De-individualization of rule in Belarus: yet only in public space
In Belarusian pubic space, the image of President Lukashenka as "the only politician" and the sole holder of power in the country has started to blur. The Belarusian leadership is aiming to demonstrate support for the current state policy by including wider nomenclature elite in the decision-making on unpopular measures. Nevertheless, the president does not intend to replace his individualistic rule with collegial governance institutions.
Parents of a pupil from a Minsk school have shared a list of cult figuressuggested by the school to write a ‘valentine’ note to, including President Lukashenka, Prime Minister Kobyakov, Deputy Prime Minister Kochanov, presidential aides in the regions and in the capital.
Presumably, the increased presence of high-ranking officials in the media is due to the authorities’ attempts to share responsibility for unpopular measures aiming to reduce state social protection of the population. It is noteworthy that all unpopular initiatives targeted to increase budgetary proceeds at the cost of the population or reduce social protection have not been voiced by President Lukashenka, but by other high level officials or parliamentarians.
For instance, recently, vice-premier Kachanova made several statements killing hopes of doctors and teacher for pay rises. In addition, former National Bank chairman Ermakova publicly advised the population about how to save money amid shrinking incomes, which started a wave of sarcastic comments on the Internet.
Quite often, when the Belarusian economy falls into a crisis, the president reduces his appearance in the media, especially after the financial destabilization in 2011. Simultaneously, President Lukashenka has remained the main newsmaker in foreign policy, where Belarus has achieved some success. Regardless of the economic recession and shrinking social policies, the president has preserved a positive image of him in the media as a "peacekeeper" in resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in defusing tensions between Russia and the rest of the world, as one who strengthened cooperation with China and started normalization of relations with the European Union.
That said, the controversial statements by high-ranking government officials and parliamentarians about reducing state’s social protection have had no direct impact on Lukashenka’s ratings. According to IISEPS, an independent pollster, the support for the president is quite high, despite a decline in the well-being and growth of the financial burden on the population.
It is worth noting that over the past few years, the nomenclature elite has already proposed to the president to enhance collective responsibility in ensuring the stability and possibly the succession of power in the country. For instance, chairman of "Belaya Rus" quango, ex-Education Minister and former Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Alexander Radkov at a meeting of pro-government associations has once again voiced the idea of granting the quango a formal status of a "party of power". "Belaya Rus" has gained credibility, which is already out the scope of a social organization, and is ready for transformation into a party”, he said. “Belaya Rus” is planning to actively participate in the parliamentary campaign and increase the number of its representatives in the new parliament.
Regional authorities have already reacted to the new trend with own initiatives. For instance, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union in Minsk has come up with a clumsy initiative to prompt schoolchildren to write ‘valentine’ notes to their ‘idols’ and suggested the list of such idols. Unsurprisingly, the number one in the list was president Lukashenka, other idols, however, included high-ranking state officials and state-run media executives.
Overall, the need for collective decision-making has matured not only in society, but also in the state apparatus. Yet the president is unlikely to dare to increase the role of nomenclature in the political system through the formation of collective governance institutions, inter alia, by transforming "Belaya Rus" into a political party.
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.