Belarusian authorities raided sports and patriotic movement of national democrats to boost loyalty of security officials
The authorities have taken measures to reduce popularity of the sports and patriotic movement among the national democrats and to step-up the loyalty of the security block. The Belarusian leadership has reduced the opposition's potential for self-organisation and control over the street protests, which significantly enhanced the probability of provocations and unpredictability of street protests. However, in addition to persecuting national democrats, the authorities may restrict activities of paramilitary organisations supporting the ‘Russian World’.
Former activists of the White Legion led by Miroslav Lozovsky, members of the Patriot Club in Bobruisk, and Young Front activists led by Dmitry Dashkevich - overall 26 people - were detained last week on mass riot charges.
The persecution of former White Legion activists, registered and non-registered sports-patriotic organisations supporting Belarus’ independence was a self-action of the Belarusian leadership. That said, a harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and increasing tension in the Belarusian society point to the fact that the Belarusian leadership is confident that it has full control over the socio-political situation in the country.
It should be noted, that after the Belarusian leadership bolstered the power block influence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the demand for sports and patriotic education among the opposition has drastically decreased due to possible repressions. By early 2000s, once numerous White Legion and Krai had self-dissolved. During the 2006 presidential campaign, the law enforcement initiated the first and the last (until now) criminal case against an activist from Milinkevich’s team from Shchuchin town, who was charged with ‘training or preparing individuals for participation in mass riots’.
Simultaneously, the authorities have deprived the opposition of the opportunity to control street actions and strengthened the unpredictability in progression of events. For instance, detained Young Front activists planned to become the backbone of the opposition's security squad during the March 25th rally in order to prevent possible provocations.
The Belarusian leadership fears erosion of loyalty among security officials at critical moments, because of contacts with the opposition through their former colleagues from military-patriotic organisations. For instance, some media pointed to the alleged behind-the-scenes negotiations between White Legion activists and security officials during the Supreme Council confrontation with President Lukashenka in 1996. In addition, interactions with Krai activists in 2000s led to controversial statements by former KGB officer Uglianitsa about the top leadership.
That said, security officials seem reluctant to carry out demonstrative purges among numerous organisations created by the Russian World supporters in Belarus. The authorities’ actions against sports and patriotic movement of national democrats have prompted speculations about the Kremlin’s alleged influence on Lukashenka’s position, which is unlikely given numerous special services in Belarus exercising mutual control. In addition, the Russian media, including the pro-Kremlin ones, either neutrally or critically reported about the detentions in Belarus, presented by the Belarusian authorities as a prevention of preparations for the Maidan in Belarus.
The Belarusian leadership tightens discipline among security officials to prevent possible unauthorised contacts between them and the opposition.
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.