Opposition is attempting to find its place amongst Belarusian authorities and EU
The Belarusian opposition has split over the eastern policy revision by the EU, including changes in approaches to relations with the Belarusian officials. Some opposition organisations stand for a pragmatic approach and they are attempting to adapt their activities to the new environment and increased contacts between the EU and the Belarusian authorities. Others – supporters of the value-based approach – are attempting to influence the Belarusian-European agenda and regain lost positions of the democratic forces in the negotiations between Brussels and Minsk.
New Head of the EU Delegation to Belarus Andrea Victorine said in an exclusive interview with BelaPAN that the EU would continue to raise the issue of full rehabilitation of former political prisoners.
The Belarusian opposition could be divided into two camps depending on their attitude towards the Belarusian-European relations: those who adhere to the value-based approach and those with a pragmatic attitude.
The ‘pragmatic’ camp mostly includes politicians from younger generation. They have developed regional structures and long-term development strategies for their organizations. They hope for gradual changes, including with the use of the EU’s soft power, in some spheres of the Belarusian society, which are regarded by the authorities as not critical for political stability, controllability of the state and are not threatening the existing regime.
Pragmatic politicians either positively or neutrally assess the EU efforts to support reforms in those areas of concern of the Belarusian society, where the Belarusian authorities are willing to make changes.
Supporters of the value-based approach are often emigration leaders with limited regional structures and human resources. They do not see the need for reforms within the existing political system and, consequently, put forward unrealistic demands to the authorities, such as transforming the political system.
This group of politicians stands for harsh political conditions for Belarusian-European relations, although they understand their influence on policymakers in Brussels has reduced. They are afraid of completely losing the ability to influence the agenda of the Belarusian-European relations and being excluded from the negotiations between Belarus and the European Union.
Despite the fact that some opposition politicians have requested Brussels’ assistance in establishing internal political dialogue in Belarus, they are well aware that the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to respond to this initiative. Such an appeal by some opposition leaders may be regarded as an echo of the boycott/disregard strategy during the 2015 presidential campaign. As well, they must have no illusions about the level of influence that Brussels has on Minsk and about the authorities’ readiness to change electoral practices for the 2016 Parliamentary campaign.
Nevertheless, the opposition is attempting to make use of the government’s interest in normalizing relations with the European Union and softer domestic policies against the opposition. For instance, it has stepped up unsanctioned opposition activities, sometimes quite provocative, to impel the authorities to react.
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.