Belarusian authorities attempt to achieve the most benefits from the potential clemency of the political prisoners
The pardoning of Bondarenko and Sannikau would allow the opposition to take part in the parliamentary elections and would also legitimize the whole election campaign. The delay in releasing the two political prisoners is connected with President Lukashenko’s absence in Belarus and is most likely explained by his personal hostility.
On February 1, Bondarenko, an election agent to presidential candidate Sannikau in the 2010 elections, wrote an appeal for clemency.
The release of Bondarenko is very probable, as is the release of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, who earlier wrote an appeal. If this takes place, the oppositional forces will receive an additional stimulus against the boycott, and in favour of participating in the parliamentary campaign in September 2012.
The probability of Bondarenko and Sannikau’s release is strengthened by the lowering of the opposition’s demands. On January 31, the opposition forces signed a ‘Declaration for a Public Discussion’ in which they demand only the swift release of political prisoners, but not their additional rehabilitation (which is a demand of the international community).
The lowering of demands is of benefit to the authorities as it allows them to neutralize the political prisoners who have been released in the capacity of political opponents. Along with this, the likely release of Bondarenko and Sannikau will weaken the position of those in favour of an active boycott of the elections among the opposition and will lead to the majority of the opposition forces to take part in the election campaign in some form or other.
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.