Belarusian political circles’ reaction to the ‘potash case’

April 22, 2016 18:36

Some political organizations and politicians have made statements about the criminal case against the Uralkali and BPC leaders.

Some opposition groups and politicians have used the Russo-Belarusian ‘potash conflict’ as an excuse to address their target audiences. All statements were made ad hoc and did not exploit the potential of political coalitions. Pro-government political and social organizations were silent, implying that the ruling group was not ready to ‘politicize’ the conflict.

On August 27th, Vice-President of Belarus’ Liberal Democratic Party Oleg Gaydukevich said that Belarus’ actions were not political by nature and that the Investigation Committee of Belarus was responding adequately to the situation. This statement was addressed to representatives of Belarus’ security services, to which Oleg Gaydukevich belonged until autumn 2012 (he headed the Frunze District Police Department in Minsk). We also note that the President of the Liberal Democrat Party, Colonel Sergei Gaydukevich, and father of Oleg Gaydukevich, comes from a military background. The party’s support of the authorities’ actions regarding the ‘potash case’ was therefore fairly predictable.

On August 30th, “For Freedom” Movement issued a statement addressing its primary target audience, the so-called “discontented majority”. In the statement, “For Freedom” argues that the potash conflict and the arrest of a Russian citizen is a natural outcome of Russia’s long-term support of illegal political governance and economic management practices in Belarus, and its non-transparent approach to business management. The Movement called upon pro-active citizens to take part in the “National Referendum” project which aims to democratize governance in Belarus.

United Civil Party Chairman Anatoly Lebedko said that the conflict was an ‘image’ matter for the Kremlin and would continue to escalate until parties finally reconciled.

Pro-government parties and public associations refrained from commenting. Except some negative statements by MPs, the conflict was overlooked by Belarusian pro-governmental politicians and organizations. This implies that the ruling group is not ready to regard the ‘potash case’ as a full-scale ‘conflict’. However the authorities are using state propaganda mechanisms (public electronic media and loyal experts) to win sympathy in Belarusian and Russian societies.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.