Bialiatski case "sentenced" multilateral foreign policy of Belarus
Belarus freezes its Western foreign policy direction. At the same time, the harsh verdict to Bialiatski implies an acute shortage of political strategies at the Presidential Administration.
On 24 November Vice President of International Federation of Human Rights and the Head of non-registered in Belarus Human Rights Center “Viasna” [Spring] A. Bialiatski was sentenced over large-scale tax evasion to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a medium security institution with confiscation of property.
The sentence to Human Rights Defender Bialiatski proves the authorities’ intention to resume a large-scale campaign aimed to clean up the alternative political and social organizations, which started after the presidential elections of December 19, 2010 in Belarus. The acute phase of the financial crisis in Belarus between March and October 2011 was the main argument infavour of the political liberalization and cooperation with foreign financial institutions (with the IMF in particular). Financial assistance from these institutions was preconditioned by the release of all political prisoners, including Bialiatski.
Regardless of a number of signals President Lukashenko sent last summer and in early autumn to the EU and the USA about his willingness to fulfill their political demands, he nevertheless decided to choose the opposite direction. The choice of the President was made for the favorable conditions of economic cooperation with Russia within the framework of the Common Economic Space and the future Eurasian Economic Union, also for the sale of shares of Beltransgaz for USD2.5 billion, as well as for a substantial gas price discount. All these decisions have been made either before or immediately after the human rights defender was sentenced (on 18 and 25 November respectively).
Regardless of a number of signals President Lukashenko sent last summer and in early autumn to the EU and the USA about his willingness to fulfill their political demands, he nevertheless decided to choose the opposite direction.
The aforementioned agreements provide Belarus with the opportunity to postpone the solution of its most pressing economic challenges. Bialiatski’s sentence also implies that the resumption of a political dialogue between Belarus and the West has been postponed indefinitely. We predict that as a consequence, rehabilitation and release of other political prisoners will be delayed too.
A particular emphasis should be added to the fact that this sentence was not a forced decision – it was an exclusive initiative of the authorities. Minsk brought Kremlin a symbolic “sacrifice” in the form of a sentence to Bialiatski, however it became a burden for Russia, while Minsk gained no benefits. During 2011 the Kremlin has repeatedly declared at the highest level that Belarus must respect international standards in human rights and democracy.
Therefore, the sentence pronounced for Bialiatski implies there is an acute shortage of strategic policy planning in the President Lukashenko’s surrounding and that his office is incapable of a multilateral foreign policy. No one benefits from the appearance of another political prisoner, neither Minsk, nor Moscow; moreover, it results in even greater dependence of the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus on the decisions made in the Kremlin.
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.