Belarusian opposition unable to retain people’s interest in street protests
A traditional Chernobyl Path rally was held in Minsk on April 26th, which followed the authorised route from the Oktyabr cinema to the Chernobyl chapel near the Bangalore square. Despite the fact that organisers were well prepared, the opposition rally gathered a small number of participants (several hundred), which was probably due to the violent clampdown of the opposition rally on Freedom Day on March 25th and persecution of participants that followed (fines, administrative arrests, criminal charges). The opposition attempted to attract more participants by including socio-economic slogans and demands on the rally’s agenda, including the demand to abolish the decree on social dependants, but to no avail. That said, the authorities also used preventive detentions and arrests against opposition leaders, banned some demonstrations in the regions, and made changes to the authorised format of the May Day demonstration to be held by the opposition in Minsk, in order to step-up disagreements among the opposition and reduce participation. Apparently, thanks to enhanced repressions and the beginning of the ‘dacha’ season, the authorities have reduced the protest movement in Belarus to nothing.
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.