Belarusian official state symbols only dominate when ensured by authorities
The Belarusian authorities ensured that the official state symbols prevailed at public events to mark Victory Day and the World Ice Hockey Championships opening. Outside formal events, however, the national symbols of Minsk’s guests – Russians in particular – were more visible, mainly because Belarusians are not emotionally attached to the state official symbols while historical symbols are banned.
Using the state symbols during the celebrations to mark Victory Day and the opening of the World Ice-Hockey Championships on May 9th, as well as on May 11th, the National Flag and Coat of Arms’ Day – was a concerted attempt by the Belarusian authorities to demonstrate Belarus’ independence. Amid Belarus’ deeper involvement in the Eurasian integration project and Russia’s actions in Ukraine, threats to Belarus’ independence have increased.
Prior to the Victory Day celebrations on May 9th, the Belarusian authorities directly and indirectly restricted the use of ‘St. George’s ribbons’, which were originally introduced by Russia in 2005 as a symbol of Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War, and are now extensively used by the ‘separatists’ in Ukraine. Instead, the Belarusian authorities have used administrative resources and quasi-NGOs to disseminate red-and-green ribbons (in the state flag colours) at all public events.
In addition, the authorities have made efforts to limit the activity and ‘visibility’ of Russian fans during the World Ice-Hockey Championships held in Belarus on May 9th – 25th. Public actions by the Russian fans have been banned, such as public demonstrations, as well as organised marches towards grandstands. While covering the Championships’ opening ceremony, the state media ensured a balanced picture as regards a variety of international fans’ national symbols, despite the fact that the Russian fans outnumbered the rest.
On May 11th, Belarus celebrated State Symbol Day, which is marked on the second Sunday of May. By using the state symbols on a mass-scale, the authorities attempted to boost the patriotic moods of Belarusians. As a result, during various celebrations and public events held in May in Belarus, Russia’s visible presence was minimised. Interestingly, outside public events, Belarusians did not use their national symbols, and, as a result, Russian flags were most visible.
By promoting Belarus’ state symbols during the May celebrations, the Belarusian authorities intended to demonstrate Belarus’ commitment to strengthening her independence and sovereignty. Nevertheless, Belarus’ national symbols (slightly modified from Soviet times), which were introduced via the 1995 Referendum, bear no emotional value for Belarusians. They are rarely used outside official public events. Belarusians are more emotionally attached to the country’s historical symbols – the white-red-white flag and ‘Pahonia’ Coat of Arms, which are perceived by the authorities as a threat and are consequently banned.
The recent celebrations have once again demonstrated that Belarusians lack official national symbols to which they can emotionally relate and use to wilfully express support for their country.
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.