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 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.