Construction industry reform creates opportunities for civic leaders
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.
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.