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”.
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.