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.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.