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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.