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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.