The opposition is more active in the regions on the eve of local elections
Belarusian opposition forces have continued their campaign in the regions this week.
Despite the ‘dead’ holiday season, the approaching elections to the local councils activate the opposition and increase competition in the political arena of the country. The most visible effect of these actions of the opposition is growing recognition and strengthening of regional opposition structures. Success of the opposition is still defined by the feedback or nonfeasance of the authorities.
Representatives of the civic campaign ‘Tell the Truth’, movement ‘For Freedom’ and the Belarusian Popular Front continued canvassing in the regions as a part of the campaign ‘National Referendum’. In particular, two groups visited a number of cities in the Brest region and met with local market traders and democratic activists. The initiators of the ‘National Referendum’ campaign ask citizens to establish a register of problematic socio-economic and political issues that need to be solved at the national level: tax rates, wages, the quality of public services, the reform of the electoral system etc.
The organisational committee of the ‘Belarusian Christian Democracy’ party has commenced two initiatives: the establishment of the community headquarters against African swine fever and campaign to protect the rights of taxi drivers. The foundation of the community headquarters against ASF coincided with the time when residents of so-called buffer sanitary zones had to liquidate the pigstock as ordained by the government. Because of this, for example, a spontaneous unrest of local residents took place in the Berezovsk rayon (province) of the Brest region. The second initiative of the BCD is related to the probable drafting of the government bill on new rules of organisation of taxi services that could affect the requirements as regards technical parameters of motor vehicles.
The positive impact of these initiatives can be seen at least in the geographical expansion of the activities of the opposition and creation of competing political projects (the project ‘National Referendum’ by ‘the triad’ and the ‘National Deputy’ project of the BCD). This intensification of activity is related to upcoming elections to local councils, as this election campaign is the most local in nature, which forces activists to act away from the capital and regional centers - the main areas of activity of the opposition during parliamentary and presidential campaigns.
The future of the above projects will become clearer when they move from the planning to the implementation stage. Namely, when and whether the initiators of the ‘National Referendum’ campaign will form a list of issues and start gathering signatures, and the initiators of the ‘National Deputy’ programme will actively represent the interests of the pigs’ owners and taxi drivers. The future of these initiatives will be determined by the feedback of the citizens.
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.