Belarusian authorities want higher impact from ideological outreach
Recently, public institutions and government agencies responsible for ideology in Belarus have been under an extensive information attack. Ideology departments, pro-government organisations and political parties have faced an increased competition for dwindling state resources. The Belarusian government is likely to revise its ideology strategy in order to ensure greater feedback from the population and fine-tune performance criteria.
On November 29th, 2016, the Congress of the Belarusian Writers Union was held at the Belarusian State Philharmonic.
Controversies have shaken the state ideology sector, which was likely due to funding cuts and anticipation of further deterioration. For instance, independent media reported about alleged abuse of power and financial fraud by the deputy chief of administration in a Belarusian region. The controversy has affected some pro-government organisations he is a member of, including the loyal Communist Party of Belarus and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, which receives substantial support from the state.
Following the information attack on the ideology sector, GoNGOs and pro-government parties, media also reported about abuses in the Orthodox Church. That said, the government prioritises cooperation with the Orthodox Church to all other confessions and has a special cooperation agreement signed back in 2003. Thanks to the agreement, the Orthodox Church has some privileges and additional opportunities to reach out to the population.
At the Congress, which gathered over 500 participants, staunch writers appealed to the authorities to step up the state support for the Belarusian Writers Union members. Simultaneously, the Congress was marked by a conflict between some participants and the police. The public row involving writers is likely to reduce drastically their prospects for increased support from the state and will give the authorities additional opportunity to criticise their activity.
The state encourages competition in the ideological sector and demands greater involvement and visible results in ensuring people’s loyalty to the Belarusian authorities.
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.