The Chernobyl Shliakh (Chernobyl Path) demonstration
For the first time in many years, on 26 April, on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Belarus there was no Chernobyl Shliakh demonstration. It was replaced with a rally.
The Chernobyl Shliakh demonstration, organized by the Belarusian opposition and taking place every year, is an important event on the political calendar, along with the Den Voli (Freedom Day) on 25th March. Traditionally on those memorable days the opposition staged processions and rallies in and outside the capital, regardless of the permission by the authorities. This year, the Chernobyl Shliakh’s organizers (Yuri Khodyko and the “Belarusky Ruh”) have staged a sanctioned rally in the park of Friendship of Peoples. The event attracted several hundred people, which is an unprecedented small number of people for the Chernobyl Shlyakh, particularly for the anniversary.
There is a steady trend towards the decline of participation in the oppositional street protests. Despite the numerous actions on the days of the presidential elections on 19 March 2006 and 19 December 2010, which attracted tens of thousands of participants not associated with the opposition directly, the events organized by the opposition since 2008 European and Social Marches attract a small number of participants. Currently there is no reason to expect a breakthrough in this trend.
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.