Kremlin not yet interested in pro-Russian opposition in Belarus

April 22, 2016 19:05

The Ministry of Education’s initiative to teach Belarusian history and geography at high schools in Belarusian has set off alarmist reactions among those wishing to become the pro-Russian opposition in Belarus. However, pro-Russian historians, political analysts and officials still have few chances of becoming a real oppositional movement. Official Minsk is blocking such attempts, and the Kremlin as yet appears uninterested.

The Minister of Education, Mikhail Zhuraukou, stated that his ministry eventually plans to introduce the teaching of Belarusian geography and history in Belarusian. The minister spoke about gradually expanding the practice of teaching in Belarusian. It is worth mentioning that the previous minister of education, Siarhei Matskevich, held the same view. There were plans in 2012 to introduce the teaching of Belarusian history and geography in Belarusian. However, these plans were not implemented due to the lack of funds for publishing new textbooks. According to the Ministry, in 2012 18% of all pupils studied Belarusian history in Belarusian, while 56% studied geography in Belarusian in rural areas.

This piece of news caused pretendents for the role of pro-Russian opposition of Lukashenka’s regime to embark on some intense scaremongering. Their main websites are imperia.by and regnum.ru. The former website is Belarusian, the latter is Russian. The chief editor of regnum.ru, Modest Kolerov, is also the chief editor of the Russian far-right nationalist website IA REX. From 2002 to 2005, Kolerov served as a member of the Russian presidential administration, but was fired for “radicalism” in relation to neighbouring countries. Regnum published six commentaries by Belarusian authors with very typical statements: “Belarus will soon ban high-school instruction in Russian”, “the authorities have concentrated on popularising russophobic myths”, “Belarusian authorities wend the way of Ukraine-like nationalism”, “Belarus has launched the third forced wave of Belarusianisation at full throttle”, “Belarusian authorities continue their policy of de-russification”, “Belarusian authorities show their true colours by parlaying about radical nationalism”. Such statements lack evidence. Switching education to Belarusian will not happen any time soon, if at all. Currently there are just 150 high schools where Belarusian is the language of tuition, and parents prefer to choose Russian for their children.

The same authors scaremonger the Russian authorities with the soon-to-be “Ukrainisation” of Belarus both on Regnum and Imperia. They are former or incumbent state officials dealing with ideology and education, who, for many years, have attempted to become Lukashenka’s backbone of support. Lukashenka, however, has not let the pro-Russians become a real political power in Belarus. Now, the same people are trying to attract the Kremlin’s attention, but so far without success. Critical statements about Lukashenka in the Russian mainstream mass-media by mainstream Russian public persona appear only as a means of pressuring Lukashenka when there are disagreements among Russia and Belarus over cooperation.

So far, these pro-Russian voices have not found support in Russia. However, one cannot be sure that the Kremlin will continue to ignore this “helping hand” from Belarus – both as a means of pressuring Lukashenka during negotiations, and for more far-reaching goals.

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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.