Belarusian president reiterates independence and sovereignty talks to relax tension in society

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January 30, 2017 11:13
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Amid lingering recession and falling living standards of the population, the Belarusian authorities focus on threats to Belarus' sovereignty and independence in order to defuse protest moods in society. The president’s statement is likely to weaken the opposition’s mobilisation efforts. The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue cautious and often inconsistent attempts to weld a nation by promoting Belarus’ independence and strengthening national identity.

Last week, President Lukashenka said that some attempted to question the sovereignty and independence of Belarus.

The president is attempting to ease protest moods in society, which are used by the opposition to mobilise those dissatisfied with the current government policies. Virtually all main opposition alliances, including the centre-right coalition, "Tell the Truth" and the Belarusian National Congress (BNC) said to attempt to engage those affected "by the decree on social parasitism", who make up a significant part of the population, in some kind of activity.

Official rhetoric about the threat to Belarus’ sovereignty aims to weaken supporters of street protests and determined opponents of the Belarusian authorities. Part of the opposition, led by former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich seeks to use speculations about ‘Zapad-2017’, a joint Russo-Belarusian large-scale military exercise to mobilise its supporters within the framework of the BNC "regional military commissions". The arrest of Regnum [Russian news agency] authors, and restricted access to ‘Sputnik and Mayhem’, an odious web site, could also reduce the protest capacity.

Apparently, amid exhausted capacity of the ‘younger brother’ (‘younger sister’) strategy in relation to Russia, the Belarusian authorities started a careful revision of the Belarusian statehood ideological constructs. The authorities’ rhetoric started echoing the rhetoric of the national-democratic opposition as regards the Belarusian sate’s origins. For instance, the authorities plan to erect a memorial sign ‘Polotsk is the cradle of the Belarusian statehood’ in the Vitebsk region, one of the most Russified regions. That said, since the mid-2000s the Belarusian authorities regarded the Great Patriotic War and the election of the first president as major milestones in the Belarusian state formation.

The Belarusian authorities’ actions aimed to strengthen national identity remain cautious. For example, the Belarusian parliament and the government expressed scepticism concerning legislative changes envisaging the mandatory use of the Belarusian language along with Russian by manufacturers, despite strong pressure from civil society activists. Even such cautious steps caused biting attacks by the ‘Russian World’ supporters in Russia.

Overall, the Belarusian authorities seem ready to take over slogans and ideas from their opponents in order to strengthen the sovereignty and independence of Belarus and to weaken the opposition’s influence on the protest social groups.

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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.

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