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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.