Lukashenka intervened in situation around NPP incident to relieve tension in Belarusian society

August 17, 2016 10:58

The president personally intervened in the situation around the incident at the Belarusian nuclear power plant construction site, in order to repair reputational damage caused by Belarusian bureaucrats. The Belarusian leadership is attempting to preserve Minsk’s image as one of the crucial players in regional security vis-a-vis Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to make every effort to prevent the growth in distrust in public institutions by the Belarusian population and to ensure better transparency in the Belarusian NPP construction.

President Lukashenka has proposed to the outgoing Lithuanian Ambassador to think together about how to operate the Belarusian NPP.

The Belarusian authorities’ attempt to shift responsibility for the incident at the NPP construction site on to Russia has only exacerbated fears about nuclear safety in Belarus. Nuclear safety is one of the most sensitive topics in Belarusian society, which has not yet fully recovered from the Chernobyl aftermath. Actions of the Belarusian authorities have prompted the population to recall the behaviour of the Soviet government, which concealed information about the catastrophe in Chernobyl.

Lukashenka’s statement about him knowing about the incident immediately after it happened at the NPP construction site is aiming to enhance public confidence in the Belarusian NPP construction. In addition, because initially the information about the incident at the most protected construction site was concealed, the Belarusian government was worried about the fall in confidence in Belarusian public institutions.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has made considerable efforts in order persuade Western capitals that Minsk plays one of the key roles in regional security. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities have realised how risky it was to shift responsibility for the incident at the NPP construction site onto the Russian partner.

The president has assumed full responsibility for the NPP construction and for the incident and said he would personally supervise the NPP construction. In addition, hoping to compensate for reputational damage from a two-week silence about the incident, President Lukashenka offered a more open cooperation with the Lithuanian partners.

The Belarusian authorities are aware of Lithuania’s influence in shaping the views of European capitals about the NPP construction in Belarus and are ready for closer cooperation with Vilnius.

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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.