Minsk hopes for approval of Lukashenko’s visit to Vatican
At a press conference in Minsk, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that President Lukashenko’s visit to Vatican was possible and underscored that the Holy See was prepared for the visit. While in Minsk, the Holy See Cardinal met with President Lukashenko, Foreign Minister Makey, and Head of the Belarusian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Pavel. The Belarusian authorities repeat their actions from the ‘thaw’ in Belarus-EU relations in 2008-2010, however the new cycle of normalisation with Brussels might start with a visit to the Vatican without fulfilling the basic EU requirement – release of remaining political prisoners before completing the 2015 presidential campaign. The Belarusian authorities are interested in developing relations with the EU after the 2015 presidential campaign; they will attempt therefore to preserve a moderate level of repression against the opposition.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.