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 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.