During recession, authorities are more open to dialogue with independent expert community
The Belarusian authorities have bolstered consultations with the expert community and civil society during the recession. The Belarusian government uses such consultations with NGOs and independent experts, primarily in order to relieve tension in Belarusian society. Whenever such a “dialogue with society” occurs, the expert community has the opportunity carry out some cooperation projects in non-political spheres, which do not put the regime’s stability at threat.
While speaking at the German Association for Foreign Policy in Berlin, Foreign Minister Makey underscored Belarus’ stabilising role in the region and outlined Belarus’ approaches to the regional security issues.
Interestingly, the earlier meeting between Foreign Minister Makey and Belarus’ expert community has alarmed some pro-Russian media, such as REGNUM and Imperia Information Agencies – they referred to it as "the seed of a parallel government”. Pro-Kremlin analysts have attempted to provoke the Belarusian president’s backlash by marking the ‘unprecedented’ nature of the meeting between the authorities and society, "Have any of such meetings between the expert community and ministers, vice prime minister or deputy chief of staff, not to mention two higher ranking officials, been held before?"
In particular, the article Khrushchev after Stalin: Mackey behaves as next president of Belarus was written by political scientist Yuri Baranchik, who leads Imperia pro-Russian News Agency and the Institute of Information War in Moscow. Until 2007, Baranchik occupied senior positions in various structures of the Belarus’ Presidential Administration. Pro-Russian analysts, who previously played a significant role in the presidential administration, are making an apparent bid to disrupt the recent improvements in Belarusian-European relations. They have started a campaign to discredit Minister Makey in the eyes of President Lukashenko, which, in their viewpoint, could lead to his dismissal.
Meanwhile, the practice of creating public advisory councils at various governmental levels is quite common in Belarus. The first advisory bodies appeared in the early 2000s and since then quite of few of them had been created – most, however, had been dissolved. A lion’s share of such advisory councils is quasi-‘pubic’, as their members mainly include officials from various government agencies, while the councils are used for inter-agency coordination in the decision-making. In some spheres, in particular, in ecological and entrepreneurial, such public advisory councils do include civil society representatives. However, public councils’ provisions, as well as information about their activities are often impossible to find in the public space.
In addition, during the 2011 recession, numerous public (expert) advisory councils were created – for example, in the Justice, Information, Economy, Communication and Informatisation Ministries. The most influential is the Council for Enterprise Development, which operates continuously since 1999; the president approves its Board members. Currently the Council is headed by Piotr Prokopovich. The Council members include representatives of business organisations and large businesses, among them Chiz, Shakutin, Moshensky and other businessmen close to President Lukashenko.
Small and medium-sized business also has the ability to influence the authorities’ decisions through the advisory bodies in the ministries. In addition, in early 2015, amid rising tension in the business environment entrepreneurs proposed to create a public advisory council for entrepreneurial development, investment and innovation at the Economy Ministry, in order to relieve this tension.
All in all, as recession builds up, the Belarusian authorities will be more willing to enter into a ‘dialogue’ with independent experts.
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.