In an economic bind, authorities search for new ideology
Belarus needs to create a new motto. This opinion was expressed at a Belaya Rus seminar by Alexander Radkov, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration and Chairman of quango Belaya Rus.
Ahead of the 2015 presidential election, the authorities need to review the state ideology to ensure the electorate’s loyalty. Due to the socio-economic crisis and shrinking ‘welfare state’, the previous ideology has stopped working. Alexander Lukashenko attempts to exploit his ‘father of the nation’ image with an emphasis on traditional conservative values.
The motto ‘For Belarus!’ first appeared in 2004. In full, this motto was ‘For a strong and prosperous Belarus’ and was widely used during the last two presidential campaigns. It reflected Lukashenko’s vision of Belarus’ development and clearly laid out domestic policy priorities: a strong social policy and significant wage growth.
However, since 2011, Belarus’ socio-economic model has been in crisis. The strong ‘welfare state’ has shrunk and lacks resources to continue previous populist policies in the short and medium term. Simultaneously, Lukashenko’s electoral rating has stopped depending on wage growth. Moreover, a significant wage growth in 2013 has unbalanced Belarus’ economy, and in 2014-2015 the authorities will have no resources to provide for wage growth. While the authorities do not yet quite understand how state ideology should change, they have started to shape up some of its components.
Since the Belarusian authorities have been unable to provide ‘living standards like in Europe’ as they promised, they have decided to use other stimuli. For instance, Alexander Radkov at a seminar for ‘Belaya Rus’ members said that ‘Belarus, situated in the heart of Europe, should preserve traditional civilizational values, including Christian’. At a press conference, Lukashenko said that ‘we are observing a gradual destruction of centuries-old moral values, moral anomalies are transforming to a ‘normality’, national, cultural differences between nations are vanishing, and a global English-language neo-culture, based on American standards and values is emerging’.
Alexander Lukashenko has been increasingly exploiting his ‘Father of the nation’ image through various projects. For example, in July 2013 the State Flag Square was finished, and by mid-October 2013 a huge construction project should be completed - a new presidential residence, called the ‘Independence Palace’.
At a meeting with students in Mogilev, Lukashenko talked about a national idea and said that ‘our national idea is peace, harmony, and mutual assistance in our large family, which is called the Belarusian people’. In early October, the president also talked about ‘The Large Family’ social project, one of his possible pre-election initiatives.
To sum up, the authorities are considering changing the current state ideology to one less costly for the state. The new ideology might be used by Lukashenko during the next presidential campaign. The scarcity of resources pre-determines the shift from a ‘consumerist’ society to one with traditional conservative values, ensuring national independence and a better life for future generations.
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.