On May Day social activity was acceptable for the authorities
On May 1st, the International Labour Day, rallies and demonstrations were held in several Belarusian cities.
Traditional May Day demonstrations allowed the authorities to assess the social protests meter and to test mobilization capabilities of the state and the opposition. May Day has demonstrated that protest activity is manageable and not threatening the authorities.
The largest May Day demonstration took place in the Minsk centre and was organized by the ‘official’ Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus. Independent media reported that about 10 thousand people took part in the demonstration (according to the FTUB - 30 thousand). The participants of the demonstration expressed support to President Lukashenko’s social policies, demanded from the Myasnkovich’s Government to protect the interests of labor collectives during the privatization of enterprises, backed the Eurasian integration and called for the removal of all restrictions in relations between Belarus and the EU.
The most important about the event was not what the protestors demanded, but the demonstration of the FTUB mobilization capabilities to organize a mass event in the capital. FTUB uses the administrative resources (transportation, food, entertainment and overall support of the city authorities), to control Belarusian workers’ important tradition of mass recreation. May Day demonstration in Belarus is primarily a celebration, rather than a political rally.
At the same time, the FTUB, which lists about 4 million members, is an important measuring instrument and a valve for social protests in the Belarusian society. Therefore, in the most critical times the FTUB leadership puts forward ‘harsh’ demands towards the government (to raise wages, to respect the worker’s rights, etc). However, these demands are mainly rhetorical, aiming at justifying President Lukashenko’s policies.
The decision of the Brest City authorities, granting a permission to the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) to hold a May Day demonstration, was rather unexpected. About 200 people took part in the demonstration, representing various opposition parties and movements. There were no detentions during the event. Most likely, the authorities allowed the demonstration to test oppositions’ mobilization capabilities in the region and the protest potential of the local population.
The May Day demonstration has empirically confirmed the independent sociologists’ assessments of the low protest potential of the population. Simultaneously, the Labour Day has allowed the authorities to shift the attention from the President to the Myasnikovich’s Government, claiming his responsibility for the social policy failures. If social problems deteriorate, the president will sacrifice the government.
Nevertheless, shifting responsibility will not solve the ruling group’s main problem – where to find the sources for long term financing of the current social model. The authorities do not seem to have a long-term strategy; they act tactically, addressing socio-economic problems as they occur.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.