Belarusian authorities count on opposition to exhaust its resources and abandon unauthorized activity
The Belarusian authorities have fine-tuned their measures to curb street activity of the opposition and the independent media by using softer mechanisms, such as non-registration of initiatives, fines, warnings, deprivation of the right to organize public events, etc. The authorities expect that ‘relaxed’ repressions, while being efficient, would not cause a sharp criticism by Western capitals. The authorities are likely to apply sufficient measures to contain protest activity, which will work just like harsh repressions.
The Freedom Day march organisers believe that the government’s decision to change the format of the march is a provocation.
In the wake of liberalization, some opposition initiatives aspired to obtain state registration. In recent years, the authorities have not prosecuted unregistered organizations, however issued warnings to the most active opposition activists. Registration of such initiatives would have significantly increased their attractiveness for new activists.
For instance, in recent months, the following initiatives have applied for official registration: the BCD, "Tell the Truth" campaign, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu’s movement "For Statehood and Independence!" and others. However, the authorities have denied registration to virtually all opposition initiatives, quoting insignificant grounds.
Meanwhile, the authorities do not prevent unauthorized opposition rallies and do not detain their participants and organizers. The law enforcement only draws up reports on the spot or in absentia on the most active oppositionists.
Such a change in the approaches of the power structures to curb street activity has led to some curious cases. For instance, during a trial, three law enforcement officers testified against methodologist Matskevich as if he was participating in one of the unauthorized actions. However, Matskevich provided plane tickets to proof his absence in the country on the day of the opposition action and showed a stamp in his passport from Polish border control. Interestingly, instead of closing the case and bring to justice perjure police officers, the judge sent police documents "for completion".
Simultaneously, the authorities denied the organizers or participants of unsanctioned actions the right to organize sanctioned events. For instance, they crossed out four party leaders from the list of organisers of the traditional opposition march on the Freedom Day on the grounds, that during the year they have participated in unsanctioned rallies.
With regard to the independent media, the authorities apply two strategies - financial prosecution of journalists and preventive measures vis-a-vis publications. For instance, the Information Ministry issued warnings to the owners of two independent newspapers - "Nasha Niva" and "Ezhednevnik" - for discrediting the state demographic policy and the armed forces. Most likely, the authorities do not intend to close the newspapers, but hope for preventive effects, such as enhanced self-censorship. That said, in order to close the publication, the authorities only have to issue two warnings in one year.
In addition, the law enforcement agencies have replaced harsh repressions against unaccredited media with financial persecution. Some journalists already have large fines pending for their activities. For example, Gomel journalist Zhukovsky has accumulated USD 2200 worth of fines in this year alone.
Overall, in the medium term, the authorities expect the opposition to abandon unauthorized activities, and non-accredited journalists to stop working due to exhausted financial resources. If protest movement grows, the authorities may resume their usual harsh repressions against the opposition and the independent media.
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.