Lukashenkos election platform: do not freak out during crisis
During his time-consuming press conference, President Lukashenko sought to portray himself as a strong leader who controlled the political situation and was the sole guarantor of the political stability in the country. The president underscored the permanence of his position on the key issues - supporting the existing socioeconomic model, pursuing the Eurasian integration, normalizing relations with the European Union, adhering to the balanced position towards Ukraine, and preserving both, the political regime and the harsh environment for the political opposition.
On January 29th, President Lukashenko held a press conference for Belarusian and international media. The press conference set a new record – it lasted seven hours. The state-run media noted that the event was framed as an „open dialogue with the media‟. However, Lukashenko’s speech did not contain any new ideas, which could signal changes in Belarus’ socio-economic and political regime. The president believes, he can only retain his power if the current socioeconomic model is preserved. Such a model enables him to react to crippling recession with administrative measures. Since a while ago, independent social scientists have been noting the demand for changes in the Belarusian society and the Belarusian authorities are well aware of this. Nevertheless, president Lukashenko assured there were no plans to change the socioeconomic model despite society’s wishes: “I will not change it as long as I am the president. We have found this path, and we have to follow it and not freak out, especially during a crisis”.
Simultaneously, the authorities continue to review their social contract with the population, albeit not willing to carry out structural economic reforms. The president has once again reiterated that one should not wait for a pay rise. He also spoke against so-called ‘social parasites’: “Everyone should work for the state‟s benefit”. The authorities do not offer any improvements to the people’s well-being however suggest leaning on a strong leader amid security threats in the region. While speaking at the press conference, Lukashenko touched upon the events in Ukraine numerous times and underscored that such events would be impossible in Belarus under his rule. The president also spoke about the Eurasian integration, which seemed less attractive amid recession in Russia and Russo-Belarusian ‘trade wars’. Lukashenko underscored, “Belarus might leave the Eurasian Economic Union should the agreements are not adhered to”. However, it is hard to believe that the Belarusian authorities are seriously thinking about quitting the Union. Most likely, this phrase was designed to strengthen Belarus’ positions in case of another spiral of tension with the Kremlin.
President Lukashenko assured that he wanted to normalise the relations with the West. However, official Minsk was not ready to take even symbolic steps and to fulfill the only requirement by the West – to release remaining political prisoners. The president is unlikely to change his attitude towards his political opponents and is not willing to enter a dialogue with society. For example, during the 2009 thaw in Belarus-EU relations, and Advisory Council was set up under the Presidential Administration auspices. The Council included economists, media chief editors, heads of business associations, and some opposition members. Recently, the president spoke against any advisory boards: “We will not create any boards, especially political boards”.
All in all, the authorities aim at preserving the existing political and socioeconomic model and will respond to crisis manifestations with ad hoc administrative measures.
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.