The Opposition and the Authorities Continue Confrontation

April 22, 2016 18:09

On April 26, Minsk held an annual Chernobyl Way march and a rally. About two thousand people attended the rally, around 30 people were detained.

The Belarusian opposition did not manage to take advantage of a favorable situation, when citizens’ trust in the public authorities was at its lowest. In 2011 - early 2012, the percentage of citizens who trusted the authorities (President, government, law enforcement agencies), was about 30-40%. However, the low attendance of recent opposition rallies shows that alternative politicians failed to offer a new inspiring and mobilizing idea. The number of  participants at officially sanctioned opposition rallies in Minsk in March and April 2012  varies at the usual level of about 2-4 thousand people.

In turn, the authorities continue to use the same methods as before to effectively confront the organizers of the rallies: bans to stage rallies in the regions, preventive detention of the leaders on the eve of the event, confiscation of sound amplifying equipment, as well as detention and trials of participants after the rally.

This year’s Chernobyl Way was different from the previous ones as five activists of the Young Front had been arrested and sentenced to 10 and 15 days in custody. Several activists of the youth organisation “Revolution Through Social Networks”  had been detained earlier, so we may guess that the authorities are trying to affect a potential increase in youth  protests in  the summer, as was the case with “Silent protests” in summer 2011.

Finally, the level of ideological and organizational preparation of the \"Chernobyl Way\" was low. First, the rally involved different parties and movements that attempted to include  several messages in a final resolution ranging from the environmental risks  of construction of nuclear power plant in Belarus, to political demands to release political prisoners and hold free elections. It is expected that politicization of the environmental issue will not attract  new  supporters.

Second, the organizers admitted that they had failed to provide sound amplifying equipment for the rally.  The Belarusian TV and radio transmitting centre refused to lease equipment and a private firm asked for a high lease price ( BY  Rub 20 million), which they found too expensive. An attempt to lease equipment from a private firm at the last moment ended in arrest as the police confiscated it to check documentation.

Thus, spring 2012 leaves the Belarusian opposition with a set of typical problems: lack of citizens’ trust, their reluctance to take part in street rallies, traditional pressure from the authorities, as well as low level of organization and ideological support. In turn, the government has succeeded in imposing their own action plan on the opposition, which also reduces the number of protest supporters, especially before the holiday season.

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Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.

The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.

The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.

Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.

President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.

Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.