Harsh personnel policies will not result in nomenclature coup
On February 8th, new President Property Management Department Head Vladimir Sheyman reported to President Lukashenko that the Investigation Committee was examining three criminal cases against Departments’ officials suspected of public funds embezzlement.
Recently launched Belarus’ state apparatus reform is inevitably accompanied with restructuring in top managerial elite. High-profile cases against officials close to President Lukashenko remain a conventional, effective and yet safe personnel policy tool for the ruling group.
Anti-corruption purging is the most effective personnel policy tool in Belarus. In his report, V. Sheyman, appointed to lead President’s Property Management Department on January 21st, listed numerous violations in the Department and said that he would re-staff the Department with younger and better competent workers. Unofficial reports say that former Head Nikolai Korbut was placed under house arrest, and one of his Deputies had attempted suicide right at his workplace.
These developments, especially if suicide attempt reports are true, confirm assessments that Belarusian officials cannot counter the country’s leadership effectively and protect their interests collectively. Mutual trust among public officials is very low, therefore persons involved in corruption cases either compensate damages to the state, or accept their fate with humble.
In political terms, this state of affairs implies that the probability of ‘nomenclature revolution’ in Belarus in low. Firstly, the ruling group has sufficient array of compromising information about their subordinate officials: this personnel management style was founded in the days of the Parliamentary Anti-corruption Commission operations, headed by then Supreme Council Deputy Alexander Lukashenko in 1993-1994. Secondly, Belarus’ harsh personnel policy effectively breaks the longstanding relationships between officials and businesses and prevents from political lobbying which could endanger the Lukahsenko’s regime stability.
President Property Management Department is the largest lessor of non-residential property in Belarus, it manages a number of hotels and restaurants in Minsk, 4 national parks, a company which imports alcohol and tobacco, an enterprise which organizes national lotteries, manages construction for the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and others. In fact, President Property Management Department is a state-owned business empire with non-transparent financial management, which creates a favorable environment for corruption.
Regardless of this impressive economic impact, the President Property Management Department has no political influence. In 2004 its former head Zhuravkova, her subordinates and family members were convicted of embezzlement of more than USD 3.5 million from international trade operations (eventually Zhuravkova indemnified damages and was pardoned by the President). This high profile case had no political impact on the regime therefore the new trail against former President Property Management Department managers will have similar effects, not threatening the ruling group.
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.