Minsk steps back to international and public pressure over White Legion case
The Belarusian authorities are de-escalating the "patriots' case" aka the White Legion case to stop criticism from the west over human rights violations in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities have demonstrated greater adaptability and reduced the repression-liberalisation cycle in the domestic policy in order to retain positive trend in relations with the EU. Nevertheless, the White Legion case has not been closed yet. The president could make concessions to the power block with verdicts against some activists, which would not envisage imprisonment.
Last week, the Belarusian authorities released Miroslav Lozovsky, the last defendant in the White Legion case, from the pre-trial detention centre in Minsk.
The release of the defendants in the White Legion case just a few days before the OSCE PA session has brought some confusion with regard to the tough resolution on democracy, human rights and the Belarusian NPP prepared by Western diplomats. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities have reduced the ‘repressive’ period, taking into account the peculiarities of bureaucratic processes in the EU, which would prevent European capitals from coordinating their positions on the Belarusian issue and preserve the Belarusian-European normalization. In addition, Minsk is likely to focus on strengthening its positions regarding the Nuclear Power Plant construction, in anticipation of harsh criticism from Lithuania.
Following the suppression of protests in February and March 2017, the Belarusian authorities have gradually abandoned arrests, preventive detentions, the use of force against their opponents and returned to milder form of persecution of the opposition, such as fines. Apparently, the authorities fear that public pressure over the White Legion case and public actions in support of the defendants could trigger unnecessary attention of broader population after a high-profile propaganda effect during the protest period. This, in turn, could have undermined the confidence in the state media and security agencies (which have already been involved in some high-profile incidents recently), and could also lower the ratings of other state institutions.
Meanwhile, the president would not disregard the interests of the power block either, in particular, amid economic decline and scant wage growth. The White Legion case has not been closed and some defendants still have open charges of creating an illegal armed group against them. After the OSCE PA session closes in Minsk, the authorities could get back on the track in this regard. However, most likely, even if trials take place, the defendants are likely to receive a milder punishment and would be released in the courtroom.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities may further stretch and shorten the repression/liberalisation cycle to accommodate their needs and to prevent undesirable reactions from the West. In addition, the White Legion case could remain frozen for several months until the autumn-winter political campaign.
According to Belstat, in August 7,600 people were dismissed, including 4,800 civil servants. Dismissals of civil servants were due to the optimisation in the public administration by up to 30%. Some civil servants would retain their job however would lose the status of a civil servant. Vacancies on the labour market are likely to reduce in number, thanks to the optimisation, the state administration would increase wages for public servants. The payroll fund for retained employees is likely to increase and some former state employees are likely to get jobs in affiliated organizations. The optimisation of the state apparatus should complete by January 1st, 2018, and some former civil servants are likely to join the ranks of the unemployed.