Belarusian power bodies would not change their practices regardless of softened political rhetoric
The Belarusian political leadership has not provided clear guidelines to the law enforcement to change their practices. Amid economic recession and threats to regional security, the Belarusian authorities could have reduced repressive practices in favour of normalizing relations with the West. De facto, the law enforcers are free to choose their mechanisms. And this state of affairs is likely to preserve for a while.
Last week, there were several reports that law enforcement officers had used force unlawfully and disproportionately, as well as non-lethal weapons in Belarus. For instance, they have beaten up a homeless person in Minsk and used special means (handcuffs) in Molodechno on street traders. These facts have confirmed the recent trend of disproportionate and unjustified use of force by the law enforcement. Some time ago, journalist Pavel Dobrovolsky had been beaten up and more recently – opposition activist Vyacheslav Siuchyk; social (non-political) activists had suffered from repression. In addition, public activists have been pressured before the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Some analysts were quick to say that the liberalization of the notorious Belarusian regime had finished before it started.
It would be a mistake to link the practice of disproportionate and unjustified use of force by the police with political factors. Rather, Belarus faces a threat of systemic abuse by the authorities, which may affect any citizen, regardless of his/her political activity/passivity. The Belarusian authorities have softened their rhetoric, but have not bothered to alter the practices of the law enforcement, which is directly responsible for public safety and stability of the regime.
The law enforcement is unlikely to punish its pawns or publicly recognise their wrongdoing. Firstly, because the authorities regard ‘recognition of own errors’ as a recognition of their weakness. Secondly, each of these cases has sparked public outcry. The punishment of those responsible (eg the police officers) could set a precedent of people’s ability to influence the security sphere. And the authorities believe, this could be a ‘dangerous’ path in the view of economic recession. Thirdly, the punishment of the guilty could have a negative impact on the morale among the law enforcement staff, which, given the existing financial constraints is not very high anyway. Fourthly, the use of force is working for the authorities’ benefit and supports its credibility, and therefore it should not be punishable by definition.
Clearly, the Belarusian authorities have full control over the security forces in Belarus. The problem with excessive use of violence lies outside the national security sector, and is in the sphere of influence of the political authorities, who have not ordered the security forces to change their practices. Apparently, this was a conscious decision by the senior authorities in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities consider liberalisation, transparency and accountability of the public security agencies as a threat to the ability to control power bodies. Events in Ukraine have strengthened views among the Belarusian authorities that public recognition by the security forces of their flaws would only discredit the security forces in the eyes of the people, which, in turn, could destabilize the entire political system in Belarus.
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.