Belarusian opposition supports authorities’ intentions to bridge value gap in society

April 22, 2016 18:49

The Belarusian opposition and civil society have supported President Lukashenko’s statements about the need to hold a public dialogue, fight against corruption and protect sovereignty. However, there is creeping fatigue within Belarusian society of not having new ideas or fresh solutions from the President. Regardless of the authorities’ future actions to promote a societal dialogue, some opposition groups have already taken steps to bridge the value gap in society.

Against the backdrop of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, which is developing into a geopolitical confrontation between the West and Russia, the Belarusian opposition has considerably altered its perceptions of Belarus’ authorities. Because the Belarusian authorities managed to take a balanced stance in the Russo-Ukrainian confrontation and President Lukashenko many times reiterated the need to protect Belarus’ sovereignty, some opposition groups have been prompted to reconsider their attitudes to the authorities and to offer cooperation to strengthen Belarus’ sovereignty.

Following events in Ukraine, some members of the Belarusian opposition have become aware of the dangers for Belarus’ independence hidden in the societal split over values. After the president’s address to the nation, where he emphasised the need to protect Belarus’ sovereignty, the ‘People’s Referendum’ initiators proposed the authorities to hold a joint public event entitled the ‘Independence March’. 

The organisers believe that the march might facilitate a dialogue in Belarusian society and plan for both oppositional and official symbols to be used. They have proposed to hold the march on May 14th, a symbolic date for modern Belarus, as the first national referendum was held on this day in 1995. As a result of the 1995 referendum, state symbols that were essentially soviet with minor alterations were adopted and the Russian language became an official language, alongside Belarusian. The 1995 referendum not only marked the start of the confrontation between the supporters and opponents of the current leadership, but also deepened the value gap in Belarusian society.

Nevertheless, the opposition is sceptical about the president’s intentions as regards possible evolutionary changes to which he has recently referred. It should be noted that ahead of President Putin’s visit to Minsk and the World Hockey Championships, the authorities are carrying out preventive detentions and arrests of youth opposition activists in Minsk. This is standard practice for the Belarusian security forces before important events. 

All in all, some Belarusian opposition forces are prepared to assist the authorities in consolidating Belarusian society around the idea of protecting Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. Most opposition structures do not consider the ‘Euromaidan’ scenario as a likely scenario during the 2015 presidential elections.

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Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.