Belarusian law enforcement protects without owning
In Belarus, the security forces do not benefit from a particular business. Their task is to ensure the state's economic interests, namely to preserve the immutability of the political regime in the country. If Belarusian security forces or their senior officers obtained economic influence in addition to power influence, the existing government system in Belarus would be under a threat.
It is common in the post-Soviet space for security forces to have a share of control over the economy. Senior security officers are often business owners. As a rule, this leads to the abuse of power and amalgamation of economic and security structures.
During his rule, Lukashenka consistently destroyed all power centres, which could challenge his absolute authority. A merger between business and the law enforcement would be a particular threat. In the early 1990s, when this process only started and was semi-criminal, the Belarusian authorities nipped a potential alliance between "the sword and the purse" within the framework of the criminal law.
To date, the main functions of the law enforcement in the Belarusian economy include:
- ensuring the national security (enforcing secrecy, mobilisation readiness, overall security of enterprises)
- ensuring the rule of law in the economy
- controlling finances and assets of state enterprises
- mobilising financial resources for the state in addition to existing taxes and duties (so-called "voluntary" contributions, compensation for damage to the state in criminal cases and the like).
That said, the Belarusian power system is subjected to corruption and abuse of various kinds. However, such criminal activity is only attributable to concrete individuals, rather than being a behavioural standard sanctioned in the highest power echelons.
The most common types of abuse of power by the law enforcement, not related to bribes include:
- granting jobs to relatives
- offering paid services to businesses
- owning businesses (registered to 3rd persons).
Locally, the Belarusian law enforcement, commercial structures, executive and supervisory bodies often link together, creating a system of mutual cover-ups, conspiracy and protection.
In the Belarusian power system, there is only one power centre, which grants powers and resources to other actors. Other state bodies either raise funds and/or implement the decisions of the central political power. Due to severe repressions, the Belarusian security forces or their senior officers are unable to obtain economic influence in addition to power influence, so as that could threaten the existing government system in Belarus.
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.