Construction industry reform creates opportunities for civic leaders

April 22, 2016 18:35

During the week, residents in different districts of Minsk held protest actions against developers and city officials.

Belarus’ construction industry problems and increased attention to them by the authorities create opportunities for greater civic activity in Minsk. Belarusian opposition has not yet embraced this opportunity.

Currently the situation is favourable for greater legitimate civic activity in residential and business construction spheres. On the one hand, the government has organized an open campaign to reform the construction industry (working group meetings, chaired by Presidential Administration Head Kobyakov, held three times a week with the participation of the KGB and State Control Committee leaders).

The working group meetings broadcasted by state TV and print media, a ‘hot’ line is organized in the Presidential Administration. In addition, field sessions are planned for the working group. Preliminary results of the working group’s efforts to reform the construction industry will be announced in September-October 2013.

On the other hand, citizens’ activity is increasing, especially in Minsk, where residents protest against so-called ‘construction consolidation’ in urban areas, as well as against the violation of housing commissioning deadlines. The protests are mainly pickets and rallies in residential yards. In addition, tenants and shareholders are making a video clip and prepare written petitions to the city government and Presidential Administration. Residents in different Minsk districts consolidate their efforts and support one another.

The state and the Police in particular, react neutrally to such protest actions by residents and shareholders, which implies common interests of the ruling group and the population regarding construction industry reform, even though they have different priorities: the redistribution of influence in the construction market on the one hand, and solving problems of concrete households on the other. Such temporary coinciding interests objectively create preconditions for greater legitimate civic activity and for meeting some citizen’s demands related to the construction industry reform.

Belarusian opposition is not yet engaged in this process. The ruling group is not interested in protests’ politization and citizens understand that if their demands are shifted to the political level before the elections, repressions might follow.

Therefore, the construction industry reform will have greater civic effect, than political. Emerging civic solidarity structures and leaders will build up and strengthen their influence through urban protest activity.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.