Interior Ministry is interested in independent criticism of the police during the reforms period
On March 25th, former Deputy Interior Minister, Public Safety Chief Poluden was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and property confiscation for abuse of power.
Police reform creates environment for indirect cooperation between police and Belarusian human rights activists and independent journalists. Ministry of Internal Affairs is temporarily interested in disclosure of shortcomings in police work and to have additional leverage over employees.
The decision about staff cuts and restructuring in the Belarusian Interior Ministry was extremely painful for the police. Some reports say, it has been proposed to cut officers by 20-25%, which could imply lay-offs for over 15,000 employees. In addition, after the Ministry has been stripped off its investigative functions the Ministry’s influence had reduced. De facto, the Ministry has become exclusively the public safety authority.
Bearing in mind the still significant MIA status as the most numerous law enforcement agency in the country, the new Ministry heads are interested in strengthening not only the internal, but also the external – public – pressure on the police. These two motives explain the tough disciplinary and criminal sanctions against senior MIA staff (retirement of Deputy Minister Pekarsky, arrest and conviction of Deputy Minister Poluden, arrest of Internal Security Chief Krotov) and many scandalous and embarrassing materials about grass-roots police officers, “leaking” to human rights organizations and the media.
In particular, information leaks from within the Interior Ministry, such as CCTV footage from a police station or Interior Ministry protected areas (unauthorized access to the metro). On the other hand, it is important to note that the criticism of the MIA is sometimes quite reasonable. For example, on March 5th, Lida Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against five police officers on suspicion of detainees’ abuse.
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.