Gap between top managers and executives widens
Lukashenko’s top managers remain loyal to him. However, the gap between top and mid-level managers widens. Ministerial and National Bank specialists realize that the existing Belarusian socio- economic model has been exhausted, but are not yet ready to promote an alternative.
A small group of senior managers has formed in Belarus. It mainly includes officials of retirement or nearing retirement age who started their careers in the Soviet times. They lack ambition and desire to change the existing socio- economic model.
From time to time, president Lukashenko reshuffles senior officials horizontally in order to prevent the formation of close relations/clans among the top nomenclature. For example, the transfer of Shapiro to the position of the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee chairman could be linked to his activities as the former governor of Grodno region. He attempted to nominate his own staff to key positions in the Grodno region. Namely, in 2013, Sergey Lozhechnik (born in 1981), Shapiro’s protégé, was nominated as Shchuchyn Region Executive Committee Chairman and became the youngest chairman in Belarus.
Security forces are fully controlled by president Lukashenko. Various secret services are in constant competition for resources and influence on the head of state. The president often reshuffles heads of security agencies horizontally.
In addition, the president uses harsh but populist rhetoric against officials to keep up his approval rating. As a rule, threats “to ‘cut off’ manager’s heads” do not result in concrete actions. Very often the dismissed officials are returned to high managerial positions. Lukashenko has a serious shortage of trusted top management staff. For example, former National Bank Chairman Prokopovich was sent for retirement during the 2011 currency crisis. However in 2013 the president returned 70 - year-old Prokopovich to the civil service, appointing him as his assistant and then Deputy Prime Minister.
Lukashenko understands the importance of nomenclature’s integrity and loyalty for the stability of their power. According to the National Statistics Committee in summer 2013 wages in the public administration increased by 43.1 %. Moreover, the income gap between civil servants at different levels has significantly increased, while the ‘administrative reform’ has affected only average executives.
Simultaneously, National Bank and ministerial specialists have prepared an effective economic policy strategy. However, these documents are used by the authorities only to declare the reform intentions while seeking external funding, without finding support at the highest political level.
Thus, there are currently no reasons to believe that Lukashenko and his top managers have conflicting interests. Mid-level executives, without the support from the ‘top’ and without pressure from the ‘bottom’ are not ready to promote socio-economic reforms.
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.