The Opposition and the Authorities Continue Confrontation
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.
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.