Lukashenko played the role of a guarantor of justice
On February 24, President Lukashenko reprimanded and reproved high-ranking officials of the Belarusian State TV Company, the Government and the Presidential Administration for the falsification of the voting results in the finals of the national qualifying round of the “Eurovision” music contest. Following the decision of a special commission, a singer Lanskaya had to pass the first prize to a band Litesound.
A high-profile meeting with President Lukashenko on the eve of the EU Council meeting on 27 February was for the domestic consumption and aimed at two image-making purposes. Firstly, President Lukashenko appeared to the Belarusian population as the supreme defender of justice against corrupt officials. Also the President of Belarus sent a signal to the business community to be careful with their financial projects (the main sponsor of the contest was a well-known Belarusian manufacturer Shakutin).
Secondly, on the eve of potential introduction of new sanctions against Belarus by the EU, the government has strengthened its self-defense position. If on 27 February the EU Council votes for the new sanctions against Belarus, it will be used by the propaganda machine and interpreted as Brussels’ “ingratitude” to a positive “pro-European” signal of good will sent by Belarus. The whole story is also a response to the OSCE allegations and the allusion to the fact that ballot rigging is impossible in Belarus.
President Lukashenko has also used this scandal to mobilize his immediate circle. The inquiry in to the incident has been held involving the Head of the Presidential Administration Vladimir Makey and his Deputy, Alexander Radkov, Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik, staff of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee and Department for combating crimes in the sphere of Information Technology of the Interior Ministry. As a result of the investigation, reprimands made to the Chairman of the Belarusian State TV Channel Davydko and Minister of Culture Latushko. Makey, Radkov and Tozik were reproved. The most emotional moments of the meeting were shown in the prime time.
By punishing officials for rigging the vote, the President made it clear that any initiative of the kind will be punishable if undertaken without prior coordination. Actions of Lukashenko also indicate that he will use any opportunity to reinforce the image of a “strong authority”.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.