Belarusian president opens up to criticism to ease tension in society
The president has outlined the acceptable framework for criticising and opposing to government policies. The Belarusian authorities invited some civil society and expert community representatives to participate in the official public event in order to narrow differences and search for a value consensus in Belarusian society. President Lukashenka appears willing to strengthen some state and public institutions, which could create the environment for a peaceful transition of power in the future.
Last week, Belarusian President Lukashenka met with journalists and experts for ‘A big talk with the President’.
The president attempted to respond to many issues of concern, but in reality reiterated all his previous theses. Many pressing issues were raised by pro-government journalists and experts, indicating the readiness of the Belarusian authorities to a public dialogue, albeit on their terms and without the sharp pressure from the opponents. Simultaneously, the president’s bright and long-lasting presentation (7 hours and 19 minutes) demonstrated that he was in a good shape as a politician.
The president only briefly mentioned a possible transfer of power through elections in the future, without the modalities and terms. Nevertheless, he invited some mild critics of the government policy to participate in the meeting, including some representatives of the independent media, NGOs (the Belarusian Language Society), political parties (Liberal Democratic Party), and experts (Liberal Club, Mises Center). This reinforced the trend towards strengthening the role of political parties and the parliament in the political system, as well as the independent media.
By inviting some critics of the government policies, the authorities have outlined the acceptable level of criticism for the opposition to form a common value-based platform for co-operation. Nevertheless, while talking about the opposition, the president referred to the ‘fifth column’, thereby strongly rejecting any consensus with his harsh critics.
Apparently, the systemic crisis and discontent of the population have encouraged the Belarusian authorities to search for a new value system as a base for public consensus. The Belarusian leadership appears ready to tolerate moderate opposition in the public space and may revise the social contract with the population, based on non-interference in politics in exchange for growing well-being.
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.