Meeting of the Political Council of the UCP
On 29 April Minsk hosted a meeting of the Political Council of the United Civil Party, which announced the launch of a nationwide campaign “Building new, preserving the best”: The meeting was chaired by the Chairman of the UCP Mr. Lebedko.
This event is a milestone for the UCP, a prominent opposition party in Belarus. Following the presidential campaign of 2010, at the end of which the party leader Lebedko was arrested and the behaviour of a presidential candidate and the Deputy Chairman of the UCP Mr. Romanchuk raised doubts about his future political career, the party had to hold a full session and decide on the future priorities.
The scope of future activities will be determined by the campaign “Building new, preserving the best”, setting up plans to elaborate political and economic development programmes for Belarus, and plans to engage in a dialogue with the authorities. The importance of the statements made during the meeting is that the UCP has no plans to coordinate its work with other political partners. It is rather predictable, given the previously existing logic of split up opposition, that in its new campaign the UCP openly set no priority for cooperation e.g. with the National Committee of Democratic Forces, or with the National Civil Society Forum.
It confirms the long-term trend of the opposition forces in Belarus, who find it more and more difficult to agree among them to represent a united front. The sequential increase in the number of candidates during the presidential elections since 2001 also confirms this trend
Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.
The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.
According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.
Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.
Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.