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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.