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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.