Belarusian opposition transforms people’s natural discontent with government policies into organised pressure
The Belarusian opposition has channelled spontaneous protest activity of Belarusians into the organised massive pressure on the authorities. Despite differences in approaches, the opposition parties have avoided mutual criticism and made a cumulative impact on the Belarusian leadership thanks to various activities. The authorities are likely to attempt to ease tension in society and weaken the protest movement by suspending the decree ‘on social parasites’.
Last week, Belarusian opposition leaders met with representatives of the Presidential Administration to discuss the decree on ‘social parasites’.
Public pressure on the government to abolish the decree on ‘social parasites’ has built up and prompted the Belarusian authorities to launch a large-scale campaign aiming to neutralise the protest movement. In addition to the information campaign in the state media, officials from the presidential administration held numerous meetings in the regions and in Minsk in order to ease tension and prevent people from participating in street protests. By criticising local officials, the ruling elite is attempting to localise people’s discontent and somewhat relieve outrage against the top leadership.
The opposition is attempting to channel spontaneous protests of citizens into an organised activity by using both, legal means within the legislative framework (eg "Tell the Truth" and the centre-right coalition) and unsanctioned non-violent street protests (eg the Belarusian National Congress). According to independent media reports, in the past month, parties and independent trade unions managed to collect more than 75000 signatures for a petition to abolish the decree.
Despite the differences among the opposition about the unauthorised ‘March of Angry Belarusians’, the organisers managed to mobilise unexpectedly many participants (more than 2000 people), including many new people from the regions. This proves that previously politically passive Belarusians have somewhat radicalised. In addition, the March organisers are attempting to legitimise themselves as leaders of the protest movement in order to impose their agenda in negotiations with the authorities and to strengthen positions among other, more moderate opposition parties, which could build-up tension and lead to conflicts among the opposition.
The popularity of protest activity among the opposition is likely to enhance along with the radicalisation of the rhetoric by street leaders. The authorities are likely to suspend the decree in one way or the other.
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.