Belarusian opposition split by political emigrants

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April 22, 2016 18:22

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).

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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