Belarusian opposition split by political emigrants
Sannikov’s team aims to create its own focal point in exile, which means they will not join the Vilnius memorandum of the Belarusian opposition. Very likely, this process will result in emergence of two competing centres of Belarusian opposition and will leave zero chances for a broad democratic coalition in the next 2-3 years.
Last week, a number of events were held in Warsaw with MEP Migalski’s support and with the participation of “European Belarus” campaign, headed by former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov.
Sannikov’s team continues efforts to set up an emigration focal point. In particular, on November 16-17, with the support of MEP Migalski, a number of Warsaw-based Belarusian socio-political centres and Diaspora representatives organized meetings with Polish Sejm Deputies.
This is a natural process for Sannikov’s team, since European Belarus’ core members have already emigrated abroad and they need to create a structure out there ‘for themselves’. That is the reason why Sannikov, who was granted political asylum in Britain, had refused to support the initiative by 14 members of the Belarusian opposition, the so-called Vilnius memorandum “Measures to ensure Belarus’ independence”, which was presented on November 3rd under the auspices of Belarusian People’s Republic Rada. In the meanwhile, neither Sannikov, nor his colleagues have yet disclosed their future political strategy.
Objectively speaking, the European Belarus’ actions will result in emergence of at least two hubs of Belarusian opposition abroad: one in Warsaw (or London) and the other in Vilnius. It could also happen that the supporting offices of both hubs will be located in Warsaw. Sannikov’s team advantage is that they can organize relatively broad information campaigns, supported by influential English-speaking media, and Internet campaigns via Charter97.org website. In particular, on November 23rd, the Guardian published an interview with Sannikov, calling him the most prominent figure in the Belarusian opposition.
Following emigration of the most active members of European Belarus, Sannikov’s influence in Belarus is likely to continue to decline. Sannikov’s team lacks trust, which is proved by the fact that new immigrant centers are set up “from a scratch” without the participation of other influential politicians and in parallel with the coalition established in Vilnius. As for Sannkov’s electoral popularity, he does not stand out from all other ex-candidates who ever aimed for presidency in Belarus. Electoral popularity of all ex-candidates during the first year after the elections remained at the same level as during the election campaign, and two years after the elections was around 5% if actively mentioned in the media.
If the idea of new alternative focal points of the Belarusian opposition abroad is successful, then, objectively speaking, the chances for the Belarusian opposition to agree on a ‘single’ candidate for the 2015 presidential campaign reduce to zero. Simultaneously, increased competition between the focal points can result in competitive strategic action plans in the opposition. The latter, the most positive option, is unlikely: the opposition either follows previous strategies (Vilnius Memorandum) or simply has no public political strategy (Sannikov’s group).
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.