Belarusian authorities use national symbols to reduce tension in relations with opposition

July 26, 2016 0:16

Last week, the ‘Vyshyvanka Day’ celebration was held near the Sports Palace in Minks, aiming to promote traditional national Belarusian symbols and ornamental codes, which was organized by the State Youth Union. It is not the first time the Belarusian authorities ‘seize’ the initiative and ideas from the opposition, which become popular among the population. For instance, since mid 2000s, the Belarusian authorities have completely changed their rhetoric about the value of Belarusian sovereignty and independence. National symbols and ‘vishivanki’ were initially popular only among the politicised youth, now the state has picked up this fashion. Some nationalists in the opposition sympathise the authorities’ efforts to promote traditional national symbols. However, the authorities are unlikely either to enable the formation of a system opposition or empower it to gain influence on the state policy.

Image: Siarhei Hudzilin, NN.BY

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.