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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.