Kremlin not yet interested in pro-Russian opposition in Belarus
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.
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.