Minsk attempts to demonstrate readiness for dialogue with opposition and independent media
Following the harsh clampdown on peaceful protests in spring, Minsk is attempting to preserve the dynamics in Belarusian-European normalisation with some domestic political liberalisation. Yet the authorities have no intention to strengthen the role of political parties or introduce serious changes in the electoral system, such as adopting a proportional or mixed model. In all likelihood, the Belarusian leadership would continue to relax pressure on the political opposition and independent media.
Last week, after seven years of attempts, "Tell the Truth" civic campaign was registered as a public association.
Since early 2000s, not a single political party has been registered in Belarus, despite numerous attempts by the Belarusian Christian Democracy (6 times since 2009), the Freedom and Progress Party. Last time the authorities registered an influential political structure was in 2008, ‘For Freedom’ movement as a public association, during the previous ‘thaw’ in relations with the EU. Most likely, the Belarusian leadership would stop after registering "Tell the Truth", and would not allow new parties or large politicised public associations to enter the domestic political field.
Apparently, President Lukashenka talked about developing political parties and the party system in Belarus in order to state the status quo. The authorities are unlikely to plan any serious changes in the electoral system and increase the role of political parties in the elections. For instance, Belaya Rus remains a public association, although its leadership has repeatedly emphasised the desire to transform it into a political party. State support for political parties is likely to limit to the removal of some barriers, allowing for greater initiative and, possibly, greater presence in the state media. Moreover, the parties also do not attempt to consolidate to lobby their interests.
That said, the court has upheld warnings issued by the Justice Ministry for participation in unauthorised protests to two oldest opposition parties, the Belarusian Popular Front and the United Civic Party, which could be used as a justification to strip them of registration. Most likely, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to discipline political opposition and mark the boundaries for the activity permitted by the state.
In addition, the authorities reopened access to the state subscription system for some regional media organisations, such as Slonimskaya Gazeta, Intex-press, Borisovskiye Novosti, as well as the national newspaper Novy Chas. These newspapers do not have a large circulation, have limited audience and do not have a significant impact. The state continues to restrict the activity of Belsat TV channel, which played an important role in covering protest actions in February and March and whose audience is likely to increase.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities assess risks as minimal and are likely to continue to relax gradually the political environment in Belarus, only yielding to the joined internal and international pressure as necessary.
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.