Belarusian opposition supports authorities’ intentions to bridge value gap in society
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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.