTP. Yanchevsky is probably the only official in the top echelon of the state administration, who is closely familiar with the IT and communication technologies, and suits both, the authorities and IT entrepreneurs.
It is worth noting that, along with his appointment as the HTP Head, Yanchevsky is attempting to strengthen his lobbying potential by creating an additional bureaucratic structure - the Public Council for IT Development, which would include officials and business representatives.
The Belarusian leadership seems ready for gradual structural transformations in the economy in Belarus and takes measures to ensure it retains control over new promising sectors.
The Belarusian authorities have revived the cyclical political agenda, including preventive crackdown with the use of force during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk and a loyal attitude to the participants in the opposition events in the regions. The protest rally in Minsk has evidenced that the Belarusian society has freed from the post-Maidan syndrome and showed high self-organisation capacity during the event in the absence of opposition leaders. In the future, the authorities are likely to expand the framework for sanctioned and legal activity for the moderate opposition in order to reduce the potential for street protests.
The Freedom Day march in Minsk on March 25th, 2017 was marked by unprecedented and brutal detentions before and during the event.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to stretch in time the political cycle - liberalization followed by repressions - and move beyond the electoral campaigns. Simultaneously, Minsk has demonstrated a rather high mobilisation potential under political slogans, despite the pressure from the state media and security forces before and during Freedom Day, including the presence of armed officers and new special equipment to disperse demonstrations in the streets of Minsk. That said, in other towns (Vitebsk, Gomel, Brest and Grodno) the Freedom Day march led by the opposition, was sanctioned by the local authorities (except Vitebsk), albeit there were fewer participants than in February and March protests against the decree on social dependants.
The Belarusian leadership has depersonalised (removed leaders) the protest, preventively weakened the protest movement, and has not opted for the harsh crackdown like in 2010 with many injured and hundreds arrested. For instance, some party leaders were preventively arrested or detained (Lebedko, Rymashevsky, Gubarevich, Neklyaev, Logvinets, Severinets) before the event. Nikolai Statkevich has disappeared and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Some could not pass through the police cordons (Yanukevich and Kostusev) or participated in the rallies in the regions (Dmitriev, Korotkevich and Milinkevich).
Despite the lack of protest leaders, some demonstrators managed to self-organize and march down the Minsk centre. The march was unauthorised but gathered several thousand participants. Many were detained by the law enforcement and later released without charges. In addition, the Belarusian law enforcers used some tactics of the western riot police against peaceful protesters, allegedly in order to mitigate the criticism from Western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have used the entire set of propaganda and power mechanisms applied during the highly politicised 2006 and 2010 elections - criminal prosecution of the opposition leaders, preventive detentions and arrests of activists, harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and, finally, the crackdown on the protest action in Minsk with the use of force.
Overall, the mobilisation potential of the Belarusian society remains high and the authorities are likely to expand the legal framework for public participation in politics in order to absorb superfluous tension.