Informational mobilization creates no grounds for street protest

April 22, 2016 18:33

Last week Belarusian cities saw violence in public places and villages continue fighting against local epidemic of African swine flu.

The risks to public safety and citizens’ welfare remain high in Belarus. However, there are no grounds to anticipate wider mobilization of the population. There are no sufficient grounds for political mobilization.

Despite the ‘dead’ summer season, Belarus’ information space remains highly active four years in a row. Since the 2010 presidential campaign, summer season informational agenda is extremely rich: the financial crisis in 2011 and parliamentary elections in 2012. This summer’s breaking news relate to public safety issues and rural residents’ well-being and come from all over the country.

On June 22nd, people waiting at a bus-stop were shot at from a car in Minsk. On June 23rd, in Pinsk a man seriously wounded two local residents from a shotgun hunting rifle. On June 24th, a man was beaten up and shot from an air pistol in Minsk at a bus stop by three attackers. The Interior Ministry said that one of the suspects was a football fan and also made public that it collects football fans’ personal passport data and videotapes them.

Finally, the measures against African swine flu (the authorities seize and destroy livestock) were not effective and spread beyond Grodno region, reaching Stolbtsy district, Minsk region. In villages the situation is tense: villagers are prepared to slaughter their livestock to avoid seizures. On June 25th, authorities imposed a monetary compensation for the seizure of healthy animals.

However, the society’s mobilization should not be anticipated. Low social mobilization is due, primarily, to summer and holiday season: people leave cities on weekends and plan short-term travel abroad. In particular, in 2012 the number of Belarusian tourists who traveled abroad reached a record high for the last 5 years (492.8 thousand people against 319.8 thousand in 2011).

In addition, seasonal migration factor is affecting the mobilization: available direct and indirect evidence suggests that labor migration from Belarus to Russia is unabated. Therefore, it is unlikely that the increased security risks will trigger any mass demonstrations or protests.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.