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.
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.